European Union leaders agreed late last night to offer Turkey financial and political concessions if it stops migrants reaching Greece.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union must be ready to start returning migrants from Greece to Turkey rapidly to avoid a “pull factor” before the new system takes effect, although EU leaders had set no start date.
Speaking after an EU summit agreed on terms to offer Ankara later today for a pact to fight irregular migration, she said negotiations with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu would not be easy but that all EU countries wanted a deal. "We did not set a date, but Turkey's clear understanding is that within a few days of returns starting, the one-for-one resettlement (of Syrian refugees from Turkey to Europe) should begin," Dr Merkel told a news conference.
Ten days after the European Union agreed the broad outline of a contentious resettlement agreement with Turkey, EU leaders were back in Brussels yesterday for a two-day summit with the aim of clinching a deal.
But speaking earlier on his way into the meeting, European Council president Donald Tusk said he was "more cautious than optimistic" about the chances of an agreement.
Chief among them was Cyprus’ objections to accelerating Turkey’s accession negotiations with the European Union.
The decades-old territorial dispute between Turkey and EU-member Cyprus has threatened to derail the EU-Turkey deal which hinges on a plan to resettle refugees directly from Turkey to the EU in exchange for Turkey accepting migrants from Greece.
had said he would veto the Turkey deal if necessary. “As long as Turkey doesn’t implement its obligations, we don’t have any other choice.” he said.
Among Cyprus’ demands is that Turkey opens its ports and airports to Cypriot vessels and aircraft. The European Union is wary of jeopardising ongoing Cypriot peace talks which many believe are the best chance in decades to resolve the standoff.
Concerns about the legalities of the EU’s proposed “one for one” resettlement scheme with Turkey, and reservations about offering visa-free travel to Turkish citizens were also overhanging discussions.
Others questioned the ethics of the European Union’s enhanced co-operation with Turkey given the country’s record on human rights and media freedom.
But speaking ahead of the summit Finnish finance minister Alex Stubb said that some form of agreement was inevitable.
Comparing the EU’s response to the refugee crisis with the euro-zone crisis, he said: “This is the way
works. First you have a crisis, then there is chaos and then there is a suboptimal solution.”
As EU leaders were meeting over dinner last night on the flow of refugees arriving through Turkey, concerns were already emerging about a potential new wave of migrants from North Africa.
Since Tuesday alone, 2,400 migrants have been intercepted off Libya by Italian coastguards. – (additional reporting Reuters)