European Western Balkans

Tusk in Zagreb: Respecting the Schengen rules will not solve the migration crisis

Tihomir Orešković and Donald Tusk

Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking you, Prime Minister Orešković, for your warm welcome. It so happens that I am visiting Zagreb as President of the European Council for the third time already, and it is always a great pleasure to be here.

Croatia, your region and the whole of Europe are facing an enormous challenge today with the unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants. It is a crisis that is testing our Union to the limits, as it is no less testing your region. It is a crisis that is provoking tensions between the Member States and neighbouring countries. We have to avoid an illusion that instead of the full respect for Schengen rules, there might be another, easy and convenient European solution. Respecting the Schengen rules will not solve the migration crisis. But without it we have no chance whatsoever to resolve it.

I want to state here very clearly: there is no alternative to respecting Schengen Code. It is difficult, I know, but only the Schengen rules can be the basis of a comprehensive European solution. That is why I am here today. And that is what we need to work on at our next European Council meeting.

The first priority is to rapidly stem the flows and reduce illegal migration while preserving the integrity of the Schengen area. We need to get back to a situation with all Member States fully applying our common rules and decisions, not least the Schengen Borders Code. This is also what we agreed on at our European Council two weeks ago. As a result, Member States should refuse entry to third-country nationals who do not meet the necessary conditions or who, although they were able to do so earlier, did not apply for asylum. Let me repeat: Schengen’s survival depends on the effective application of the Schengen Borders Code.

As I have said, getting  back to a situation where Schengen starts functioning again will be difficult. We must handle it responsibly and in a coordinated manner. Also, we must urgently mobilise the EU, all Member States to help address the humanitarian situation of migrants in Greece and along the Western Balkan route.

I would also like to use this opportunity to say that the EU understands the difficult situation of the authorities in Skopje. We cannot and we should not leave them alone in this situation.

There is no good alternative either to cooperating with Turkey, across which most of the migrants are currently travelling. At our summit next Monday with Turkey, we must do all that we can to make the EU-Turkey joint action plan our common success. It will depend above all on a clear and significant drop in arrivals.

Let me conclude with a remark on my visit today at the border between Croatia and Slovenia in Dobova. It was another proof of how difficult the situation is. For the migrants and refugees as well as for the authorities doing their job. Just like my visits to the refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey, it reminded me of the stakes. We cannot afford to fail. Hvala lepa.

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