Thursday

20th Feb 2020

EU to offer less than Turkey expected

  • The main lines of the envisaged deal with Turkey were agreed on 7 March with Turkish premier Davutoglu (l) (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

The EU is preparing to offer less than what Turkey had asked for in exchange for reducing the flow of migrants to Europe, according to a draft statement seen by EUobserver ahead of Thursday and Friday's summit (17-18 March).

The plan, the main principles of which were agreed on 7 March after a surprise proposal by Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu, has many political, legal, moral and logistical challenges that will be difficult for the leaders to overcome

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The arrangement would see Turkey take back all migrants, including Syrian refugees arriving to Greece from its territory, while EU countries would take Syrian refugees directly from Turkey on a one-for-one basis, but overall no more than 72,000 this year.

“All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands will be returned to Turkey," the draft summit statement says.

"This will be a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order.”

The draft statement also says migrants arriving to Greece would be registered and any claim for asylum will be processed there.

Those people whose application has been found "unfounded or inadmissible” will be returned to Turkey.

The idea is that by giving asylum seekers a legal way to enter Europe they won’t pay smugglers and risk their lives on the perilous journey to the Greek islands.

For that to happen, both Greece and Turkey will have to step up efforts: Greece will have to deploy judges, set up detention camps, ensure that the individual cases of asylum seekers are examined in a speedy way, and ensure that people don’t leave the country until the process is finished.

Ankara will have to make sure that not only Syrians get proper protection in Turkey, but also Iraqis and Afghans, and other nationalities.

EU countries hope this would reduce the influx of people to a manageable number.

The idea is that once arrival numbers are down, EU countries that have been so far reluctant to take people in, for instance Slovakia and Hungary, would be more inclined to resettle refugees from Turkey.

Some EU officials have voiced skepticism and think that the one-for-one model only creates a “pull effect” if implementation takes a long time.

They said a bigger wave of migrants could arrive as summer brings warmer weather.

“This could be a hasty solution, if we open this gate, it would be very difficult to close again,” said an official.

Human rights groups also raised concerns over whether the model is in line with EU and international laws that forbid blanket return of asylum seekers.

European Council president Donald Tusk in his invitation letter to EU leaders said: “An absolute priority is to ensure that our decisions respect both EU and international law.”

Less in it for Turkey?

But according to the draft statement seen by EUobserver, EU leaders will not be offering anything specific on opening up accession chapters, something Turkey has asked for in exchange.

"The EU, together with Turkey, will prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible,” the draft statement says.

This has been a major sticking point for Cyprus, an EU member state which is not recognised by Turkey, whose troops have occupied the northern part of the island for over 40 years.

EU officials have voiced concern that opening up chapters could jeopardise progress made in current talks to find a solution to the frozen conflict.

“Tusk believes that it’s both in the EU and Turkey’s interests to protect settlement talks in Cyprus,” an official said.

There is muted commitment to an additional €3 billion in aid which Turkey had requested, with EU leaders pledging to speed up the disbursement of a previous €3 billion for refugees in Turkey and to “stand ready” for an additional €3 billion by 2018.

Ankara had also asked for visa liberalisation by end of June this year - another tricky issue for EU countries that have been reluctant to open up to 75 million Turks.

The draft statement says Turkey first needs to fulfil all of the 72 benchmarks if it wants the European Commission to recommend, in an assessment by the end of April, the lifting of visa requirements.

Leaders also try to tackle the issue of alternative routes of migration.

The draft statement says, Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes opening up from Turkey. Bulgaria, which has a land border with Turkey, is particularly concerned.

EU leaders will strive for a common position on Thursday, and meet with Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday morning to come to an agreement.

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.

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Opinion

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After closing the Western Balkan route, the EU should make a deal with Turkey. This is the only way to put an end to the failed policies of Germany and the European Commission.

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EU leaders agreed on a draft plan to stop irregular migration to Europe, but Turkey will have to accept weaker EU commitments on visa liberalisation, accession talks and more aid for refugees.

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