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23rd Feb 2019

Interview

Refugees and Turkey accession 'are separate issues'

  • European Commission has backed the controversial deal, but MEPs and NGOs have heaped criticism on the pact (Photo: European Parliament)

Turkey’s EU accession process should be dealt with separately from the refugee crisis, the rapporteur for Turkey in the European Parliament has said.

“The EU Council’s dialogue with Turkey should not be one-dimensional, it is a short-term vision,” MEP Kati Piri for the Dutch Labour party told this website in a recent interview.

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  • Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu (second from left) will be in Brussels again this week to agree details of the accord (Photo: The European Union)

“In the EP [European Parliament] we see Turkey increasingly moving away from the standards of an accession country, and all the groups agree that the accession cannot become a tit-for-tat in the refugee crisis,” she said.

Piri said the Turkish government needed to show through its actions that it intended to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria for joining the EU but that, for the time being, “they are moving in the opposite direction”.

Set out in 1992 at an EU summit in the Danish capital, the enlargement criteria say that any EU candidate has to have democratic institutions, to observe the rule of law and to respect minorities, among other provisions.

Piri said that tens of thousands of Kurdish people have been forced to flee fighting in south-east Turkey and that there has been a “major crackdown” on press freedom.

“Let’s broaden the dialogue, because we are not addressing these issues,” Piri said.

“My message to the EU leaders is stick to your own values. We are not taking our own principles seriously enough.”

Turkey's 'safe' status

She said that the EU and Turkey needed to cooperate to find a solution to the refugee crisis.

She also said the deal with Turkey should not threaten a peace settlement in Cyprus, which could pave the way for more negotiating chapters to be opened for Turkey.

But Piri said she was sceptical about the outcome of the EU summit, starting on Thursday (18 March), which is aimed at hammering out the details of an earlier EU-Turkey agreement.

Under the draft deal, Turkey would take back all irregular migrants, including Syrians, from Greece, while the EU would in return resettle others directly from Turkey on a one-for-one basis.

In order to do that, Turkey must be declared a “safe third country” - a country where minimum human rights and asylum standards are respected.

“The crazy one-for-one principle is legally and morally questionable,” Piri said, echoing the concerns of human rights groups over the deal.

Piri said that the statement from the last EU summit with Turkey, on 7 March, in effect confirms that Turkey is “safe” despite outstanding issues.

The Dutch MEP said Turkey should fulfil at least the minimum criteria in order to merit the status. She said it must have a proper asylum procedure in place not only for Syrians, but also for Iraqi and Afghani refugees, whose number is on the rise.

“I’m much more worried about them,” she said.

“We shouldn’t declare Turkey a safe third country.”

Ceasefire call

Piri said she was pessimistic about the chances of a deal that all 28 countries can agree to.

For the Dutch politician, only a large-scale resettlement scheme would really deter people from taking the illegal route to the EU.

She said she could foresee a scenario where the countries that have already been willing to take people in - such as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden - would resettle the refugees while other EU states help to pay for the programme.

But she said there are also major differences on the acord among EP political groups in Brussels.

Lawmakers in the foreign affairs committee passed a resolution on Tuesday (16 March) that says tackling the migration crisis should not be linked to EU accession negotiations with Turkey.

"Outsourcing the refugee crisis to Turkey is not a credible long-term solution to the problem," they said. They added that EU-Turkey cooperation on migration “should not be linked to the calendar, content and conditionality of the negotiation process".

MEPs also urged Turkey to stop intimidation of journalists and to respect the EU’s fundamental values.

They called for an immediate ceasefire in south-east Turkey and for the resumption of the peace process with Kurdish rebels.

The resolution will be voted on in plenary in April.

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