BOSTON – Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Union Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, will be the Grand Marshal at Boston’s Greek Parade celebrating Greek Independence on Sunday, April 7. He will also travel to Washington and New York for talks with government and UN officials.
In an interview with The National Herald Avramopoulos spoke about EU–U.S. relations, the purpose of his trip to the United States, European Union Elections, migration and security issues, and the Greek-American Community.
Speaking about EU-U.S. relations Avramopoulos said, “relations between the European Union and the United States have deep roots and a longstanding history. Today we find ourselves at a historical moment, ahead of profound global changes, where the prosperity and stability of important democracies are at stake, but with tensions fuelled by the rise of xenophobia, populism, nationalism, and hostile foreign states. Right now, the global system needs stable leadership, which can be offered through a strong and steadfast transatlantic partnership. At a time when global tectonic power plates are shifting, migration and terrorism continue to be the two top issues that American and European citizens worry about. This is precisely why I was the first EU Commissioner to visit the new U.S. administration, and lay the foundations to further strengthen and deepen the longstanding transatlantic friendship and alliance. Since 2014, I developed deep and fruitful relations with all my counterparts, and particularly with former Secretary of Homeland Security, Mr. Jeh Johnson, and former Attorney General, Ms. Loretta Lynch. We have also frank and far-reaching cooperation with the current administration, even with the frequent changes in my counterparts.”
Regarding his visit to the United States he said, “This visit focuses primarily on meeting the UN leadership to discuss the global challenges that face us in the area of migration and security. I will meet the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, and the new President of the UN General Assembly, Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces. During my visit to Washington D.C., I will meet the Chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Mr. Ron Johnson, and I will deliver a keynote speech at the Atlantic Council, a think-tank which has for decades been at the forefront of the transatlantic relationship. Last but certainly not least, it will be a great honour for me to serve as the Grand Marshal of the annual Independence Day parade in Boston on Sunday, April 7.”
To the question, “How do you see things evolving ahead of the European Union elections regarding migration and security issues,” he replied, “The upcoming European elections will be nothing short of existential for the future of Europe. It is Sixty-one years after the establishment of the European Economic Community, and unfortunately we see the fundamental values of solidarity and responsibility being challenged. Some governments – not States – choose to look only inwards, ignoring their responsibilities as European states and feeding Euro-scepticism through populist slogans. As we move towards the European elections, we know that some populist entities are ready to misuse the issues of migration and security to build their political careers based on fear and disinformation. It is our duty to ensure that our citizens can vote without interference and disinformation that confuse their choices.”
When TNH asked his opinion about accusations that Greece is neglecting migrants on the islands, he said that, “Greece is under great migratory pressure. Difficult living conditions and overcrowding on the islands remain issues that the Greek government has to face. Indeed, there are gaps and shortcomings, which must be covered. I was myself in Athens in March for another working meeting with a group of Ministers who are directly involved in tackling the migration issue. I received assurances that the Greek authorities will accelerate the processes to improve the living conditions of refugees and migrants on the islands, as well as the processing of their applications so that we now know who is entitled and who is not entitled to enter the schemes of resettlement or to return to Turkey, as was foreseen in the EU-Turkey statement. We are trying, by helping the Greek authorities, to improve the situation on the ground. For this reason, we support the country financially, politically and practically. And we will continue to do so as much as we can – but we cannot replace the responsibilities of the Greek authorities of course.”
To a follow up question about whether the EU is supporting Greece practically, and to what extent, Avramopoulos said, “we have supported and will continue to support the Greek authorities operationally, financially, and politically. In Greece, the migratory pressure has come down significantly, from 10,000 arrivals per day in 2015 to just 81 per day in 2018. This has been made possible thanks to the EU-Turkey Statement and over 2 billion euros of financial support from the EU budget. What is more, 471 officers of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and 214 officers of the European Asylum Support Office are supporting the Greek authorities on the ground. Finally, permanent Commission representatives have been deployed to Samos and Lesvos since 2016, supporting our Greek and international partners in the field. We are offering our unconditional support to Greece. But it is the Greek authorities that are responsible for the overall migration management in the country. The Commission provides support but does not in any way replace the Greek authorities, which have to put in place an effective national strategy for migration management, allowing for better cooperation among national authorities.”
Asked, given the grotesque events surrounding Brexit, his thoughts about the future of the EU, he said, “for the first time in history our Union is shrinking. This is something we all regret. But we will always respect the will of the British people, and we fully respect the internal procedures that have to be followed by the UK Government on this issue. Given the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons on March 29, it is up to the United Kingdom to indicate the way forward before April 12, which is the extension date agreed to by the European Council. On our part, we remain committed to the European ideal and keep the fundamental values and principles of the Union alive. We all have to send a strong message every day about our common European path through respect for diversity and solidarity.”
TNH asked, given that Avramopoulos was a fellow at Harvard and that his children also studied at Boston universities, about his thoughts on the Greek-American Community and what he believes should be the role of the Greek diaspora during this difficult time for Greece. Avramopoulos said, “from the very first moment and under any public role that I have served, the Greek diaspora has always been in my heart and at the top of my political priorities. In all my visits to the United States, my meetings with representatives from the Greek diaspora have always been an important aspect. I truly believe that Ecumenical Hellenism can play an important role in promoting the image of Greece and reopening the road to growth and development through investment, as well as through the participation of distinguished Greeks of the Diaspora in all fields, such as academia, the arts, politics, science, and economics, with the aim of helping Greece.”
Asked if he believed if Greece is properly handing Diaspora relations or is falling behind regarding what it should be doing, especially given that new generations are creating new dynamics and prospects, he said, “the Greek diaspora is significant in terms of size and activity in all fields such as culture, science, and sports. Almost every day, I read in the news about the achievements and breakthroughs of Greeks abroad, whether we are talking about technology, medicine or innovation. We, as Greeks, need to tap into this well of potential abroad. I am sure you know that in the years following the economic crisis, the phenomenon of emigration from Greece has intensified and this concerns mostly, but not exclusively, our youth. I strongly believe, as I said above, that both the established and the new elements of the Diaspora could play a significant part in helping Greece get back on its feet either by bringing back their knowledge and international expertise or by investing in Greek potential. However, from the side of Greece, we need to also set out appropriate conditions for this undertaking and to create new opportunities and new avenues for cooperation.”