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The EU needs to overcome fear and divisions to safeguard Schengen, say MEPs

Migrants landing on beach
Migrants landing on beach

The EU needs to overcome its paralysing fears and divisions and to manage migration and refugee flows effectively, said many MEPs in Tuesday's plenary debate with the Dutch Presidency and the Commission. Protecting the EU's external borders effectively is vital to safeguard the Schengen passport-free area, they observed. Some also called for zero tolerance of racist and violent attacks against migrants and refugees.

MEPs also stressed the need to respect the non-refoulement principle and discussed how the refugee facility in Turkey should be funded.

Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders, said on behalf of the Council Presidency that the flow of migrants “must be reduced”. To that end, the measures already agreed must be implemented, in particular regarding relocation and hotspots. He expressed special concern about the humanitarian situation in the Western Balkans and the risks faced by unaccompanied minors entering Europe.

Watch statement by Bert KOENDERS

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos recognised that "poor progress" has been made so far on the "frontline" member states and all the others. The to-do list is long: relocation, resettlement, hotspots, returns, he said. On Schengen, "the Commission is preparing for all options (...) but this is not about the end of Schengen or about cutting out a member state.” On the attacks in Cologne, Mr Avramopoulos denied that all refugees and migrants are a threat to our public order: “They are not".

Watch statement by Dimitris AVRAMOPOULOS

EPP leader Manfred Weber (DE) said: "There is no lack of ideas but a blocked situation, in the Council but also in this house, (...) a divide we need to overcome in order to safeguard Schengen." He stressed that the EU needs effective border surveillance, to support its authorities and to allow Frontex to access the Schengen Information System. "We expect those who are hosted and protected in EU countries to respect their cultures and laws", he added.

Watch full statement by Manfred WEBER (EPP, DE)
S&D leader, Gianni Pittella (IT) said that “there is a virus infecting Europe, the virus of fear”, which is preventing the EU from taking the right decisions and threatens to destroy it. Mr Pittella warned that incoming migrant flows will grow in the spring and stressed the especially risky situation of migrant children. Watch full statement by Giovanni PITTELLA (S&D, IT)

Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) "We don't have months or years to rewrite the EU rulebook, we have only a couple of weeks", said Syed Kamall (ECR, UK). "If member states cannot manage their borders (...) then don't be surprised if others want you out of the game", he said, adding that "Schengen does not need to be rewritten, it needs to work better". Watch full statement by Syed KAMALL (ECR, UK)

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt (BE) urged the EU Presidency to act, in line with Treaty Article 78 [asylum and international protection], to take control of the EU's external borders, and to set up a rapid response force. “Europe has to do the task”, he said, adding that the decision to act could be taken at the next European Council.

Watch full statement by Guy VERHOFSTADT (ALDE, BE)
"The management of the refugee crisis requires more cooperation, not cherry-picking by some member states that calls common decisions into question", said Dimitrios Papadimoulis (EUL/NGL, EL). He pointed out that only 400 out of 160,000 refugees stranded in Greece and Italy had been relocated so far. Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA, DE) agreed that better border management is needed, but also stressed that more support is needed for refugees in Turkey to ensure anything more than sheer survival.

Watch full statement by Dimitrios PAPADIMOULIS (EUL/NGL, EL) and Rebecca HARMS (GREENS/EFA, DE)

"EU governance of migration is a complete failure (...) it is showing the opposite of solidarity", said Laura Ferrara (EFDD, IT). "We look at the effects without looking at the causes", she added, also criticising EU leaders for "outsourcing" responsibilities to Turkey. "Wake up! Schengen is a failure and the EU is a fiasco. Shut the borders and protect the Dutch", Vicky Maeijer (ENF, NL) urged Mr Koenders.

Watch full statement by Laura FERRARA (EFDD, IT) and Vicky MAEIJER (ENF, NL)

Video recording of debate (click on 02.02.2016)