Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has invited the heads of state and government of ten member states to attend a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on 18 February, in Brussels.
Davutoğlu is coming to Brussels to follow-up on mutual commitments to a deal to stem the flow of refugees to Europe, coupled with a “reenergising” of EU-Turkey relations. EU leaders are in Brussels for a summit on Thursday and Friday (19 February), which is mostly dedicated to an agreement to accommodate the UK ahead of the Brexit referendum, expected in June.
This is the third time that Davutoğlu is meeting with the so-called “like-minded countries” which appear to be ready to take refugees directly from Turkey by plane. So far the leaders of Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Greece have held two meetings in the Austrian Embassy, in the margins of the last two EU summits.
This time, Slovenia, Finland, and Portugal will also join the discussion, so the Turkish Prime Minister will meet a total of 11 member states. It is possible, however, that the premier of Sweden will not be able to attend, an Austrian diplomat said. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Parliament President Martin Schulz will also be present.
This will be the first occasion for EU countries to test the water since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to send millions of refugees to Europe by buses and planes.
On migration issues, EU countries have split into two camps. Apart from the “like-minded”, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have been meeting in the format of the Visegrad Group, or V4.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who holds the rotating presidency of the V4, expressed dissatisfaction on 29 November, when the leaders of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, Greece and the Netherlands first met separately to discuss migration.
But the divisions started earlier, when the Visegrad countries decided to reject mandatory quotas for taking refugees, proposed by theCommission. Since then, the four countries have insisted that efforts should instead be directed toward strengthening the EU’s external borders and stopping the flow of immigrants from the Aegean Sea.
The Visegrad countries and the “like-minded” countries of Western Europe differ on the very basic concept of how borders should be strengthened. The V4 countries believe that walls and fences should stop the refugees, while Western member states seek to “slow” their arrival, being prepared to provide asylum for a limited amount of time only to people fleeing war zones.
The Visegrad countries have made ouvertures to Bulgaria, but it looks like Sofia prefers to adhere to a common EU position on migration issues.