BRUSSELS: European Union leaders were set to sign a deal with Turkey’s prime minister at a summit yesterday giving Ankara cash and a boost for its membership bid in exchange for its cooperation with the migrant crisis. Desperate to stop the flow of humanity from Turkey where some 2.2 million refugees from the Syrian conflict are living, the EU offered Turkey three billion euros ($3.2 billion) to take action, according to draft summit conclusions obtained by AFP.
Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu, standing in for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will also be offered the opening in December of a new chapter in Turkey’s stalled accession talks for the 28-nation bloc, the draft said. But concerns over human rights and Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict, including the shooting down of a Russian warplane in the last week, have made EU nations wary of offering Turkey too many concessions without safeguards.
EU president Donald Tusk said in his opening speech that while the bloc was ready to help, “in return, we expect to see an immediate and substantial reduction in irregular migrants arriving in Europe, and expect Turkey under the new government to assist us.” He added that Turkey should “uphold human rights and media freedoms.” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel insisted that the EU would not give Turkey a “blank cheque” and that the aid package would be conditional on Turkey living up to its commitments to curb the flow of migrants.
Turkey Hails ‘New Beginning’
For Davutoglu, however, the focus was on deepening Turkey’s ties to the EU. “It’s a historic day in our accession process to the EU… I am thankful to all European leaders for this new beginning,” Davutoglu said. “This meeting is not just to discuss the issue of migration which is very important for all of us, but also how to re-energize this great ideal of uniting the EU with Turkish potential.”
Fuelled by the Syrian war, some 850,000 people have entered the EU this year and more than 3,500 have died or gone missing in what has become Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Turkey is the main gateway for migrants and refugees to reach Europe, and Germany has pushed for the summit as it is the main destination for most of the people arriving in the bloc. Under the agreement expected at the summit, Turkey will take steps including cracking down on people smugglers and cooperating with the EU on the return of people who do not qualify as refugees. But the three billion euros in aid it gets in return will be “reviewed in the light of the developing situation”, the draft statement said, and it did not provide any timescale for when exactly it would be paid out.
Turkey is meanwhile set to get its wish for the acceleration of its bid for membership of the EU, which began in 2005 but has seen only one of 35 so-called “chapters” completed. The statement said the EU agreed to open Chapter 17 of Turkey’s accession process – covering economic and monetary policy – by mid-December. It also agreed to have two summits with Turkey each year. Brussels also committed to easing the rules for visas to visit the EU’s Schengen passport-free area by Oct 2016.
But Cyprus in particular opposes any mention in the final summit statement of plans to open further chapters, European officials said, due to decades of tensions with Turkey on the divided Mediterranean island. The case for cooperation with Turkey comes against a backdrop of growing security concerns over the migrant crisis, especially after the Nov 13 attacks in Paris, claimed by the Islamic State group (IS), which left 130 people dead.
Relations between Europe and Turkey remain tense over Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule, rights abuses and Turkey’s alleged backing for Islamist rebels in Syria. Two Turkish journalists charged with “spying” over their reports about Ankara’s alleged arms supplies to Syrian rebels urged the EU on Saturday not to compromise on human rights and press freedom at the summit. – AFP