EU, Turkey set date for final migrant deal
REUTERS PhotoEU President Donald Tusk has described the outcome of an extended Turkey-European Union summit on March 7 as a “breakthrough,” saying he would now work on the legal details to reach a final deal at a European summit in Brussels on March 17-18.
“We all of us are aware that in fact we have a breakthrough now,” Tusk told a post-summit press conference in Brussels.
Tusk, who toured Turkey, Greece and the Balkans in the run-up to the summit, said it was a major step in ending the continent’s biggest migration crisis since World War II.
European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker called the plan a “real game changer,” insisting that it was “legally feasible” despite questions from rights groups about whether it would breach international laws on the treatment of refugees.
According to the deal reached during the summit, Ankara will take back every irregular migrant that crosses from Turkey to the islands of EU member Greece.
The hope is that the plan will eliminate incentives for migrants to come to Greece by boat.
Davutoğlu said the one-for-one Syrian refugee swap deal was “game-changing” and denied that Turkey was “demanding” money.
Davutoğlu asked for an extra 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid for the Syrians, adding that the money would only be used for the refugees.
Turkey is the main launching point migrants making the dangerous crossing over the Aegean Sea to the Greek islands. It hosts 2.7 million refugees from the five-year civil war in neighboring Syria, more than any other country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who has been the strongest proponent of a deal with Turkey – gave cautious support.
“It is a breakthrough if it becomes reality,” she told reporters, according to AFP.
“Overall, things are going in the right direction,” Merkel told SWR radio on March 8, while trying to assuage worries that Turkey was blackmailing Europe: “No. We are seeking a balance of interests,” she said, according to Reuters.
For Turkey, perhaps the biggest gain was the EU’s agreement to bring forward to June visa-free travel to the EU’s Schengen passport-free area for Turkey’s 78 million people, provided that Ankara honors its promises.
“I am sure all of the promises will be realized. This is not an ordinary commitment. I cannot doubt it when the [European] Council and Commission have devoted themselves to it this much,” said Davutoğlu regarding the visa issue.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz told reporters at the summit that the parliament was prepared to discuss speeding up the procedure on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.
“Visa liberalization is one of the requests of the Turkish side in the process of full and deepened cooperation,” Schulz was quoted as saying by Anadolu Agency. “We are prepared to discuss speeding up the procedure but in full respect of the parliamentarian rights of the European parliament.”
Davutoğlu further pushed for the opening of five more “chapters” in Turkey’s long-drawn out EU accession process – so far Turkey has only completed one out of more than 30.
Greek Cyprus stood firm on March 8 in opposing accelerated EU accession talks for Turkey, complicating the bloc’s drive for a breakthrough agreement with Ankara next week on curbing the migrant crisis.
The Greek Cypriot government said Turkey must first meet its longstanding demands for recognition and the opening of trade, ports and airports.
“Regarding Turkey’s demand for the opening of chapters unilaterally frozen by the Republic of Cyprus [Greek Cyprus] ... the president remained firm in the position... that the opening of any chapters requires the fulfilment by Turkey of its obligations,” government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides was quoted as saying by AFP.
In their closing statement, the EU leaders said that “irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkan route have now come to an end.”