Friday

22nd Mar 2019

EU hopes Turkey summit to ease migrant crisis

  • 'They [Turkey] can do a lot if they want to [stop refugees coming]', an EU source said (Photo: Christopher Jahn/IFRC)

When Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes to Brussels, EU leaders will be hoping he’ll help stop the flow of refugees without asking too much in return.

Erdogan, will, on Monday (5 October), meet the presidents of the top three EU institutions and, separately, the king of Belgium.

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  • Erdogan (r) wants to look like a top statesman ahead of elections (Photo: Council of the EU)

He’ll also hold a joint dinner with the EU’s Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Martin Schulz.

His visit comes as huge numbers of refugees, mostly from Syria, are crossing via Turkey to the EU’s borders.

It also comes before parliamentary elections in Turkey on 1 November, with Erdogan’s party seeking a large enough majority to transfer power to his presidential office.

Monday’s summit will be short on “deliverables” - formal new agreements or major financial decisions.

But both sides have practical and strategic objectives for future months.

Boats to Greece

An EU source said the bloc wants Turkey to stop refugees going to Greece by boat.

“They need to do everything they can, and they can do a lot if they want to”, the contact said. “Basically, we need them to stop the boats".

He noted that EU countries recently pledged extra UN money for refugees in Turkey.

“The aim is to improve the conditions in the refugee camps in Turkey, so people have less incentive to leave. We … expect the Turks to improve the situation in the camps”.

A second EU source said Erdogan’s visit might pave the way for action in time for the next EU summit, in mid-October.

“We need something concrete from Turkey by the summit, it might not happen on Monday”, the contact noted.

Practicalities

For its part, Turkey is interested in visa-free travel, being designated as a “safe country of origin”, and more EU aid money.

Germany, which already hosts a large Turkish minority, France, and the Netherlands, are wary of lifting visa restrictions.

But European Commission president Jucker is expected to voice political commitment to the process, if Turkey fulfills technical conditions.

Germany and Sweden also oppose designating Turkey as “safe” for asylum seeker returns due to Erdogan’s tainted human rights record.

Erdogan wants the status as a mark of national prestige.

Juncker, this week, lobbied Berlin on his behalf. But EU officials say the positive decision is “not yet ripe”.

Bigger picture

EU sources also say Erdogan is angling for bigger things.

An EU diplomat said he wants EU backing for Nato powers to carve out and protect a “safe zone” for displaced people in northern Syria.

He wants to boost his image among Turkish voters

He also wants to drop the hint the EU should think twice before criticisng him on electoral standards or rights abuses.

“He won’t directly ask Tusk or Juncker to stay quiet if there are election problems”, the diplomat noted.

“But he'll come to Brussels and demand EU support for Turkey to solve the refugee crisis, which means to solve the Syria conflict. He’ll put it all into one bag”.

“He’ll pull some kind of horrible number out of his hat and say: ‘Just think of the millions of refugees who could arrive here any minute unless you take action jointly with Turkey’," the diplomat added.

“He wants Turkey to be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem”.

Turkish voters snub Erdogan

The AKP party has lost its majority in Turkey, putting the brakes on president Erdogan’s plan to consolidate power.

EU unveils Turkey migration plan

The Commission has unveiled a plan on how to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey, including extra funds and a joint crackdown on smugglers.

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