(Applause) These countries, far poorer than we are, are making efforts we should applaud and recognise in moral and in financial terms. We have collectively committed to resettling over 22 000 people from outside Europe over the next year, showing solidarity with our neighbours. Of course, this remains very modest – too modest – by comparison to the Herculean efforts undertaken by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon who are hosting over four million Syrian refugees, but I am encouraged that some Member States are now showing their willingness to significantly step up our European resettlement efforts. This will allow us very soon to come forward with a structured system to pool European resettlement efforts more systematically. It has to be done and it will be done.
Where Europe has clearly under-delivered is on common solidarity with regard to the refugees who have arrived on our territory. To me, it is clear that the Member States where most refugees first arrive – at the moment, these are Italy, Greece and Hungary – cannot be left alone to cope with this enormous challenge.
(Applause) This is why the Commission already proposed an emergency mechanism in May – not now, back in May – to relocate initially 40 000 people seeking international protection from Italy and Greece. This is why today we are proposing a second emergency mechanism to relocate a further 120 000 people from Italy, Greece and Hungary. This has to be done in a compulsory way.
(Applause) I call on Member States to adopt the Commission proposals on the emergency relocation of altogether 160 000 refugees at the Council of Interior Ministers on 14 September. We are not talking about 40 000, not 120 000, we are talking about 160 000. That is the number Europeans have to take in charge and have to take in their arms, and I really hope that this time everyone will be on board. No poems, no rhetoric, action is what is needed for the time being.
(Applause) What is happening to human beings – we are talking human beings, we are not talking about numbers – coming from Syria and Libya today could easily be the case in Ukraine tomorrow. Are we making selections? Are we distinguishing between Christians, Jews, Muslims? This continent has had a bad experience of drawing distinctions on the basis of religious criteria. There is no religion, no belief, no philosophy when it comes to refugees and to those we let in.
(Applause) Winter is approaching. Do we really want to have families sleeping in railway stations in Budapest and elsewhere, in cold tents during the night, or on shores on Kos? We are in charge of the winter period for those who have to flee their countries for the reasons I have mentioned.
Of course, relocation alone will not solve the issue. It is true that we also need to separate better those who are in clear need of international protection and are therefore very likely to apply for asylum successfully, and those who are leaving their country for other reasons which do not fall under the right of asylum. This is why today the Commission is proposing a common EU list of safe countries of origin. This list will enable Member States to fast-track asylum procedures for nationals of countries that are presumed safe to live in. The presumption of safety must, in our view, certainly apply to all countries which the European Council unanimously decided meet the basic Copenhagen criteria for EU membership – notably as regards democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights. It should also apply to other potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans, in view of their progress made towards candidate status.
I am aware that the list of safe countries is only a procedural simplification. It cannot take away – and I would act strongly against that – the fundamental right of asylum for asylum seekers coming from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey. But it allows national authorities to focus on those refugees who are much more likely to be granted asylum, notably those from Syria. And this focus is very much needed in the current situation. A list of safe countries does not take away asylum rights from those people coming from the countries listed. That is important. We are not neutralising the Geneva Convention. Asylum is a right.