EU, Turkey agree €3bn migration plan

2015-11-30 18:33
A migrant holds his son in front of a police barricade while they wait at Istanbul's Esenler Bus Terminal for buses to the Turkish-Greek border after authorities withheld tickets to Turkish border towns. (Yasin Akgul, AFP)

A migrant holds his son in front of a police barricade while they wait at Istanbul's Esenler Bus Terminal for buses to the Turkish-Greek border after authorities withheld tickets to Turkish border towns. (Yasin Akgul, AFP)

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Brussels - The European Union agreed Sunday to grant Turkey €3bn in refugee aid and promised to boost relations with the long-standing membership candidate, in return for efforts to curb migration flows into the bloc.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu proclaimed a "new beginning" for EU-Turkey relations, which have been strained by clashes over territorial issues, democracy and fundamental rights. But the deal struck Sunday comes with many conditions attached.

The EU turned to Turkey for help after experiencing its largest population movements since World War II. More than 900 000 people reached the continent this year.

Many transit through Turkey, including people fleeing war-torn Syria. The EU now wants Ankara to hold back those flows, by offering people better lives in Turkey, upping its border controls and cracking down on migrant traffickers, among other things.

"We expect a major step towards changing the rules of the game when it comes to stemming the migration flow," said EU President Donald Tusk, adding that Turkey and the EU had agreed a "clear plan for the timely re-establishment of order at our shared frontier."

The two sides displayed a united front on Sunday, but mistrust remains.

The promised funding will only be disbursed "bit by bit" as Turkey meets its commitments under the action plan, said French President Francois Hollande.

"Turkey has to meet commitments and visibly reduce the [migration] influx. We will be checking and monitoring this," added Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

"I can guarantee that Turkey ... will be fulfilling all the promises mentioned in [the] joint action plan," Davutoglu said after the summit.

However, he could not promise that this would reduce the migrant flows to Europe, noting that this ultimately depended on resolving the conflict in Syria.

Resolve Cyprus issue

In return for Turkey's efforts, the 28 EU leaders promised progress in Ankara's accession talks when a new negotiation chapter on economic and financial issues opens on December 14. The bloc also agreed to holding summits with Turkey twice annually.

Preparations will begin soon on other chapters - areas in which Turkey must bring its laws in line with EU standards. Several of the 35 accession chapters are blocked, however, due to tensions over Cyprus.

Turkey invaded the north of the island in 1974 following a Greek-led coup and does not recognize the independence of EU member Cyprus on the southern side of the island. Resolving the conflict could pave the way for Nicosia to ease its historic resistance to closer ties with Ankara.

Negotiations to resolve the conflict are going "quite well," Davutoglu said, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed hope that a "window of opportunity" could open in the coming months.

Davutoglu welcomed the new membership push, describing Turkey as a member of the EU "family."

"Turkish membership will be an asset, not only to [the] EU, to Turkey, but also to the global peace," he said.

But Tusk warned that, despite stepping up the tempo, "benchmarks and standards" to join the EU will remain the same.

The bloc will not "forget about the remaining divergences and differences we can have with Turkey," added European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Issues such as human rights and press freedom "will be matters we will come back [to] again and again," he said.

The EU has been criticized in recent months for downplaying concerns over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarianism and human rights record.

Just days before the summit, two Turkish journalists were arrested after publishing a report about the delivery of weapons from Turkey to extremists in Syria.

Firmer border control

Arguably, the biggest prize for Ankara would be an easing of visa requirements for its citizens. This could come as early as October 2016, if Turkey does its homework.

To qualify for looser visa requirements, Turkey must be strict in firming up its border controls, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel insisted, noting that several member states viewed any leeway on visas with "great caution."

Belgium was among eight countries, including Germany, that met ahead of Sunday's summit to discuss the possible resettlement of refugees from Turkey to the EU, to give Ankara further relief and prevent migrants from undertaking illegal and perilous journeys.

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported that an overall 400,000 asylum seekers could be resettled, although Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte distanced himself from the number.

Michel also warned that there was "no question" of Belgium resettling more people until Turkey upholds its part of the deal.

Details are still to be worked out, Juncker said, including which EU countries will join the voluntary scheme and how many people they might be prepared to take in. The commission will make proposals by December 15, he added.

Read more on:    eu  |  cyprus  |  turkey  |  migrants

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