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16 September 2016 / EN

The role of the EU’s regional and local authorities in addressing the refugee crisis: our common challenge, our collective response

Declaration of the EPP Group in the European Committee of the Regions

Thessaloniki, 16 September 2016

_________________________

We, the members of the European People’s Party Group in the European Committee of the Regions,

  1. Stress that citizens expect a well-functioning European migration policy. This must be the aim of all political decision-makers at EU, national, regional and local level. In order for this to become a reality, all levels of government, in particular local and regional authorities need to have a say in its design and implementation demonstrating enhanced tangible cooperation and solidarity. The European refugee and migration policy must clearly differentiate between refugees in clear need of protection and economic migrants.
  2. Believe that EU migration policy must incorporate respect for human dignity where migrants’ rights are recognised, equality of person is promoted and asylum applications are swiftly processed. At the same time, it is essential to recognise the principle of reciprocity whereby such a policy must guarantee mutual respect between migrant and host communities. This principle safeguards the free, democratic and tolerant model of society that European citizens have built.
  3. Recall that local and regional authorities are at the front line in providing assistance to migrants in need arriving in the EU and have shown commendable solidarity towards fellow human beings fleeing from war, violence and hunger. Often with limited resources they deliver essential information on rights and medical care. Request, in this respect, for sufficient financial resources to be allocated to local and regional authorities who should be responsible for coordinating with relevant NGOs on their use.
  4. Bring the voice of regional and local authorities who want to better invest in a common European integrated solution to the refugee crisis. We highlight that programmes under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund should be implemented mainly by local or regional authorities and that better cooperation with the national managing authorities should exist to this end. We consider it essential to simplify and speed up the funding procedures, give the regions direct access to the financial resources made available by the EU and make use of both the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and the Emergency Assistance Instrument designed to address humanitarian crises.
  5. Insist on zero tolerance for smugglers and human traffickers, including terrorist organisations, and call for a more dynamic strategy designed and implemented by the relevant EU decision-makers in combating this practice. To this end, exchange of information with authorities in the countries of origin should be enhanced. We believe in the application of a multi-level governance approach to the fight against smugglers, involving local and regional authorities, to underpin the implementation of the 2015-2020 EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling. In this context, we are ready to develop this further with local and regional authorities in the Middle East and North Africa.
  6. Strongly support the efforts at EU level to work on a comprehensive and efficient reform of the Common European Asylum System, and request better cooperation and more solidarity among the members of the European Council in this regard. We need a reform that will simplify and speed up asylum procedures, limiting the often forced stay of migrants in temporary facilities and guarantee the equal and fair treatment of applicants. We emphasise however, that the solution to the migrant crisis can only be found by identifying the root cause in the places of origin, by supporting solutions outside of the EU in order to protect the EU and Schengen-Areas external borders. In this context, managing the settlement of the refugees and migrants in the EU as well as the root of the problem is essential. This can be achieved by providing social, educational and health care support in the crisis countries (e.g. by building hospitals) or any other local solutions as well as protecting the EU-Schengen and transit borders.
  7. Emphasise the fact that on the basis of reciprocity, cooperation and the shared obligations of the European Member States in relation to the refugee issue, an efficient and feasible plan has to be implemented regarding the allocation of refugees in all countries. Fair burden-sharing will demonstrate solidarity between Member States and will allow more local and regional authorities to assume responsibility and contribute further to asylum accommodation in the future.
  8. Believe that only those asylum seekers who flee from war, persecution or natural disasters should be granted refugee status, take advantage of its rights and benefits and start the necessary integration process within our societies. We highlight that those applicants who do not qualify for international protection must be returned to their respective countries. Return actions must be backed by operational cooperation between the Member States and EU agencies. In this context we welcome the European Commission’s proposal for a common EU list of safe-countries of origin as part of the harmonisation of EU migration policies, support the positive outcome of the current inter-institutional negotiations, and call for a progressive and fruitful adoption of the list by all Member States.
  9. Strongly emphasise that all “four freedoms” of the EU’s Single Market: free movement of goods, services, capital and people must be preserved equally with no exception, as one of the cornerstones of the EU. We are highly concerned by any possible restriction on the free movement of people which is a fundamental element of the European project. In this context, we recall that re-established border checks within the Schengen Area would lead to a loss of investments and have a negative impact on inter-regional and cross-border economic cooperation. In this respect, we welcome a newly-created European border and coast guard, which will help prevent future threats and ensure the appropriate level of internal security within the European Union.
  10. Support third countries of transit in preventing departures of displaced people toward the EU. Due to the deterioration of conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, and increasing violence against civilians, the protection of refugees in their areas of origin must become a crucial element in dealing with the growing number of displaced people. We want this to be a human and sustainable part of the strategy for the EU refugee crisis, and therefore we are committed to investing more resources in designing an integrated and long-term roadmap helping people to rebuild their lives in dignity as close as possible to their country of origin.