Some twenty-five years ago, before becoming mayor of Athens and then successively Minister of Health, Defense, and Foreign Affairs in Greece, Avramopoulos was the first guest of the new Dusan Sidjanski Center for European Studies, which was inaugurated in October by the Global Studies Institute.
“When I took up my post in November 2014, the EU was struggling with the financial crisis. I did not imagine that migration and internal affairs would soon be the two most important challenges for the Union,” he told the audience.
“The migratory wave and terrorism have plunged Europe into an existential crisis. The very foundations of the EU are being questioned, ” Avramopoulos said. “As we commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March, member countries face instability and insecurity.”
In short, Europe is at a crossroads, he believes. “This is a historic moment. Our values are at stake. Are we going to be overwhelmed by the rise of populism, nationalism and xenophobia? Are we going to reintroduce controls at the internal borders of the EU? Sacrifice the freedom of movement so dear to our citizens? We soon forget that the EU is one of the greatest achievements of history. After two world wars, achieving such a union is not a matter of course. Even today, it is wrong to regard this as an acquired fact.”
He added that immigration would have to continue. “The 27 [EU states] will need 6 million immigrants in the future,” the European Commissioner said.
“We will open offices in all countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and in West Africa. This is the best way to fight smugglers. Obviously, we are not going to just open the borders and let everybody in. This would be absurd and would only feed xenophobia, nationalism and populism. Having said that, we must protect the persecuted and treat everyone with dignity.”
But the program of distributing 160 000 migrants in Greece and Italy to the EU has been a fiasco. Only 13 546 people have been relocated, while the program expires in September.
“As for the terrorist attacks in the EU, they were committed by European citizens. With one exception, it was never the case of refugees,” Avramopoulos said. “The security services are national, they remain a prerogative of each government. It is this fragmentation that makes us vulnerable. The attacks in Paris were committed by people based in Brussels, who crossed many countries without being stopped … even though they were on lists! It is time to share these sensitive data.”
But the majority of Islamic State militants directly involved in carrying out the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks used the Balkan route to enter Europe under the guise of being refugees, the Hungarian intelligence chief revealed.
Analysis of phone call intercepts established that seven of the nine attackers involved in the November Paris onslaught, which killed 130 and injured 368 people, entered the EU through Hungary last year, the Hungarian Counter Terrorism Center (TEK) chief, General Zsolt Bodnar told RT.