Vocal Europe: What is your take on the current refugee crisis Europe is facing? How did Europe end up with such a huge flow of refugees?
Sergei Stanishev: This is the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, but although it may seem big it is not a big burden for Europe, if we think that the number of refugees on our soil represents just 0.11% of the EU population. We need to find comprehensive solutions to handle this emergency which have to start by tackling the root causes: war, poverty and a rise in social inequality.
Europe has a pivotal role to play in its neighbourhood. A strong cooperation with key partners in the Middle East region and in Africa will be key to developing a holistic strategy to deal with the multi-faceted challenges triggering these massive migratory flows. Europe is a wealthy continent which has been living in peace and guaranteeing stability for its citizens for many many years.
It doesn’t surprise me that people seeking protection and dreaming of a better future, put themselves through a perilous journey which could end with their death, just because they want to reach our countries. Should we blame them for that? No, I don’t think so, because I would have done the same, if I had to escape with my wife and my children from war, persecution and poverty and I had no other option than that.
Vocal Europe: What are the measures to be taken in short-, mid-, and long run to limit the negative impact of refugee crisis on Europe? What is PES’ position on that?
Sergei Stanishev: As social democrats, we believe that the respect of human dignity and fundamental rights should be at the forefront of each decision taken to deal with this multifaceted topic. We ask for humanity and solidarity, and the compliance with all legal obligations to protect these refugees under international, humanitarian law and EU rules. Both when it comes to welcome them and when dealing with the return procedures. Short and mid term strategies should be focused on the protection of unaccompanied children, of vulnerable people (women and elderly people) by providing them with the support they need but above all respecting their fundamental rights.
In a mid-term, we strongly support the enhancement of effective integration policies, which provide access to basic rights, such as education, healthcare, social housing, and access to the labour market and guarantees for a decent standard of living. These policies must be developed in close cooperation between national, regional and local authorities which deal with these issues on a daily basis. Education in particular is one of the cornerstones for the integration of children and their families in our societies and we must foster it.
Healthcare and medical assistance, in particular for pregnant women or female victims of sexual exploitation and violence, should be an integral part of the aid provided. In a long run, safe and legal channels to allow refugees to seek protection without putting their lives at risk is fundamental. We believe that a well-managed migration and integration policy can become a tremendous opportunity that Europe should not miss as it can enrich our continent culturally, economically and socially. Our economies can only benefit and be revitalised.
Vocal Europe: How do you asses Mr. Tusk’s visit he paid recently to Turkey? Many friends of Europe in Turkey and friends of Turkey in Europe are in opinion that this visit has been utilized by Mr. Erdogan and governing AK Party for domestic consumption.
Sergei Stanishev: In light of the current refugee crisis, it is important to maintain and nurture a continuous dialogue with Turkey. Turkey hosts nearly 2 million refugees and is an important ally in the region. We need to work together to assess regional security risks and address the needs of refugees.
Vocal Europe: What is your take on the Erdogan’s visit to Brussels? How realistic that Europe will get what it wants from Turkey vis-a-vis refugee crisis?
Sergei Stanishev: Erdogan’s visit to Brussels is again part of a wider dialogue the EU maintains with a number of countries in the region to address the refugee crisis. We both have an interest in containing the refugee crisis. The EU Turkey action plan contains elements which are beneficial for both parties.
Vocal Europe: Many European officials think that Mr. Erdogan is in a stronger position then he was regarding the refugee crisis Europe is facing and that provides him a leverage over Europe. So that, Europe has to learn under any circumstance to work with Mr. Erdogan. Do you think that EU’s low-profile engagement with Turkey’s internal politics/political crises is because of such reason?
Sergei Stanishev: Turkey and the EU both have an interest in maintaining a strong relationship. We are both economically and politically tied together. But we remain critical when it comes to our fundamental values. The European Parliament recently adopted a report which criticized the Turkish government’s policies regarding freedom of media and independence of the judiciary. Our European values apply equally to all candidate member states.