19th Mar 2018


Merkel scores victory on EU migrant plan, if implemented

  • Merkel's move, with the help of Dutch PM Rutte (c), seemed to undermine EU Council president Tusk (r) (Photo: Consillium)

At the EU-Turkey summit on Monday (7 March), the EU needed a new turn in events on migration, which were producing closed borders and a humanitarian crisis in Greece.

The practice of waving through people on the Western Balkan route to Central Europe was to be declared over and down with.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

EU leaders were to push Turkey to step up its efforts to stem the flow of people towards Europe and Greece was to become a temporary holding camp for migrants and refugees, on an EU humanitarian lifeline.

But German chancellor Angela Merkel also needed a new turn in her political fortunes.

Merkel, under domestic pressure for her increasingly unpopular “welcome” policy on refugees, needed something concrete to show voters before next Sunday's election in three of Germany’s 16 regions - Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

That is why a surprise Turkish proposal arrived on the EU leaders' table on Monday.

The plan, which Merkel insisted in her press conference was “entirely” a Turkish proposal, was in fact discussed on Sunday night by Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davotoglu, Merkel and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency.

According to the new plan, Turkey would take back migrants, including Syrians, in order to relieve Greek islands.

In exchange, Turkey would get more money from the EU, refugee relocations to the EU, quicker liberalisation of its EU visa regime and further acceleration of its EU accession talks.

On Monday morning, before the summit, Merkel held a handful of bilateral meetings to outline to some fellow leaders what was in the proposal.

That is how French president Francois Hollande learned about the plan.

'Stunned' leaders

But, according to sources, most leaders were surprised to discover a plan that appeared to have come out of nowhere when they arrived at the summit.

After Davutoglu presented the plan over lunch, Merkel warned she would not leave Brussels until she got a deal. She got halfway there.

"If it was a hostage taking, it failed," an EU diplomat said.

In the end, after 12 hours of discussion, the German chancellor got political endorsement of a deal that she and other leaders said would be "a breakthrough" if it’s implemented.

“This is significant but only if it’s fully implemented,” British PM David Cameron said.

The summit decisions “if implemented … could be a big step toward solving the refugee problem in Europe,” Polish PM Beata Szydlo said.

Details of the plan will be discussed again at the next EU summit on 17 and 18 March.

“We need to show we have the tools in hand to reduce tangibly the number of refugees arriving in Germany,” Merkel told journalists in the small hours of Tuesday.

But other leaders around the table weren’t impressed by her document, which seemed to “undermine” the work of EU Council president Donald Tusk, who had returned from a tour of the Balkan route capitals and Turkey before the weekend.

'I won't sign off'

“It’s strange to come up with a text that has never been discussed before the summit. It’s a bit naiive to think it will work,” an EU source said.

Some leaders cited procedural obstacles, like the need for a specific mandate from their national parliament, to avoid taking an immediate decision on the novel proposal.

Others were upset to be asked to agree to a paper that they had never seen before.

“I won't sign off something that has numbers and billions flying around,” one prime minister reportedly said.

A spokesman for Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban said he vetoed the plan. But Merkel said his objection did not amount to a veto.

The German also said that the “Turkish” plan meant a “qualitative step forward” in tackling migrant smuggling and irregular migration.

“I welcomed the fact that they made this proposal at all. Better late than ever,” she said.

Many agree with her that a European solution to the migration crisis needs Turkey, even if it means looking the other way on its latest attack on press freedom.

“If we want to protect our external borders cooperation [with Turkey] is necessary,” Merkel said when asked about Turkish authorities’ seizure of the main opposition newspaper Zaman on Friday.

Her more hawkish approach to the crisis at the EU level seems to be paying dividends for her popularity at home.

Merkel ratings

One month after Merkel's approval fell to a four-year low, 54 percent of Germans are now satisfied or very satisfied with her government’s performance, according to the latest survey by ARD's DeutschlandTrend.

The 54 percent figure is up from her low of 46 percent, but still short of her 67 percent rating last July.

Insisting on a common European solution and on keeping internal EU borders open at least in name, Merkel also managed to cut a sentence from the draft summit concusions declaring that the Western Balkan migration route was "closed".

The harsh wording had been agreed on Sunday by EU ambassadors when they prepared the summit statement with no opposition from Germany.

The final text said "irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route have now come to an end".

In Merkel’s own words "the situation along the Western Balkan route has come to a standstill, nobody has closed anything, but there has been a standstill with negative repercussions on Greece."

EU-Turkey plan: no refugees on Greek islands

According to a new deal discussed Monday, Turkey would take all migrants who crossed illegally into Greece, while the EU would take Syrians directly from Turkey among other new concessions.

Merkel stands her ground on migration

The German chancellor Sunday ruled out closing German borders. She also vowed to help Greece and to fight for a European solution to the refugee crisis.

Local elections to test Merkel on refugees

Three German states will hold elections on Sunday. Regional themes are overshadowed by the refugee crisis, and a breakthrough for anti-immigration party AfD looms.

UN 'deeply concerned' by EU-Turkey plan

The UN has spoken out against blanket returns to Turkey after EU leaders earlier Tuesday agreed to a provisional plan to start clearing Greek islands of irregular migrants.

Merkel casts doubt on Turkey visa-free travel

German chancellor after meeting with the Turkish president, said it was likely that conditions would not be met by 1 July as agreed in the EU-Turkey migrant deal.

EU billions had 'limited' effect in Turkey, audit finds

The EU got "limited" effect for the €9bn it spent trying to modernise Turkey in recent years, auditors have said. Turkey has been "backsliding" on reforms since 2013 due to "lack of political will", the European Court of Auditors found.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden emerges as possible US-North Korean summit host
  2. Google accused of paying academics backing its policies
  3. New interior minister: 'Islam doesn't belong to Germany'
  4. Hamburg 'dieselgate' driver wins case to get new VW car
  5. Slovak deputy PM asked to form new government
  6. US, Germany, France condemn 'assault on UK sovereignty'
  7. MEPs accept Amsterdam as seat for EU medicines agency
  8. Auditors: EU farm 'simplification' made subsidies more complex

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceConmtroversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  2. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  5. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  7. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  8. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  9. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  10. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  11. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  12. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework

Latest News

  1. Brexit and trade will top This WEEK
  2. Dutch MPs in plan to shut EU website on Russian propaganda
  3. Four years on – but we will not forget illegally-occupied Crimea
  4. Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant
  5. Merkel in Paris for eurozone reform talks
  6. Commission rejects ombudsman criticism over Barroso case
  7. Western allies back UK amid Russian media blitz
  8. Meet the European Parliament's twittersphere

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  2. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  4. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  5. EUobserverNow Hiring! Sales Associate With 2+ Years Experience
  6. EUobserverNow Hiring! Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience
  7. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections
  12. CECEIndustry Stakeholders Are Ready to Take the Lead in Digital Construction