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25th Mar 2019

Merkel creates EU core group on refugees

  • Merkel: Resettlement club open to more volunteers in future (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

German leader Angela Merkel has said a core group of eight EU states is preparing to resettle refugees from Turkish camps next year.

The eight leaders - from Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Sweden - held a separate meeting in Brussels on Sunday (29 November), shortly before the 28 member states met with Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu.

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  • Tusk (r) and Davutoglu: Tusk said Turkey must deliver on 'values' and 'human rights' to advance on EU path (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Merkel said the idea is to “replace illegal migration with legal migration … it's an uphill struggle, but it's well worth the effort.”

She noted the initial talks “didn't come to any definitive position … we didn’t talk about any specific numbers.”

She also said other member states can join what EU diplomats called the “coalition of the willing” in future.

She added: "We will now begin the work [on details] in the next few days. The European Commission will then make its proposals to the EU Council on 17 December.”

FAZ, the German daily, said the scheme will cover 400,000 people. But Dutch PM Mark Rutte echoed Merkel in saying the number remains to be agreed.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission chief, endorsed the idea, saying: “This is a meeting of those states which are prepared to take in large numbers of refugees from Turkey legally.”

But for its part, Poland voiced disquiet.

Beata Szydlo, its new PM, noted that the Visegrad states - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia - also met before the EU summit to reiterate opposition to EU resettlement or relocation quotas.

“I can’t imagine that decisions will be taken in such a format [Merkel’s mini-summit] and then imposed on other member states,” she said.

Konrad Szymaski, Poland’s EU affairs minister, noted the group-of-eight is more or less the same set of countries which are considering the idea of a “mini-Schengen” - restricting EU free movement to an inner circle.

“We don’t want these tensions inside the EU to be used as a pretext for suspending or restricting the Schengen area,” he said.

The "tensions" arose after pro-refugee states outvoted the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia on quotas to redistribute 120,000 refugees.

Some 1.5 million people have come to the EU for asylum this year.

Turkey is hosting 2.5 million refugees. The UN says up to 8 million people are internally displaced in Syria.

Turkey-EU deal

The EU-Turkey summit agreed the EU will pay Ankara an “initial” sum of €3 billion to take care of refugees in return for stricter border controls with Greece.

EU states also said they would hold twice-yearly summits with Turkey; open a new negotiating chapter (on economic policy) in EU entry talks on 14 December; prepare to open further chapters next year; and aim for Turkish visa-free travel to the EU by October 2016.

Both the EU and Turkey played down expectations of a quick fix, however.

Asked if he can guarantee the numbers of EU-bound refugees will go down, Davutoglu said: “I wish to say to you: ‘Yes. The number of migrants will decline.’ But we cannot say this because we don’t know what will be going on in Syria.”

“To solve this crisis, we need a solution to the Syria conflict.”

EU Council chief Donald Tusk said: “This is not a simple, trivial trade: money for numbers of refugees - that would be unfeasible and immoral.”

He added: “We do not expect anybody to guard our borders for us. That can only be done by Europeans.”

Tusk and Juncker also tied progress on Turkey’s EU accession and visa-free travel to other conditions.

Conditionality

Tusk said normal EU entry benchmarks - “including respect for European values … human rights” - continue to apply.

Juncker said "we cannot change the basic criteria” on visas. He said opening of other EU entry chapters, beyond economic policy, will depend on solving the Cyprus-Turkey conflict.

For his part, French leader Francois Hollande said the €3 billion will be paid in tranches linked to Turkey’s implementation of promises.

He also said “conditions [for Turkish EU entry] haven’t changed … there is no need to accelerate or slow down the process.”

He said regaining control of borders is important for European security because jihadists have “infiltrated” the Syrian diaspora.

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