The European Union will release an additional €3 billion to assist Turkey in accommodating Syrian refugees, while tightening its visa policy for countries who refuse to repatriate their citizens who fail to obtain asylum in Europe, according to the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Over 1.8 million refugees and migrants have reached Europe since 2014, according to UN figures, the majority of whom crossed into the EU from Turkey.
Avramopoulos said on Wednesday that the EU should pay Turkey an extra €3 billion, an amount that still needs to be agreed on by the EU institutions and the Member States, as 1/3 of the total is expected to be allocated form the EU budget while the other €2 billion is expected to come directly from the individual EU Member States’ pockets, a move that has been widely ridiculed by several European national governments who are reluctant to hand over a substantial amount of money to Turkey, a country that has turned its back on Europe and Western values as the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become increasingly more autocratic.
Avramopoulos, however, suggested that any future EU aid would be better spent because the Commission would take more direct control over the purse strings from Erdogan’s treasury officials.
Despite a 2016 agreement between Brussels and Ankara that cut the number of migrants headed for Greece to a trickle, Erdogan has warned that he will let hundreds of thousands of migrants into Europe if he is pushed on his human rights record and if Brussels moves to freeze EU membership talks with Erdogan’s government.
“Listen to me, these (Turkey’s) border gates will be opened if you go any further,” Erdogan warned the EU in November 2016.
“Our cooperation with Turkey is essential to meet common challenges,” Avramopoulos said in a press conference, referring to the recurrent tensions between the EU and Ankara amidst Turkey’s authoritarian shift under Erdogan. Avramopoulos reassured reporters that the March 25 EU-Turkey Summit in Varna, Bulgaria will go ahead and that the European Commission will present the EU Executive’s positions to the meeting.
A rapprochement between the EU and Turkey “is a long-term commitment”, said Avramopoulos, adding “this a question of common and obvious political will” and that both sides “must avoid unnecessary escalations”.
Avramopoulos said that such an unnecessary escalation risked being “blown out of proportion” after two Greek soldiers inadvertently crossed the Greek-Turkish border earlier this month and are currently being held in a prison in the historic border city of Edirne.
Athens said the soldiers were on a routine patrol and accidentally entered Turkey during a moment of inclement weather.