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25th May 2019

'Coalition of willing' announces EU-Turkey summit

  • Turkish prime minister Davutoglu. The summit will take stock of the implementation of the EU-Turkey action plan. (Photo: Consillium)

A new EU-Turkey summit will take place in February, it emerged after a mini-summit in Brussels Thursday (17 December) involving some EU leaders and the Turkish prime minister.

All 28 member states will be invited to the meeting, which is to take place just before the regular EU summit on 18-19 February, but it is not clear whether all will participate.

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"The aim will be to take stock of the implementation of the EU-Turkey action plan" agreed in November, seeking to reduce the number of migrants to Europe, an EU source told EUobserver.

"The existing agreements will be reviewed," the source noted, mentioning the destruction of migrant smuggler networks in Turkey and resettlement of refugees from Turkey to Europe.

The Netherlands, which will hold the EU rotating presidency from 1 January, said it would invite all member states.

85,000 migrants stopped

The announcement came after a mini-summit organised Thursday morning at the Austrian representation to the EU by the so-called "coalition of the willing" ahead of the full EU summit

The expression refers to the group of countries willing to follow an EU commission recommendation to resettle refugees from Turkey.

Netherlands will also set up a working group to examine how the recommendation can be implemented by by those countries which are willing.

Leaders of Austria, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, and Slovenia took part in the meeting, along with the presidents of the European Commission and Parliament. France was represented by its EU affairs minister.

Resettlement was discussed, but the focus was on what Turkey is doing to implement the action plan.

According to a source with knowledge of the talks, Turkish PM Ahmed Davutoglu said that during the last quarter Turkey stopped 85,000 migrants on roads leading to the Turkish coast, where they embark for Greece.

Davutoglu said that 1,700 smugglers were arrested and that a law would be passed in the coming weeks to allow Syrians living in Turkey to work.

According to German press agency DPA, Davutoglu also informed EU leaders that Turkey will introduce visas for Syrians from 8 January, to slow the numbers of refugees coming to Turkey.

Participants decided that another meeting would be necessary to follow up on the situation and assess progress made by Turkey.

"We should not expect to reduce the flow to zero" in a few weeks, the source noted.

The expectation is that numbers should be reduced by next spring. EU countries would then be ready to consider resettling refugees by next summer.

"Resettlement will only work if the irregular flow has gone to zero," the first EU source said.

The "coalition of the willing" considers that resettling migrants is the best way of controlling arrivals of refugees. The prospect of resettlement is on the other hand considered as an incentive for Turkey to implement the action plan.

Participating countries differ on how they weigh the two sides of the issue. "Some countries like Germany are ready to do more in resettling refugees. It is not the case of Belgium," Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said after the meeting.

Divisions

Thursday's mini-summit followed a first meeting of eight countries on the margins of the EU-Turkey summit in November.

Although the number of participants has increased to 11, the convening of a new EU-Turkey summit is likely to highlight divisions not only between EU member states but also between EU institutions.

Who organises the summit could prove controversial.

The Netherlands said it will launch the invitation as chair of the rotating EU presidency. But a full-fledged summit is normally organised by European Council president Donald Tusk, who was neither present nor represented at Thursday's mini-event.

Who participates could be problematic.

Some countries refuse to resettle refugees and might not participate in a summit that would discuss such plans. But the EU commission, which has been pushing for the plan, and some member states, led by Germany, are willing to move forward.

"If we can't do it at 28, we'll do it with those who want," a source said.

This article was updated at 21.16 Thursday 17 December to add more details

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