Wednesday

29th Jan 2020

EU migration mini-summit cancelled after Turkey attack

  • An explosion in Turkey's capital Ankara has left scores dead (Photo: Reuters)

A planned mini-summit on the refugee situation in Europe has been cancelled following a bomb attack in Turkey.

Austria was due to host the meeting on Thursday (18 February) in Brussels, where about 10 EU leaders were going to try to convince Turkey to agree to a migrant swap deal whereby EU states would accept a limited number of refugees if Ankara would take back those rejected by Europe.

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European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament president Martin Schulz were also set to attend the mini-summit.

But Turkey's prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu pulled out of the talks after the Ankara blast on Wednesday, which left at least 28 people dead and 61 injured.

Austria has since cancelled the mini-summit, which was due to be attended by leaders from Belgium, France, Finland, Greece, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden.

No 'capitulation'

The cancellation is likely to complicate efforts by Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel to seal a deal with Turkey before an EU leaders' summit that begins on Thursday.

The increasingly isolated chancellor is finding fewer allies both at home and abroad.

Her open-door policy last year to allow in Syrian refugees has provoked political backlash at home and among other EU states as border clamp downs within the passport-free Schengen zone become more common.

Before the mini-summit was cancelled, Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, a European think tank in Brussels, said Merkel would need a deal to emerge from it.

"If she goes out of that completely empty-handed, I think she has much more of a domestic problem. At the EU summit itself, it's quite clear she won't get a pan-European solution," he said.

Juncker spoke out in Merkel's defence in an interview with Germany's Bild daily before the Ankara attack.

"The European migration policies she and I are pursuing will prevail. It is political strength to say we can do it. Anything else is capitulation to the populists," he said.

Coalition of the 'unwilling'

It would have been the third such meeting of the group of leaders, which has been dubbed coalition of the willing, since last November.

But the label belies divisions within the group that had initially hoped to move forward with stalled EU-level policies to manage the crisis.

France, which had earlier offered broad support, is now at odds with Merkel's migration stance to host people in need of international protection.

Last week French prime minister Manual Valls called for a halt of the inflow.

"We can no longer take any more refugees," he said at a security conference in Munich.

A split has also emerged between Germany and Austria as each pursue diverging national policies.

Austria on Wednesday announced it would impose a daily cap on the number of refugees allowed to the enter the country.

Vienna will now allow 80 asylum applications a day and will also allow only 3,200 asylum seekers to travel through to other countries.

The Austrian cap is likely to provoke bottlenecks elsewhere along the Western Balkan route with Greece at risk of becoming ring-fenced by border clamp downs.

Croatia returned some 200 migrants including women and children to Serbia on Wednesday. Aleksandar Vulin, a government minister in Belgrade, said Serbia would no longer accept people turned back from EU states into its territory, reports AP.

Balkan borders

Merkel has opposed border clamp downs in the Western Balkans and was banking on a swift EU agreement with Turkey to stem the flow.

Meanwhile Juncker along with European Council president Donald Tusk hosted a dinner on Wednesday with the presidents of Macedonia and Serbia. The prime ministers of Slovenia and Croatia also attended.

Earlier this week, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic announced they are ready to help Bulgaria and Macedonia to strengthen their borders if other measures failed.

Leaders at the EU summit are likely to be preoccupied with the UK and its possible exit from the EU.

No new decisions on migration are to be taken. Instead, summit leaders will focus on getting past agreements up and running, a recurrent theme that has so far failed to deliver.

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