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17th Apr 2021

EU courts Turkey ahead of summit

  • Erdogan (l) and Tusk could meet in November for further talks (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU leaders will discuss ways to get Turkey's help on stemming the flow of refugees at a summit in Brussels on Thursday (15 October).

“Syria and Turkey are the real topics”, said one diplomat ahead of the EU event.

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The EU executive is pushing for measures that can act as an incentive for Turkey, a main entry point for migrants and refugees escaping war and destitution, to help out.

“I have no illusions that there will be very difficult bargaining with Turkey”, said an EU official.

EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans and the Commissioner for neighborhood policy, Johannes Hahn, left for Ankara on Wednesday in an effort to speed up high-level talks on cooperation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is paying a visit on Sunday.

Before leaving, Timmermans said he'll report back to EU leaders on Thursday to what extent he can come to agreement with the Turkish side on elements of an EU action plan.

The plan is a list of measures, drafted by the Commission, which range from supporting refugee camps in Turkey to better border control.

“I do see a reason to intensify a dialogue with Turkey on issues that perhaps should have been moved forward more rapidly in the past", Timmermans said.

However, Turkey has so far showed little enthusiasm for the proposals.

More important issues for Turkey are visa liberalisation and opening up new chapters in EU accession talks.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday that he would like to see visa-free arrangements for Turkish business travellers, and to expand the measure from there.

“I think we need to speed up the visa liberalisation process", he said.

The draft conclusions of Thursday’s summit also foresee a speedy visa process if Turkey steps up help on migrants.

Juncker commended Turkey for being open to joining joint surveillance of the sea between Greece and Turkey, where hundreds of thousands of refugees cross into Europe on dinghies.

He called on the Greeks, who so far been reluctant, to join the effort.

The Commission president also said Turkey should be included in the list of "safe" countries, whose nationals would then have little chance of being granted asylum in Europe.

He highlighted that Turkey is the only EU candidate country not on the list.

Germany has opposed including Turkey on the list due to human rights concerns.

On Monday, a senior government official signalled, according to Reuters, that Berlin might be willing to drop its opposition. But no decision is expected on Thursday.

In other efforts, the Commission has postponed, by one week, its annual assessment of EU candidate countries' reforms.

“It was deliberately postponed not to get on the nerves of Turkey, as it was a very critical report", said one EU diplomat.

Juncker said on Wednesday the EU is willing to open new chapters in the accession talks.

But one issue on Turkey's wish list - EU support for the creation of safe zones inside Syria - has become increasingly complicated due to Russia's bombing campaign.

Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu has written to EU capitals saying if there are no safe zones and if fighting escalates then many more refugees are likely to come.

The EU leaders will discuss the idea.

But EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini, earlier this week, said there's little prospect of going ahead.

She cited Europe's negative experience in the Western Balkan wars, where a "safe" zone in Bosnia, which wasn't properly enforced, ended in the Srebrenica genocide.

The US, which would have to enforce security, is equally lukewarm.

For their part, EU Council chief Donald Tusk and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who met in Brussels 10 days ago, are considering holding another summit in November, after Turkish elections.

But EU sources note that geopolitics, rather than bilateral ties, are becoming more relevant on the dossier.

"Peace in Europe depends on the situation outside of Europe, meaning foreign policy is more important than before, and this translates to questions whether Turkey is a safe country or not", one EU official said.

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