Tuesday

26th May 2020

Turkey demands €3bn on EU asylum crisis

  • Turkey wants EU membership talks stepped up (Photo: Lars K. Christensen)

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels endorsed a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees amid new demands from Ankara for more money.

"We were able to reach an agreement this evening as regards the shape this action plan will take", European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on Thursday (15 October).

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It requires Syrian and other refugees in Turkey to remain in the country and prevent them from transiting into the EU.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk said an agreement with Turkey only "makes sense only if it effectively contains the flow of refugees".

The broader plan includes shoring up external border controls, stepping up returns of unwanted migrants, and granting the EU's border agency Frontex more powers to expel rejected asylum applicants.

Turkey had also asked for €3 billion in financial aid following a visit to Ankara on Wednesday by EU Commission-vice president Frans Timmermans and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn.

The Ankara move comes on the back of months of desperate efforts by EU leaders to cope with the approximately 600,000 people arriving in Europe to claim asylum over the past ten months. The EU in September had already pledged some €1 billion but member states have so far come up short.

EU leaders did not object to the extra €2 billion, but refrained from making an explicit reference in the summit conclusions. Details on how to raise the money still need to be discussed. Instead they say they are ready to "step up their political and financial engagement substantially".

EU membership and visas

Turkey, for its part, wants to speed up membership to the European Union and have visa restrictions removed next year. The official deadline for removing the visas has already been set to October 2017 and is unlikely to change.

In exchange, the European Commission is prepared to 're-energise' work on visas and membership but only if Turkey meets the required benchmarks.

"On visa liberalisation with Turkey, we agreed [the] process will be accelerated. Criteria remain the same", said Juncker.

One EU official said it means talks will take place twice a year instead of once. But any chance of lifting visas in 2016 is low given general EU opposition and Erdogan's growing authoritarian tendencies.

Turkey's demands on EU membership come amid a recent spate of imprisoning journalists and cracking down on Kurdish minorities.

Twin explosions in Ankara last weekend killed almost 100 union workers and Kurdish activists.

Ankara blamed the Islamic state and then imposed a media blackout on the "scope of the investigation file" into the terrorist attack.

Europe's top human rights envoy Nils Muiznieks on Thursday described the move as a major blow to the freedom of expression.

Delayed report

But the possibility of millions of Syrian refugees arriving in the EU from Turkey if the war escalates has softened criticism against Erdogan's hardline government.

A critical European Commission progress report was supposed to be released this week but has now been postponed, possibly until after Turkey's elections at the start of November.

One European Commission official explained the delay was procedural "in order to give it the time and attention it deserves."

Erdogan had in the past purged hundreds of police officers and cracked down on the judiciary following an investigation into high-level corruption.

He now wants five EU accession chapters opened on the judiciary, justice, economic and monetary policy, education, and energy.

Of those, the European Commission had only recommended to open the economic and monetary chapter.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag that the EU must work with Turkey on the crisis but stopped short on scrapping visas. Merkel will be heading to Ankara on Sunday to continue the talks.

French president Francois Hollande, for his part, insisted Turkey would still have to apply all the legal criteria regardless of the demands linked to the refugee crisis.

"That implies administrative and legal steps, with a necessary link between visa liberalisation and readmissions. We are not going to give up on that balance. But we can go faster if commitments on both sides are met", said an EU diplomat.

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