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Alternate FM Xydakis’ intervention at a meeting of the EU General Affairs Council (Brussels, 24 May 2016)

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

In his intervention at today’s meeting of the EU General Affairs Council (GAC), in Brussels, the Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Nikos Xydakis, noted that “at the last meeting of the European Council, my country took what is generally admitted to be a disproportionate burden for the EU as a whole, receiving the theoretical assurances of its partners that ‘it will not be left on its own’ in dealing with the issue. Greece met its obligations in a direct and complete manner, receiving little help from its partners. We see that the solidarity of our partners is waning at a time when the problem is growing worse. The promised European assistance is coming in dribs and drabs.”

In his intervention, which focused on the refugee and migration issue, Mr. Xydakis expressed his disappointment at the fact that only 360 refugees have been incorporated into the relocation programme over the past two months, while 56,000 people have currently accumulated in Greece. Mr. Xydakis stressed the increase in applications for asylum, noting that Greece needs support and personnel from the services competent for processing asylum applications, while the number of specialized personnel provided by the 28 member states remains insufficient.

At the same time, he noted that the stranding of some 56,000 persons in Greece – due to the sudden closure of the borders – and the urgent need to meet their food and shelter needs is putting an excessive burden to the beleaguered Greek administration and is jeopardizing social cohesion. Mr. Xydakis subsequently briefed his colleagues on the efforts toward the peaceful evacuation of Idomeni, which have already begun and are proceeding smoothly.

Mr. Xydakis referred to the EU-Turkey agreement, which he described as fragile, highlighting that it has had satisfactory results so far in the area of reducing flows, proving that Turkey can control and even stop the flows. But he also noted the concurrent inability of the EU and the member states to adequately meet the demands of this difficult agreement.

Mr. Xydakis also addressed the issue of the recognition of Turkey as a secure third country, noting that this recognition cannot be an issue for Greece alone, but is an issue for the 28 EU member states as a whole.

“The ineffective management of the refugee issue by Europe is creating increased xenophobia and instigating a crisis for the European project as a whole, thus assailing the very idea of Europe,” Mr. Xydakis stated, stressing that we need to defend Europe’s values and the common European idea.

With regard to the upholding of the European Union’s fundamental values, with a focus on the process of integrating migrants, Mr. Xydakis noted that Europe must insist on mutual respect. “Respect for the secular nature of the European democracies must coexist with respect for the identity of the refugee or migrant who comes to Europe. Moreover, reception and incorporation – not assimilation – of the refugee and the migrant are at the hard core of European values and constitute a component part of the rule of law,” he stated.

Finally, Mr. Xydakis referred to the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), saying that, in countries showing high divestment, the EFSI should approve investment plans, taking a greater risk than that usually taken by the European Investment bank.

The GAC agenda included preparations for the June European Council, the main topics of which are the refugee/migration crisis, employment issues, growth and competitiveness, and external affairs. Moreover, the GAC looked at issues of monitoring rule of law and upholding the fundamental values of the EU, with a focus on the process of integrating migrants into the European Union.