EU – Turkey Summit results: Limited expectations as many details remain unclear

EPA / ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU

Migrants and refugees wait to disembark from a ferry coming from the Greek islands of the north-eastern Aegean sea in the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, 08 March 2016. Thousands of people remained stranded in the refugee camp at Idomeni, on the Greek border with Macedonia, hours after the European Union and Turkey failed to reach agreement on resolving the migration crisis. Around 1,000 people are expected to disembark 08 March in the Athens' port of Piraeus and to continue north, toward Idomeni.

All eyes on 17-18 March EU Summit, as Monday’s conclusions leave many questions without answer.


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The aftermath of the EU – Turkey Summit and conclusions released by the European Council drew all the interest both in European Parliament leaders briefings, but also at Berlaymont’s midday. European Parliament Parties seem to have limited expectations, as details of plans to wide returns of illegal immigrants remain unclear.

The need to secure external borders and stop to illegal immigration underlined EPP’s chair, Manfred Weber. “The Turkish government shouldn’t just take a blind check”, Weber said, while suggesting to look at “both sides of the coin”, separating the way Turkey deals with minorities and the fact that the country is “domestically moving in the wrong direction” but nonetheless is an important neighbor and partner on energy and migration issues. Weber asked for Europeans “to speak clearly to Turkey”, mentioning as part of this need for clear communication with the Turkish side, the fact that many of the leaders brought up the issue of press freedom at talks with Ahmet Davutoğlu on Monday.

The other side of the coin was described as Turkey having already accepted 2,5 million refugees, with own powers and financing. “At this phase, Turkey got no support” he said while paying tribute to these efforts. “We need to mobilize a lot of money to help”, Weber added, while expressing the opinion that “Greece is entitled to ask Europe to solve the problem together with Greece and not against Greece”.

On the side of S&D Group, its President Gianni Pitella appeared disapponted on yesterday’s lack of agreement between Heads of State and Government in EU – Turkey Summit. “For our Group an agreement with Turkey is necessary to stabilise refugee flows. However, any such agreement must be based on sincere cooperation and not merely bartering one goody for another”, added Pitella in Strasbourg on Tuesday, framing the success of such an agreement in 3 clear objectives:  Help Greece to stem the migration flow, while achieving a clear and in line with international human rights obligations agreement on exchange of refugees with Turkey.

“Finally, we have to create legal means of migration into Europe. We have to fight smugglers and must ensure that all illegal routes into Europe are closed” said S&D leader. Pitella made crystal clear, that the EU accession process and the management of the refugee crisis are two separate points, stressing that “accession cannot be based on a trade-off deal” and so the recent developments on media freedom in Turkey are worrying and must be criticised openly” plus Turkey should fully apply the Ankara Protocol and recognise the Republic of Cyprus.

“I am not disappointed as I didn’t have great expectations from the Summit”, said Rebecca Harms of Greens/EFA, as she took the floor in Strasbourg. The other Co-president of Greens Philippe Lamberts, appeared even harsher: “I am almost ashamed on Europe today, as it has to envy very little from Vladimir Putin on authoritarianism”. Greens Co-president supported the reopening of dialogue with Turkey, stressing “one difference between Turkey and Russia. In Russia there is no opposition as there is in Turkey”, expressing the opinion that Turkish President Erdogan may be one of the authoritarian leaders, but, in terms of pluralism and democracy, “Turkey has gone a lot further than Russia has”.

ALDE President Guy Verhofstadt’s view was not positive either: “I have personally a very bad feeling about what the leaders have prepared for next week”, he said while pointing on a number of principles that Europe has drawn together with opening accession talks with Turkey. “With a lack of European response to this crisis, we think that an agreement with Turkey will solve the problem. This is very naive”, he added, underlining that in the meanwhile “we don’t do what’s necessary on European level”. Pushing back all prople that want to come to Europe, gives the right to Turkey to decide on refugee and illegal immigrant status. “What we mainly do is to outsource management to Turkey”, he added both on people screening process but also at management of external EU borders and relocation. Instead, suggested that a EU border guard should be created immediately. “They can start it tomorrow, no a full legislation is needed”, he added. Furthermore, Verhofstadt asked for guarantee that the €3 billion are going directly to refugee camps, as people can’t survive with 7$ per month. Verhofstadt also raised the question of future blackmail from Turkey, as refugee crisis goes together with EU access after Monday’s decisions: “If you don’t give the visas, if you don’t open more chapters, we stop” may be Turkey’s future response, ALDE’s leader believes.

As for EU -Turkey’s Summit conclusions, European Commission suggested that on the days to come and as the next EU Summit approaches in less than 10 days, all answers will be provided, mainly as “blanket returns” of irregular immigrants to Turkey are widely criticised. However, answers provided about visa acceleration, were more clear, asvisa liberalization roadmap remains unchanged and the procedure is accelerate “without changing the standards and benchmarks agreed”, as Natasha Betraud, European Commission’s Spokesperson responsible for Migration stressed.

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