The fact that more than 31,244 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece by sea in the first two weeks of January, worries the head of the EU Presidency.
Yesterday, Prime Minister of the Netherlands and head of the rotating EU Presidency, Mark Rutte participated in a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland which focused on the European refugee crisis and said:
“We see today that in the first three weeks of the year, there were 35,000 people crossing the (Aegean Sea to Greece) from Turkey…Last year, it was only 1,600 in the full month of January. When spring comes, the numbers will quadruple. We can’t cope with these numbers any longer, we need to get a grip on this” the Dutch PM said.
Rutte stressed that the EU doesn’t have the luxury of time for addressing the European refugee crisis underlying that the Union has just six weeks to save the Schengen Agreement. Rutte said that “when spring comes, the number of refugees coming out of Turkey and Lebanon and other countries through Greece and the Western Balkans and into the rest of European Union (will rise).”
The Dutch PM, added that the first step in addressing the crisis, is to make the deal between the EU and Turkey work. Secondly, he stressed the need for a fairer redistribution of the asylum seekers across the 28 EU Member States.
Schengen and the European project at risk
Rutte also acknowledged the risk of witnessing the end of Schengen’s agreement. The Dutch PM stressed that “no one wants to kill Schengen, but if it is only a fairweather system then it cannot survive.”
Manuel Valls, the French prime minister who participated at the panel, went further stressing that “the European project can die, not in decades or years but very fast, if we are unable to face up to the security challenge.”
On the other hand, Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, implied that the refugee crisis will be a good test for the EU. “My argument to the countries that are not willing to accept refugees is that if we can’t handle this the European Union is at risk. If we cannot do it there is a risk to Schengen,” he said
Need to deal with the traffickers
Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, who was on the same panel, also focused on the need to stop the migration tragedies in the Aegean and deal with the traffickers. “What is happening in the Aegean is a great shame for our common European culture and civilization. On a daily basis we are faced with a death toll in the sea because (people) traffickers are working there unimpeded.”