Sunday

4th Dec 2016

Analysis

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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."

News in Brief

  1. Talks on wholesale roaming rules to start
  2. Lead MEP Dieselgate committee: Italy and Slovakia will cooperate
  3. Transparency NGO sues EU commission on Turkey deal
  4. Pro-EU liberal wins UK by-election
  5. Finnish support for Nato drops, Russia-scepticism grows
  6. Cyprus talks to resume in January
  7. Documents from German NSA inquiry released
  8. Transport commissioner 'not aware' of legal action on emissions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CESIElects Leaders and Sets Safety & Health at Work and Gender Equality Among the Guidelines For Next Term
  2. European Gaming & Betting AssociationContinues to Grow its Membership and Welcomes its Newest Member Association
  3. ACCASupports the Women of Europe Awards, Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  4. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  5. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  6. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  7. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  8. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  9. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Trasport and Mobility in Rome
  10. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)
  12. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World
  2. Swedish EnterprisesNew Rules for EU Anti-dumping Measures
  3. European Jewish CongressTakes Part in Building Resilient Communities
  4. UNICEFUniversal Children’s Day: UNICEF Calls for Global Action on Child Rights Violations
  5. Counter BalanceThe EU Bank Cannot be a Key Player in Europe's Response to the Plight of Refugees
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsProvides Evidence of Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Crimea
  7. Dialogue PlatformThe Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Climate Solutions at COP22 in Marrakech
  9. Counter BalanceNGOs Call on Development Finance Institutions to Act Against Tax Avoidance
  10. European Free AllianceTrump Victory and Brexit Show Urgent Need of Improving Democracy
  11. Martens CentreOur Transatlantic 9-11: Europe After Trump
  12. Dialogue PlatformTimmermans Points to Gülen Movement as Coup Plotter But Lacks Proof