CoR members held today at debate with Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, who joined the CoR plenary session for a short exchange on the challenges for local and regional authorities managing refugee flows and migrant integration.
In his opening speech, Commissioner Avramopoulos emphasised the important role of cities and regions in dealing with the migration crisis. "Local and regional authorities are in the front line when it comes to providing essential social services and ensuring integration and social inclusion of migrants. The experience of the last two years has shown that cities and regions have really shown what it means when we talk about responsibility and solidarity. All Member States should follow their example", the former mayor of Athens urged.
While welcoming the European Commissions' first reform package on the Reform of the Common European Asylum System, CoR rapporteur Enzo Bianco, mayor of the Sicilian port city of Catania (PES/Italy), stressed the need to look beyond the current crisis situation and move to a set of asylum rules which were fairer both for Member States and individual migrants. "What we are witnessing is a structural crisis which has been a very long time in the making. For years and years, those regions and cities where the migrants first arrive, have been asking for a genuine EU migration and asylum policy. This means common European rules and appropriate EU resources, both financial and human, based on solidarity, to ensure a humane reception and treatment of asylum requests", he underlined.
In his draft opinion, which was adopted despite the firm resistance of the ECR Group, he proposes a number of proposals for changes in the legislation, including fine-tuning the "correction mechanism" (based on a distribution key calculated on wealth and population) proposed by the Commission, in order to help countries and regions which have been disproportionately affected in the past.
Mr Bianco went on to explain that "if we want to successfully integrate migrants into our societies, we also must take into account their own preferences, as well as their experience and professional background when it comes to determining which Member States should examine their asylum request. Likewise, the protection of unaccompanied minors, who represent a growing share of the migrants arriving in the EU, needs to be further strengthened".
He was joined in his call by a series of PES members, including Babette Winter, Barbara Duden, Georgios Kaminis, Peter Kaiser and Yoomi Renström, who underlined the need for consistent asylum standards in all EU Member States, a better focus on tackling the root causes of migration, and a two-way approach to integration.
The CoR also adopted opinions on legal migration and integration of third-country nationals with a number of successful PES amendments, covering the different aspects of migration policy.
The CoR opinion on the Commissions' second reform package of July 2016, adopted by the CoR's CIVEX commission on 24 November, will be adopted at the February 2017 plenary session.