Europe’s hopes that Brussels and Ankara were nearing a deal for Turkey to take back migrants reaching Greece faded late on Monday night after Turkey made a last-minute call for more money and quicker access to European visas in return for its help, measures some leaders said they needed more time to consider.
During 12 hours of negotiations, Turkey insisted that any agreement would require Europe to advance Turkey’slong-delayed hope of joining the bloc. As an additional step, Turkey said it expects EU nations to ease its visa restrictions on Turkish citizens within months.
Turkish citizens should get visa-free access to the EU by the end of June as part of a deal being negotiated by the two sides to stem migration flows, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. The EU is looking at giving Turkey more refugee aid, making progress on its EU membership bid and resettling Syrian refugees directly from Turkey, in exchange for Ankara agreeing to the return of all illegal migrants from Greece, EU President Donald Tusk said. Tusk said he will aim to work out the details of the agreement before EU leaders hold their next summit on 17-18 March.
Turkey, home to 2.6 million refugees chiefly from neighboring Syria, surprised EU counterparts Monday by demanding a much more funding beyond the 3 billion euros already pledged. “Turkey is ready to work with the EU, and Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davatoglu told reporters in Brussels.
Davutoglu did not disclose how much money Turkey was seeking but he said that the funds would only go to Syrian refugees. “Not one euro will go to Turkish citizens. Every penny will be spent for Syrian refugees.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “we do have the basis for a breakthrough which is the possibility that in future all migrants who arrive in Greece will be returned to Turkey.” The sides will now reconvene at a two-day summit starting March 17.
For its part, the EU sought to gain stronger commitments from Turkey to take back refugees who have reached European shores and ease a crisis that has left an estimated 13,000 to 14,000 souls encamped in the wintry cold on the Greece-Macedonia border.
“To stop refugees arriving in Greece, we have to cooperate with Turkey,” French President Francois Hollande said. Even though many saw the outlines of a deal, it was still too early to clinch it.
In Ankara, the Turkish capital, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of failing to provide enough of the already pledged funds. He also criticized Europe for refusing to accept asylum seekers more readily, linking that policy to needless deaths as thousands opt to cross illegally by sea from the Turkish coast to offshore Greek islands.
“We are not sending them. They are going by sea and many of them are dying. We have rescued close to 100,000 from the sea,” Erdogan said in a speech.
Turkey is seeking a new EU commitment to take Syrians and other high-percentage refugee applicants via safe travel routes, such as at the land border between Turkey and Greece, to reduce drowning deaths in the Aegean Sea.
Overshadowing the summit diplomacy is Turkey’s questionable human rights record. On Friday, Turkish police stormed the headquarters of an anti-government newspaper to enforce a court order placing the paper and its sister outlets under new management. Police spent the weekend using tear gas and water cannons to quell street protests.
Hollande said that EU cooperation with Turkey should not be interpreted as European acceptance of Turkish rights restrictions. “The press must be free everywhere, including in Turkey,” he said.