Eyes on Turkey-EU summit on migrant crisis
AP photoThe world’s eyes are on a two-day European Union summit on March 17-18, during which the details of a draft Turkey-EU deal, which aims at curbing the bloc’s worst migrant crisis since World War II, will be debated ahead of a possible deal.
Turkey and the European Union reached a draft agreement on March 7 in another EU summit, during which the sides provisionally agreed to decrease the migrant influx into the EU in exchange for visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and a boost in Turkey’s accession talks to the bloc.
According to the deal, Turkey would take back all of the migrants crossing to the EU from Turkey, whereas for each migrant Turkey takes, the EU would take one Syrian refugee from Turkey.
Speaking before the summit, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said that a compromise was possible on an EU-Turkey deal, days after threatening to block the accord over his country’s tense relations with Turkey.
“There are obstacles, but I do hope that during the deliberations that will follow at the European Council, there is going to be a compromise,” Anastasiades said on March 17.
Anastasiades said Greek Cyprus would “not be the obstacle” and blamed Turkey for failing to recognize his government.
But he added: “I do believe there might be some other alternatives which are giving us the way out.”
Asked what they were, he replied: “You will have to wait until tomorrow,” when the EU leaders are set to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Brussels.
Davutoğlu is due to join EU leaders for a breakfast on March 18, at which Tusk hopes to finalize the deal.
At talks with EU Council President Donald Tusk in Nicosia on March 15, Anastasiades said he would not accept Turkey’s demands unless it met its obligations.
On March 17, Tusk, the chairman of the EU summit, said he was “more cautious than optimistic” about the chances of reaching a deal with Turkey.
“I am cautiously optimistic but frankly, more cautious than optimistic,” Tusk told reporters before the leaders sat down for talks in Brussels. “The agreement must be acceptable to all 28 member states, no matter big or small,” he told a news conference in a clear reference to Greek Cyprus’ objections.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who runs the EU executive, sounded a more optimistic tone, by saying he was “pretty confident” of a deal.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “optimistic” but cautious on reaching a crucial deal.
“There are still complicated talks ahead but the fundamental direction is clear. I share the view of the European Council president [Tusk] who spoke of cautious optimism, stressing the word cautious,” Merkel said.
As the leaders were coming in for the summit in Brussels, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the agreement was “not a done deal,” adding that there was “no alternative” for ending the crisis.
“We have to do a lot today with the 28 [member states] and tomorrow with Turkey,” Rutte said.
“What we want to achieve is for the crossings to stop. By being able to return people we expect them to stop within three to four weeks. After the Western Balkans were closed, which was important, the flow of people via Turkey to Greece will also stop and that is very important,” he added.
“We will have to make sure that everything is well-founded in legal terms. I notice from more and more colleagues that they have the impression that we have it all in order.”
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on March 17 that he had received some guarantees concerning the legality of a potential EU-Turkey migration deal, but was still not convinced.
“For me the justice argument is very important. We cannot do something and in the next weeks get told that it is illegal,” Bettel told reporters. “I’ve got some guarantees but I’m still not convinced.”
Meanwhile, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland welcomed the principles set out by the European Commission to further develop cooperation between the EU and Turkey.
“It is extremely important that every application for asylum should be treated individually and there should be no question of ‘blanket’ returns or refoulement, in line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights,” read a statement issued on March 17 by his office.
Jagland said he welcomed the fact that the issue was clarified by European Commission First Vice-President Timmermans on March 16.
“I hope that these principles will prevail during the negotiations starting in Brussels today [March 17],” said the secretary-general.