European Council President Spokesperson
Good afternoon. Let me start by thanking Chancellor Faymann for his warm welcome here in Vienna. And thank you for our continuous and close contacts during the migration crisis.
In Vienna, as well as in the capitals along the Western Balkan Route, which I am going to visit in the coming days, the discussion will centre on how to implement the conclusions of the last European Council. Two weeks ago leaders agreed that we need to get back to a situation where all Member States, without exception, fully apply our common rules; the Schengen Borders Code.
This is the subject that I have been raising with the leaders from the very beginning of the crisis, understanding at the same time, that not for all of them it would be an easy decision to take. Fortunately, this discussion is behind us.
A return to the application of the Schengen Code does not imply the end of Schengen. On the contrary. A return to the application of the Schengen rules is the only way to preserve Schengen. The question therefore should not be whether we want to do it, but how we are going to do it.
Firstly, to be effective we need to do it in a coordinated way. Indeed, while our work on a common European plan continues, key decisions are taken in capitals. In a Union of 28 sovereign countries, this is a normal situation, to my mind. I know that restoring effective controls on the borders is not an easy decision. But the truth is that there is no alternative to it. I can only hope that this difficult truth has finally been understood by all in Europe. We must talk about it around a table that seats 28 Member States, none of which should be excluded. Otherwise, the risk will be a further erosion of trust.
Secondly, we must face together the humanitarian consequences of our decision. The country which we must support in particular is Greece. The number of migrants arriving in Greece is on the rise not because they want to make Greece their home, but because they are hoping that from Greece they will move to other European countries. A test of our Europeanness will be on the one hand, going back to Schengen, and on the other, our readiness to stand by Athens during these hard times.
And thirdly, not for a moment can we stop our efforts to improve the cooperation with our neighbours, starting with Turkey. Europe is ready, as it has already demonstrated, to grant substantial financial support to the countries neighbouring the war-torn regions. But at the same time we expect a more intensive engagement from our partners, as an absolute pre-condition to avoid a humanitarian disaster. This will be the subject matter of my talks in Turkey this Thursday and Friday.
Austria has been in the eye of the storm for many months, bearing a heavy burden of the migration crisis. Not only did it take in 90.000 refugees in 2015, it will also continue to be open to refugees in the future. But it is hardly a surprise that the level of frustration is increasing. Patience is running out while populist forces are coming to the fore. Yet it is precisely in moments like these that we need to keep our cool. We need to stay focused on developing and implementing a comprehensive European plan, and on doing so quickly.
After today's talks, I am confident that Austria will contribute to working out a European consensus in the face of the migration crisis.
Chancellor Faymann, let me thank you once again for your ongoing efforts and for having me here in Vienna. To conclude, let me say that today we are opening a new chapter of our struggle with the migration crisis called “Back to Schengen”. Herzlichen Dank