Speaking at a press conference on Monday morning, Ursula von der Leyen made no bones about the gravity of the situation, saying, “Today we are in the middle of a deep dilemma. There is pressure on the EU’s external border – migrants need help and Greece needs help.”
“This is a very acute situation. Finding a solution means relieving pressure on the border while ensuring that the individual right to request asylum is respected.”
“The right to ask for asylum is a fundamental right,” she added.
Thousands of refugees have been attempting to cross into Greece from Turkey in recent days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he was “opening the doors” for those wishing to enter Europe.
Turkey currently hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees, as well as migrants from other countries such as Afghanistan.
Von der Leyen said that she was meeting Erdoğan tonight to “rekindle dialogue.”
“Tonight is the restart of dialogue – this is the beginning and we hope to develop a common roadmap. We will talk of stability in the region, reducing tension and pressure on the Turkish border,” she said, adding, “we must also guarantee fundamental rights.”
“Today we are in the middle of a deep dilemma. There is pressure on the EU’s external border – migrants need help and Greece needs help. This is a very acute situation”
“We will be taking a step-by-step look at both points of view and how to move forward positively. We need to do everything we can to ensure that the situation calms down and we have to talk to all stakeholders – the Greek Prime Minister first of all.”
On the issue of unaccompanied minors on the Greek islands, von der Leyen said that measures had to be taken immediately.
“In the long term we need systematic, reliable processes to give unaccompanied minors a safe place to stay and a mechanism to deal with them.”
Turning to the pressing issue of the Coronavirus in Europe, von der Leyen said “We don’t know what kind of crisis this will be. This is an acute situation. The spread of this virus not only has a vast impact on people’s lives but also on our economy.”
She said, "In these difficult times people in Member States are asking for more Europe” but that without a new budget “we are running short of flexibility.”
“I call urgently on Member States – we really need common ground on the MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework], it is very late already.”
Crisis management aside, von der Leyen spoke of the Commission’s achievements during the past 100 days and thanked her “dedicated” College of Commissioners, adding, “these 100 days were amazing with them.”
“The spread of this virus not only has a vast impact on people’s lives but also on our economy”
Von der Leyen referred to several of the Commission’s flagship policies, most notably the European Green Deal, which sets out a roadmap of how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
“Today we no longer speak of ‘if’ there will be a Green Deal; it is now a question of ‘how’ we are proceeding. Today the Green Deal is known to everybody.”
Another key policy for the von der Leyen Commission’s five-year mandate is the agenda to shape Europe’s digital future.
“After the first 100 days, in 5G for the first time the EU has a common position on security risks and how to deal with them. The EU has a huge amount of sleeping potential of unused data.”
On day 101 of her Commission, von der Leyen explained that the Commission’s Industrial strategy will be unveiled, adding, “With our Industrial Strategy we will sharpen our instruments globally; we’re not naïve about global competition.”