EU-Turkey summit provides elements of an agreement on refugees but divisions remain

Migrant crisis

 

A “game-changer” was the optimistic verdict of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the end of another long night of Brussels talks. If only. The EU-Turkey summit produced at best the elements of a deal that is supposed to halt the flow of refugees into Europe through Turkey and Greece.

The devil is in the detail and so many of the deal’s ingredients still face resolute opposition from member states, and probably the courts, that it is hard to see how the summit planned to finish the job on the 17th and 18th can do so.

Monday’s meeting, called largely at Germany’s behest to prod Turkey into implementing an agreement reached last November to halt the flow of refugees and provide for them on its own soil, saw a major upping of the ante by Ankara. An agreed €3 billion aid package became a demand for a €6 billion package. A promise by Turkey to accept the return of trafficked refugees was brokered into a supplementary pledge by the EU to resettle in member states (on a one-for-one basis with such returnees) refugees stuck in Turkey who had not sought to migrate illegally. This could involve hundreds of thousands of people although EU states have so far taken in only a few hundred of a promised 160,000 refugees. Turkey has given shelter to almost three million.

The EU promised also to accelerate talks on Turkish membership and, more immediately, on access to working visas for Turkish workers .

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces state elections this weekend, said yesterday things “were moving in the right direction” and that the deal would break the business model of the people-smugglers. But, with a number of EU states – notably in central and eastern Europe – refusing to accept mandatory quotas for resettling refugees in their countries, the German-led coalition of those willing to do so is looking distinctly thin. France is already foot-dragging on Turkish work visas and Merkel was muttering about Turkish membership not being on the agenda. Cyprus is wary about lifting its veto on parts of the accession process as long as Ankara does not end a refusal to recognise or trade with Cyprus.

More crucially the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has questioned the legality of a central part of the agreement – the sending back of refugees en masse to Turkey would contravene their right to protection under international law. “The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights,” said Vincent Cochetel, Europe regional director. EU officials insist that as Turkey is a safe country, such “refoulement” is allowed.

There is a simplicity and elegance to the logic of the “one in, one out” deal which could provide the important breakthrough EU leaders claimed yesterday if its different ingredients fall into place. But the deal is far from done.

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