EU pledges visa-free travel, re-energized accession talks to Turkey in exchange for stemming refugee crisis
The EU has pledged the lifting of visa requirements for travel to the EU as well as to speed up talks on accession to the union in return for halting the flow of refugees to Europe in a draft EU document prepared ahead of Sunday’s summit between Turkey and the EU seeking a common solution to the recent flood of migrants to Europe.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (front 2nd L) poses with European Union leaders during a group photo at an EU-Turkey summit. (Photo: Reuters)
In the draft text prepared by the EU before the summit, it was said that Chapter 17 on economic and monetary policy will be opened on Dec. 14. In addition, the EU pledged to finish preliminary preparations for the opening of five or six new chapters in the first quarter of 2016. Turkey is also set to be promised easier travel for its citizens to access Europe if its government fulfills commitments on migrant flows in the coming year.
“Both sides will, as agreed and with immediate effect, step up their active cooperation on migrants who are not in need of international protection, preventing travel to Turkey and the EU, ensuring the application of the established bilateral readmission provisions and swiftly returning migrants who are not in need of international protection to their countries of origin,” the draft document said.
“Today is a historic day in our accession process to the EU. Twenty nine heads of states and governments will be meeting and having a Turkish-EU summit,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said.
“It’s a very historic day to re-energise our accession process as well as discuss tensions, the latest developments in Europe and around Europe.” “I am thankful to all European leaders for this new beginning,” he added.
“There has to be an agreement that allows us to implement an action plan between the European Union and Turkey so that refugees can be received in Turkey, nearer their countries of origin, so that Europe can help Turkey, so that Turkey can live up to its commitments and borders can be controlled. This is in everyone’s interest,” said French President Francois Hollande.
He added that the European Union will need to monitor Turkey’s commitments “step-by-step” to help end Syria’s political crisis, fight terrorism and deal with a refugee influx that has spilled over into the 28-member bloc.
The French leader said that any funds of a 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) EU package to help Turkey deal with the migrants on its territory will be released progressively as Turkish commitments are checked.
Hollande also said verification measures need to be in place to check those coming through Turkey, because some “terrorists” have infiltrated the refugee flow.
Europe, and no one more than German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is under pressure to manage the biggest influx of people to the continent since World War II, the bulk of them to Germany, where Merkel is pushing hard for a Turkish deal. The crisis has helped populist opponents and set nations against each other, straining the open borders cherished by the union’s members.
Measures taken by the EU in recent months have, as yet, done little to control the movement of migrants and while colder winter weather may lower the numbers for a few months, it is also worsening the plight of tens of thousands stuck by the closing of borders in the Balkans, piling further pressure on European leaders to find a solution.
EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said Turkey comes out of a long electoral transition and that now there is a government that is to stay for some years. “And it is important for us to have a full-fledged dialogue with them on all the relevant issues,” she said.
“Migration and the refugee crisis is one but also others, including the revitalisation of the accession talks… this comes together with new investments from the Turkish side in basic fundamentals like human rights, media freedom and, I would like to stress it in particular, the need to restart the peace process with the Kurdish.
Stating that it is important to revitalise it and the European Union will give all the support to restart the peace process with the Kurds, she said: “From today onwards, we will also, I will personally, work on a high-level dialogue with Turkey comprising all the different and sometimes difficult issues we have on the table with them — all of them, none exclusions.”
Sunday’s summit, called just days ago, as Brussels tried to clinch a deal offered over a month ago, according to which Europeans want Turkey to spend new EU money — some 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) for the next year or two — on improving the lives of the 2.3 million Syrians now living in Turkey so they are less likely to board boats set for nearby Greek islands.
The EU also wants the Turkish authorities to make that journey more difficult and to keep out more of the Afghans and other Asians who cross Turkey on their way to Europe. It also wants to hold Turkey to commitments to take back people who successfully reach Greece but then fail in their claims for political asylum.
Turkey has pressed for more money. An original EU offer of 3 billion euros for refugee care over two years is now likely not to carry a clear timeframe as Ankara hopes to secure more.
In remarks made to Reuters, EU diplomats have said Turkey, whose decade-old EU accession talks have been stalled in recent years, would see talks on economic cooperation open shortly, but its demands for commitments from the EU to start talks on other issues such as human rights would remain on hold.
Human rights concerns are unlikely to feature much in the talks on Sunday, diplomats said, despite calls from activists in Europe and Turkey for the EU leaders not to ease pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over issues such as media freedom because of themigrant crisis.
While EU leaders have pledged to continue to raise issues such as last week’s new jailing of Turkish journalists and new complaints of oppression from minority Kurds, officials and diplomats say Europe’s priority with Ankara for now is to secure Erdoğan’s help in slowing the movement of migrants.