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Wake-up Call for Europe

2015 was a year of multiple, deep crises: the Greek financial crisis, the refugee crisis

and finally, a crisis of confidence concerning our capacity to secure and defend our

open societies and the fundamental values upon which the EU is based.

Dr. Johannes Hahn

Since November 2014 the

Austrian politician is

Commissioner for

European Neighbourhood

Policy & Enlargement

Negotiations. He previously

served as European

Commissioner for Regional

Policy in the second

Barroso Commission,

succeeding Benita

Ferrero-Waldner as

Austria‘s EU representative.

To say that borders have a different meaning in

a globalised world has become a bit of a calendar

motto over the last years. But 2015

showed us very forcefully that boundaries risk completely

losing their function as unmovable demarcations

of sovereignty under the pressure of global migration


This challenge goes straight to the heart of what

our states – and our European Union – are all about.

Our citizens rightly demand that their freedom and

safety, which goes hand in hand, are protected.

Hence, the main and most immediate question is

how we can reinforce our external borders more intelligently.

The European Commission proposed concrete

action for stronger and sounder EU border-management

last year. Not just to tackle external challenges,

but also to protect the freedom of movement within

the EU, a huge privilege which we must not take for

granted. Schengen is not a treaty, but a way of life

from which we all benefit. It is mentioned by citizens

as the EU‘s most highly valued benefit according to

Eurobarometer surveys. The aim must be clear

therefore: to regain full control of our external borders

and to guarantee this also for the future.

Tackling the root causes: Cooperation in our neighbourhood.

To manage our external borders better, we also

have to be more precise and clearer in defining who

is coming in, so that we can really help the most vulnerable

refugees. We must define right from the beginning

people‘s chances to obtain asylum via registration

centres (hotspots), and be open to those in

need while being firm against those who profit from

illegal immigration by exploiting hopes. Obviously

we must do this together, in a coherent way. It is clear

that no Member State alone can tackle this task, and

that dumping the problem from one state to the

other, as happened this summer, is making things

worse. But even Europe alone cannot tackle this

challenge by itself. We need much stronger cooperation

with our neighbouring countries and with the

countries of origin, where we must tackle the root

causes driving migration.

Therefore also the involvement of the Western

Balkan countries which were heavily affected by the

refugee crisis as transit countries, as well as of Turkey

was a key step into the right direction. Also our efforts

to support other host countries than Turkey

with additional aid, such as Jordan and Lebanon, remain

crucial as they are in many ways even more

exposed. Ahead of the London conference in February

which will deal with support for host countries in

our Southern Neighbourhood, the Commission will

come forward with targeted support measures. Experience

has shown that this policy of establishing

productive co operations is more relevant than ever.

Of course, this kind of cooperation is not a oneway

street. It must be based on mutual interests, trust

and shared responsibilities. And be focused on a genuine

reform and stabilization agenda. Close monitoring

of progress, personal contacts not only with

politicians, but stakeholders and representatives of

civil society and, most important, visits to the countries

– more than 50 in my first year of mandate! –

are essential to steer the cooperation process.

Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy: creating

stability in the EU‘s interest.

Closer to home, 2015 also demonstrated that it is

in our own interest to offer our most immediate

neighbours a credible long-term perspective of joining

our Union. The European Perspective serves as

an important incentive for reforms and this reinvigorated

approach is showing first positive results: Serbia

succeeded this year to open the first chapters;

Montenegro two additional ones, Albania is progressing

well, Bosnia and Herzegovina is slowly but steadily

getting back on track, Kosovo is on a good way

towards visa-liberalisation and I hope, that based on

our great efforts, it will also be possible to overcome

definitively the political crisis in the former Yugoslav

Republic of Macedonia. The EU‘s investment in these

countries pays back: Progress with economic and

democratic reforms in countries in our immediate

neighbourhood is vital for the security, stability and

prosperity of all Europeans.

In the same vein, we also succeeded to get a new

dynamic into the cooperation with Turkey. From the

very beginning of my mandate it was my aim to re-


energize Turkey‘s role as an important strategic partner

while at the same time pushing harder for urgently

needed reforms in the country, especially with

regard to rule of law and judiciary. We were very

clear in our 2015 country report what we expect

from Turkey on these political fundamentals, without

which there can‘t be any progress in the accession

negotiations. The same applies to the action plan

which will work only if Turkey delivers the provisions

according to clearly defined standards. The two

processes are linked, of course, but there is no deal

whatever and as we have shown with our Enlargement

report we will never compromise on the required


We have also made good progress with the European

Neighbourhood Policy by presenting an ambitious

reform which will make the policy more effective

in delivering on stabilization, security, and

economic reforms, while finding more efficient and

smarter ways to pursue our values. Georgia and Ukraine

have just recently received positive recommendations

for Visa-liberalisation – a crucial deliverable

for their people - and today we mark a new level of

EU-Ukraine relationship with the entry of force of

the Trade Agreement (DCFTA ) as an important part

of the Association Agreement. All this proves the

EU‘s peaceful power of attraction beyond its borders.

The reformed ENP will become a more nuanced

toolbox for cooperation and sovereign choices at

times when others try to impose their will on their


The time for national solos is over.

If there is one lesson taught by this year‘s refugee

crisis it is the awareness that only through hands-on

cooperation will we be able to shape globalisation

proactively and according to our standards and

needs. This also applies to the cooperation among

EU Member States. The European project will only

succeed if EU Member States realise that the time for

national solos is over. National grandstanding and

„not in my backyard policies“ must be a thing of the

past. Not for dogmatic or ideological reasons, but

simply because they fail to deliver on issues vital to

citizens such as liberty, security, mobility.

52 Cercle Diplomatique 1/2016

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