17th Jun 2019

Turkey's PM plays hardball at EU summit

  • One EU diplomat described Turkey's style as "brutal ... realpolitik" (Photo: The European Union)

Turkey's prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu has upped the stakes at the EU summit on stemming migration flows by announcing a new surprise plan.

The plan was presented to EU leaders over lunch and will be discussed again at dinner, after an EU-only meeting where leaders will try to agree on a common position.

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Details are sparse, but a Turkish government spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Monday (7 March) that Davutoglu wants to talk about issues such as Turkey joining the EU and the ongoing conflict in Syria.

"I cannot share any content about the new proposal but our prime minister wrote a new proposal to end this tragedy to make joint efforts and the EU leaders will discuss it after lunch," said the spokesperson.

"We are not here to just talk about migration," added the spokesperson.

Arriving at the summit, Davutoglu clearly made a link between the help requested by the EU and Turkey's EU accession hopes when he said that "Turkey is ready to help the EU" but that it was also "ready to be a member" of the EU.

“We have to see the whole picture. Not just irregular migration but the whole future of our continent," he said.

The new proposal doesn't add new technical measures to the EU-Turkey action plan agreed in November, an EU source told EUobserver. But it increases the size of existing requests from Turkey, in response to bigger EU demands on migrant readmissions.

EU sources told this website the new plan would entail removing visa travel restrictions "by latest end of June 2016", instead of the initial October date, and opening five new “chapters” in Turkey's EU accession process.

The sources said Ankara is also asking the EU to pay €6 billion over a three-year period to finance humanitarian aid for some 2.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Advancing the visa policy would require launching a new readmission agreement with Turkey on 20 March instead of June.

The European Commission is already preparing new “screening reports,” last updated in 2006, for four chapters: on energy, the judiciary and fundamental rights, justice and security, and foreign policy. It is also preparing to open a chapter on education.

The EU had in November agreed to pay Turkey some €3 billion in aid over two years. So far, it has earmarked just €95 million to help educate Syrian child refugees and to provide relief through the UN’s World Food Programme.

Turkey's spokesperson would not confirm or deny the visa plan and new funds when pressed.

Faced with Turkey asking for more in return for its help, the EU has had "to grow up hard," a European diplomat said.

The diplomat described Ankara’s negotiating style as “realpolitik and brutal behaviour.”

One for one

The EU, for its part, wants to empty out the Greek islands of migrants not entitled to international protection and return them to Turkey.

With one irregular migrant sent back to Turkey, the EU would accept to resettle one Syrian from its camps. This may include any Syrian who has not first registered in the asylum database in Greece.

That figure would represent 25 to 50 percent of migrants already present in Europe, an EU source said.

Not everyone is happy with the idea.

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban told reporters he would refuse to resettle anyone from Turkey.

"More people would come as a result of the resettlement," he said.

The latest development follows emerging rifts between the European Commission and the Council, representing member states, as well as between Germany and Austria.

EU closed?

A draft statement of the summit prepared by the Council, seen by EUobserver, says the Western Balkan route "is now closed".

But both Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker oppose shutting down the Western Balkan route for migrants.

"Our draft still stands. We believe it reflects reality," said an EU official.

The border closures, prompted by Austria, have stranded some 12,000 people on the Greek side of the Macedonian border.

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Home affairs ministers are set to endorse reforms for tougher EU return laws to send unwanted migrants home. But an absent lead MEP on the file and a wary EU parliament means their agreement may not amount to much.

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