Merkel bound for Turkey as EU agrees refugee action plan

Turkey’s foreign minister dismisses EU’s offer of financial assistance as insufficient

Turkish foreign minister Feridun Sinirlioglu: He stressed the agreement was still a draft. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Turkish foreign minister Feridun Sinirlioglu: He stressed the agreement was still a draft. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

 

The German chancellor Angela Merkel travels to Istanbul tomorrow for talks as the Turkish government gave a cool response to a joint EU-Turkey plan agreed on Thursday night in Brussels.

Dr Merkel is to hold meetings with the Turkish president, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, and prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, tomorrow after EU leaders endorsed an action plan for Turkey that would speed up accession negotiations and consider visa liberalisation in exchange for help on the migration crisis.

Speaking in Ankara yesterday, Turkey’s foreign minister Feridun Sinirlioglu stressed the agreement was still a draft, and dismissed the EU’s offer of financial assistance as insufficient. Turkey is seeking €3 billion in funding from the EU to help it cope with the refugee crisis. Although the European Commission has technically not increased its offer of €500 million, the German chancellor appeared to support the proposal for €3 billion in Brussels. The European Commission said yesterday it would provide “substantial and concrete new funds” to Turkey under the plan.

Political backing

The joint action plan was first proposed last week and finalised on Wednesday night in Ankara following negotiations between a team of EU commissioners and officials and Mr Erdogan It gained political backing on Thursday night in Brussels, but European Commission officials stressed that technical negotiations would continue in the coming days.

The proposal agrees to consider opening up visa-free access to Turkish citizens to the Schengen area as early as next spring, as well as“re-energising” accession negotiations which have been stalled for almost a decade. In exchange, Turkey would ensure the registration and documentation of migrants, combat people smuggling, and implement its repatriation agreement with the EU.

According to the European Commission, Turkey has already spent more than €7 billion on the refugee crisis, with more than €2 million refugees understood to be in the country.

European Council president Donald Tusk stressed the action plan would be justified only if Turkey succeeds in stemming the flow of refugees coming into Europe.

Against an increasingly tense domestic political background, Turkey faces a general election on November 1st in the wake of June’s inconclusive election result

Turkish authorities are continuing to investigate last Saturday’s bomb outside Ankara’s central railway station, which claimed the lives of close to 100 people. Islamic State is the main suspect.

As tensions continued in the region, Turkey confirmed yesterday it had downed an unidentified drone on the Syrian border. Officials said they shot down the drone after it intruded on Turkish air space, noting the aircraft had been warned three times before it was shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement.”

Air space

While Russia is believed to be operating drones in the area, Moscow said all of its drones had been accounted for. Turkey, a Nato member, said Russian jets violated its air space two weeks ago in two separate incidences. While Russia said the moves were a “mistake”, Nato queried the motivation behind the incursions.

Russia began an aerial campaign in Syria on September 30th, with the explicit aim of targeting Islamic State, but has been co-ordinating its activity with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The joint operation is seeking to regain ground lost by the Assad regime to rebel groups around the Hama province. On Thursday afternoon, Russian military officials said they launched 32 attacks in Syria in the preceding 24 hours compared to 86 the previous day.

Russian president Vladimir Putin said the Russian military achieved “impressive” results in the air campaign in Syria and action would continue “for the period of the Syrian troops’ offensive operations against terrorists”.

The need to find a solution to the 4½-year Syrian civil war is expected to dominate next month’s G20 summit in Turkey, with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain discussing the issue on the fringes of Thursday’s EU leaders’ summit in Brussels.