Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

Cyprus and Spain cast doubt on EU-Turkey migrant deal

  • Cypriot president Anastasiades (r) with Turkish PM Davutoglu (l) and European Counci president Tusk (c). EU-Turkish deal raises "vital issue" for Cyprus (Photo: Consillium)

Two days before the start of the next summit, the lines on which EU leaders will agree to make a deal with Turkey on a plan to stop migration are still unclear, amid doubt and opposition from several member states.

Spain has said the blanket return of refugees to Turkey from Greece was not acceptable, while Cyprus is blocking the opening of some chapters in the Turkey accession negotiations.

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A first draft of the summit conclusions circulated on Monday refers only to "the context of the joint action plan with Turkey and its possible expansion" but does not explicitly say what was agreed in principle with the Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu on 7 March.

So far, the conclusions mainly repeat what EU leaders have said in previous summits about the need to "make all hotspots fully operational and to increase reception capacities" in order to register asylum seekers and identify economic migrants.

The draft also asks EU countries to take part in the "emergency support to be provided to help Greece cope with the humanitarian situation" and to "swiftly offer more places" to relocate asylum seekers from Greece.

Reflecting worries arising form the closure of the Western Balkan route last week, the draft "emphasises the need to be extremely vigilant as regards possible new routes for irregular migrants".

Measures to be agreed with Turkey are referred to in just one sentence, when EU leaders call for "the use of all means to support the capacity of Greece for the return of irregular migrants to Turkey".

'No reason to move'

The statement outlining the definitive EU-Turkey plan, which will be published after the meeting between EU leaders and Davutoglu on Friday, has not been drafted yet.

At a meeting last Friday, EU ambassadors did not discuss the main issues of the plan, an EU source told EUobserver. 


Turkey's demands in exchange for taking back refugees from Greece - the acceleration of visa-free travel for Turkish nationals, the opening of new chapters in the accession talks and further EU financial help for refugees in Turkey - were left for two further ambassadors’ meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We will see what we have in the text on Wednesday. For now, [European Council president] Tusk is doing consultations," the source said.

Tusk is on Tuesday making a last-minute trip to Nicosia to meet Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades to try to get his backing for the plan.

Last week, Anastasiades told the Financial Times that he would never give his consent to the plan if it included the opening of five specific accession chapters.

Turkey asked for the reopening of chapters 15 (energy), 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights), 24 (justice, freedom and security), 26 (education and culture) and 31 (foreign, security and defence policy).

These chapters, as well as a sixth one, were frozen by Cyprus in 2009 after Turkey refused to apply the EU-Turkey customs union to Cyprus and added a protocol refusing to recognise the Republic of Cyprus.

"We are talking of an issue of vital importance" for Cyprus, a Cypriot official told EUobserver, adding that other EU countries had an "understanding" of its position.

"We do not block accession talks as a whole," the official said.

"These chapters were frozen for a particular reason and if nothing happens, there is no reason to move on the issue.”

Cyprus could lift its veto on the chapters if Turkey scrapped the protocol and opened its ports to Cypriot ships.

Another solution could be that Turkey accepts to open different accession chapters to the five it has asked for.

In both cases, an agreement would depend on "whether Turkey wants a deal or not" and how far Turkey was willing to go in its demands, the EU source said.

On Tuesday morning, just before Tusk was due to meet Anastasiades, his spokesman announced he would also go to Ankara to meet Davutoglu in the afternoon.

'No legal loophole'

Spain has also expressed concern on the EU-Turkey deal.

On Monday, foreign affairs minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said that the so-called one-to-one plan - resettling one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every migrant returned from Greece - “seemed unacceptable to [Spain] from the very beginning”.

Echoing criticism by NGOs and bodies such as the UN refugee agency and the Council of Europe, he said the plan had to be “compatible with international laws and respectful of human rights”.

"Anyone arriving on European territory must have the right to individualised attention, to filing an asylum request that will be taken into consideration, and to appeal if the request is denied,” Margallo said in Brussels.

“Throughout this process, any possibility of expulsion is suspended.”

A Spanish official told EUobserver the details of the plan still had to be discussed, declining to say if Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy would block an agreement.

"The prime minister agrees with the principles,” the official said, but "it is very important that there is no legal loophole".

Failed relocation scheme to be used in EU-Turkey plan

In a preparatory document seen by EUobserver, EU Council president Tusk proposes that the EU merge its policy to relocate asylum seekers from Italy and Greece into a broader draft agreement with Turkey to reduce migrant flows.

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