13th Dec 2019

Schengen at risk of collapse, as EU looks to Turkey

  • Tusk (l) said the EU's border free Schengen zone is in danger (Photo: The European Union)

Amid warnings the EU’s passport free Schengen area is facing imminent collapse, EU leaders in Valletta are banking on shoring up billions in a broader migration plan with Turkey.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk told reporters on Thursday (12 November) that “the future of Schengen is at stake,” before announcing that a summit with Turkey is likely to take place before the end of the month.

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“We are ready to hold a summit with the 28 member states with Turkey as soon as possible,” he said.

Thursday's informal meeting of EU leaders, held in the aftermath of a conference with African heads of state on reining in migrants from the continent to Europe, had been called last week by the Polish former prime minister.

With the Africa conference over, EU leaders quickly turned their attention to Turkey and the slow pace of asylum relocations from the only two operational hotspots in Italy and Greece.

The EU agreed early October to an EU-Turkey joint action plan. But it still needs to come up with some €3 billion following demands from Ankara.

The agreement came a few weeks before elections in Turkey, which saw Turkey’s autocratic president Recep Tayyip Erdogan crush the opposition.

Those tendencies were highlighted in a belated European Commission progress report out earlier this week.

It noted, among other things, Turkey’s crackdown on media freedoms and a progressive backsliding on the independence of its judiciary.

Despite the drawbacks, Turkey is seen as a key country in the EU’s increasingly desperate attempt to shore in the number of arriving migrants.

Many are Syrian refugees paying smugglers large sums of money to make the short boat trip from Turkey to Greece.

Some 660,000 have arrived in Greece since the start of the year, surpassing the arrival figures from the north African coast to Italy by over 500,000.

The European Asylum Support Office (EASO), an EU agency based in Malta, estimates around 7,000 are arriving on the Greek islands every day.

The figures, and the ensuing ad-hoc attempts by some member states to control their own borders, has spooked EU leaders to agree to Turkish demands on accelerating visa liberation.

The commission wants to open a new enlargement chapter (chapter 17, on monetary affairs) before the end of the year.

For his part, Frans Timmermans, the EU commission vice-president, was in Ankara on Wednesday to negotiate the deal.

On Thursday, he briefed the EU leaders at the Valletta informal summit.

“We are getting close to a conclusion, things are moving ahead well,” said commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The €3 billion is part of a "refugee grant facility for Turkey."

The money will provide direct grants to support Turkey, which is hosting some 2.2 million refugees.

Some €500 million comes from the EU budget and will be spread over two years.

The remaining €2.5 billion will come from member state contributions. The amount requested from each one is based on the same formula used to determine member state contributions to the EU budget.

Germany will have to fork out the most, some €534 million, followed by France (€281mn), and Italy (€281mn).

“We will be able to achieve that and conclude our negotiations with Turkey at the special summit,” said Juncker.

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