The Foreign and Interior Ministers of the Western Balkan countries were invited by Austria to a meeting held on 24 February 2016 to discuss a coordinated approach to the migration problem.

However, this initiative by the Austrian Government is an infringement of the Brussels agreement and runs counter to the EU acquis, since, on the one hand, the proposed measures would leave Greece isolated and forced to deal with illegal migrants unaided and, on the other, tens of thousands of refugees and migrants would be at direct risk of being left stranded in Greece.

In view of this:
1. Does the Commission consider that the meeting organised by Austria with the Balkan countries raises questions regarding Member State solidarity and the EU acquis?
2. Does it infringe the Brussels agreement regarding the control of migrant flows?
3. Is the decision to close the borders of Austria and the countries to the north of Greece in line with the Brussels agreement, and what view does the Commission take of this?

Answer given by Mr Avramopoulos on behalf of the Commission

The challenges of the migratory crisis are multi-faceted. In the communication of 10 February 2016 ‘State of Play of Implementation of the Priority Actions under the European Agenda on Migration’(1), the Commission identified different policies that need to be put in place to address the crisis in all its complexity. The communication, among others, stressed the need of stopping the ‘wave through’ approach, which is considered to be an important trigger of secondary movements. For the Commission a concerted approach responding to different challenges is more auspicious than unilateral solutions, especially if focused on one area, even if adopted by several countries. In this context the Commission called in its communication of 4 March 2016 ‘Back to Schengen’(2) Member States to pull together in the common interest to safeguard Schengen, along the steps identified in the presented roadmap.

As stressed in the Council Conclusions of 18 February 2016: ‘We need to get back to a situation where all Members of the Schengen area apply fully the Schengen Borders Code and refuse entry at external borders to third-country nationals who do not satisfy the entry conditions or who have not made an asylum application despite having had the opportunity to do so […].’ Under EC law the access to the asylum procedure must be granted to all persons who request asylum in a given Member State, although the decision where the application will be dealt with would be determined in accordance with the relevant provisions of EC law.

The Commission is in contact with all Member States, including with the Austrian authorities.

(1) COM(2016)0085 final.
(2) COM(2016)0120 final.