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Migration is European issue "par excellence"  

CIVEX conference in Greece points to handling of Ukrainian refugees and Future of Europe recommendations as way forward for reform of EU migration system.

​​The European Union's response to the refugee crisis caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine shows that it "can learn lessons", the president of the European Committee of the Regions said at a conference on 24 June, going on to call for the EU to reform the its asylum and migration system "to have more justice in the distribution of responsibilities". Such reforms would, he said, also respond to the opinion of EU citizens, articulated in recommendations that recently emerged from the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Apostolos Tzitzikostas (EL/EPP), president of the European Committee of the Regions and governor of the region of Central Macedonia was speaking in Greece at a CIVEX conference organised by the mayor of Alimos, Andreas Kondylis (EL/Renew Europe), a member of the CoR. President Tzitzikostas, Mayor Kondylis and other speakers also called for greater support, including financial, for cities and regions receiving and integrating refugees.

President Tzitzikostas praised the role of EU regional and local leaders in providing support for the millions of Ukrainians who have fled the Russian invasion, saying: "Without mayors, without governors of the regions on the front line… responding to the crisis, working day or night, then this humanitarian crisis would have been out of control – and we need to acknowledge that." Describing the EU's response as solidarity in action, he drew a sharp contrast with the experiences of 2015 and 2016, when "Greece, Malta and Italy were left on their own" and "Europe was absent".

"The good thing is that Europe shows that it can learn lessons. To understand may take a few years, but, ultimately, migration is not a national issue, it is not a regional issue, it is not a municipal issue; it is par excellence a European issue," he said. "We must abandon Dublin [the current EU migration system], we must establish a new system of equal distribution, recognising that the migration is par excellence a European issue."

He pointed also to the support that the Conference on the Future of Europe – a year-long process of deliberative democracy that harvested recommendations from EU citizens – had resulted in recommendations calling for a fair sharing of responsibility for asylum-seekers and greater EU support, including for sub-national governments.

He also suggested that the EU should be prepared – as it did for Ukrainian refugees – to take measures to provide immediate and temporary protection to refugees in the event of a mass influx of refugees, via the Temporary Protection Directive .

The collective effect of changes should be that "the load of any migration issue should be equally distributed to all EU countries. Furthermore, in doing that we will end people to feel captive in a country. All this happens in the provisional protection mechanism that became effective with the onset of the war in Ukraine. I hope it will be a tool for our migration policy."

Other speakers from the CoR added emphases on other aspects of the EU's migration policy. Antje Grotheer (DE/PES), vice-president of Bremen City Parliament, who last year served as rapporteur on New Pact on Migration and Asylum and who is currently drafting recommendations on the Schengen area , said: "Migration without integration is doomed to fail, but this project can only be successful through effective multi-level governance, with a fair sharing of responsibilities across the EU and a thorough review of the first entry criterion."

Mark Speich (DE/EPP), North Rhine-Westphalia's secretary of state for federal, European and international affairs and chairman of the CoR commission dealing with migration, said: "To establish a reliable, sustainable and efficient European asylum and migration system we need a stable legal basis, not short-term and case-by-case solutions. In particular, it is of utmost importance that such an asylum and migration system takes into account the local and regional dimension. This has been repeatedly called for by members of the Committee of the Regions. Successful asylum and migration management starts at the local and regional level."

Mayor Kondylis focused on resolving questions about the role and mandate of the EU's enlarged border-management services, and the need for greater funding for regions and cities.

Ángel Víctor Torres Pérez (ES/PES), leader of the Government of the Canary Islands and a member of the CoR, drew particular attention to the challenges of frontline islands, saying over a videolink that a system of shared solidarity is necessary, so that "the weight of migration management does not fall exclusively on the border regions of the EU, as is the case of the Canary Islands". He specifically highlighted the challenges of protecting and caring for migrants under the age of 18, saying that there are more than 2,400 minors on the Canary Islands. The EU's "exemplary" response to the war in Ukraine should be replicated for the victims of armed conflicts, famines and climate change.

Other speakers at the conference included: Panagiotis Theodorikakos, Greece's minister of citizens’ protection; Sofia Voultepsi, Greece's deputy minister for migration and asylum; Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission; and politicians from the European, regional and local level. Expert speakers came from the European Commission, European Parliament, the OECD, and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development. A recording is available here .

The conference – entitled "The impact of managing migration and integration on local and regional authorities (LRAs), especially in border regions, and the need to enhance support to LRAs from the EU institutions" – was held on the sidelines of a meeting of the CoR's Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX).

The impact of migration on frontline regions and cities in the Mediterranean region is addressed in a recent study commissioned by the CoR. It looked at specific case studies from Nicosia in Cyprus, Thessaloniki in Greece, Milan in Italy, Malta, and Barcelona in Spain. Conclusions from the study included recommendations to involve local and regional authorities more in policy design, to increase their integration capacity, to provide more language services, and to collaborate more closely with non-state actors.

To help regional and local governments integrate newcomers, the CoR has a Cities and Regions for Integration of Migrants network aimed at using shared experiences to build inclusive cities and ensure social cohesion.

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