Monday

6th Apr 2020

Erdoğan to meet top EU officials on border crisis

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (r) also met EU Council president Charles Michel in Ankara last week (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is coming to Brussels on Monday (9 March) amid an ongoing emergency on the Greek border.

He will hold talks with EU Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at 6PM on "migration, security, stability in the region, and the crisis in Syria", the EU Council said on Sunday.

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  • Erdogan (l) with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow (Photo: The Kremlin)

It called the special summit an "EU-Turkey leaders' meeting".

The Turkish EU embassy did not give further details.

The summit comes after Erdoğan agreed a Syria ceasefire with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week.

It also comes after the EU said it "strongly rejects Turkey's use of migratory pressure for political purposes" in a special foreign minister's meeting in Zagreb on Friday.

The new emergency arose when Erdoğan opened his borders for migrants and refugees to go to Greece one week ago, saying the West was not doing enough to help him in the Syria war and on other issues.

But EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Friday that Europe would not negotiate until Erdoğan pulled back the migrants back.

"Normalise it [the Greek border situation]. That is the prerequisite to talk about everything else," Borrell said.

And US diplomats said the same.

"The uncontrolled movement of thousands of people who have been misled into believing that the road to Europe is open is fundamentally destabilising ... It needs to change," Matthew Palmer, a US special envoy, said in Athens on Saturday.

The situation remained tense over the weekend.

Migrants threw stones at Greek police and tore down fences, the Reuters news agency said. Greek police also fired tear gas and water cannon at migrants and Turkish police fired tear gas at Greek police.

Greece said it has prevented 38,000 irregular crossings since Erdoğan gave the green light on 28 February.

Turkey claims more than 130,000 people have gone to the EU.

"It is proving difficult to estimate the numbers of migrants on the move," the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a UN agency, said.

But "many" people were stranded in the Greek border region, the IOM added, some of them "after walking long distances carrying their belongings, children, and babies on their backs".

At least two people died earlier in violence and accidents, prompting accusations of Greek police brutality.

And Greece's unilateral decision to refuse all asylum applications for one month broke international law, the UN has said.

Carte blanche?

But the EU and US diplomats appeared to give Greece a carte blanche to keep the border closed.

"Illegal crossings will not be tolerated," the EU foreign ministers said in Zagreb.

"Don't go to the border - the border is not open", Borrell also said in a direct message to refugees.

"Avoid a situation in which you could be in danger ... We can avoid events which end unhappily and can produce loss of human life," he said.

"I, personally, have been impressed by the professionalism of the Greek security services," Palmer, the US envoy said.

The 2020 border crisis is much smaller than in 2015, when one million people entered the EU, prompting a surge in support for far-right parties.

It could escalate if Russian and Syrian regime forces pushed more refugees from the Idlib region in northwest Syria into Turkey despite Erdoğan and Putin's truce.

But its political impact would be different compared to five years ago, one expert said.

Far right

A new border crisis might help nationalist leaders in Hungary and Poland to claim victory in calling for a hard EU line on migration, Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert on far-right politics at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, a think-tank in Kiev, told EUobserver.

But far right parties would get a smaller bump this time round because mainstream EU parties had become more like them, he added.

"The position of many centre-right and centrist parties in Europe is not so different from the far right on immigration these days," Shekhovtsov said.

"This [border crisis] is a gift for them [Hungarian and Polish leaders], but it's not so much a gift for the far right," he said.

Commission silent on Greece suspending asylum claims

Greece is now "Europe's shield" said the European Commission, as it shores up border patrols on the Turkish border. But when it comes to Greece suspending asylum claims, the same institution was unable to comment.

Turkey calls for EU action on Idlib

The EU must help Turkey in Syria as well as honour a 2016 migration pact if it wanted the flow of refugees to end, Turkey's EU embassy has said.

Opinion

Threat to EU on Greece-Turkey border is EU-made

Despite the escalating bloodshed in Idlib, the EU had made no evident plans to continue funding Syrian refugees in Turkey with the impending expiration of the so-called EU-Turkey statement.

In Saudi Arabia, contacting the EU is a crime

Women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is facing trial. One of the allegations is contacting the EU delegation. Despite pressure from Brussels, Saudi Arabia remains unimpressed.

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