Turkey must stick to its recent “clear” commitment and stop undermining chances to sort out the ongoing crisis with Brussels by threatening to keep borders open for migrants, EU spokesperson Peter Stano has said.
“There was a clear agreement at the highest level in Brussels on Monday that the EU and Turkey will work jointly to resolve the current situation,” Stano told Greek MEGA TV channel.
“Actions and statements that are not in line with this commitment are counterproductive and undermine the chances to find a joint solution. The only way forward is the joint work that is currently being taken forward by the High Representative and Vice-President [Josep] Borrell and Turkish Foreign Minister [Mevlüt] Cavusoglu,” Stano added.
Following Monday’s meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, Brussels expected that Ankara would ease pressure on the Greek-Turkish border.
Michel and von der Leyen said they had a “constructive” starting point and decided to set up a team led by Borrell and Cavusoglu to check the “missing parts” of the EU-Turkey Statement on migration.
But Brussels made it clear that “constructive engagement” is a precondition for any solution to the current situation and asked Turkey to decrease pressure at the border with Greece, which is also the EU’s external frontier.
“We expressed very clearly our commitment to move forward with Turkey, provided it is reciprocal”, Stano emphasised.
However, the reality on the ground seems to be different.
Just yesterday, Erdoğan said once again he would keep Turkey’s border open for refugees trying to reach Europe until the EU had met all of his demands.
“Until all Turkey’s expectations, including free movement, … updating of the customs union and financial assistance, are tangibly met, we will continue the practice on our borders,” he said in a televised speech, according to AFP.
At the same time, his Foreign Minister Cavusoglu issued a conciliatory statement that Ankara was ready for “constructive work”.
Referring to the latest Council of EU ministers of interior and foreign affairs, Stano said the EU has been very clear: “Using the migrants and pressures on the EU borders will not be tolerated and is not a way forward”.
Media in Athens reported yesterday that migrants gathered at the Greek-Turkish border of Evros in northern Greece, threw Molotov cocktails for the first time and used tear gas against Greek police.
In addition, several incidents were reported at the sea borders between the Greek and Turkish coastguard.
Greece’s coastguard accused a Turkish tugboat of engaging in a deliberate collision with a Greek patrol vessel with the “intention of embolising the vessel in question”.
While everyone thinks its calm in the #Aegean because there are no refugee boats arriving in the islands, #Greece ‘s @HCoastGuard is being dangerously harassed by a Turkish vessel.
Exclusive footage obtained by @BILD shows what is really happening away from the media. #Turkey pic.twitter.com/KB2bosbWNO
— Liana Spyropoulou (@LSpyropoulou) March 11, 2020
Good and bad cop?
EU migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson is due to visit Athens on Thursday (12 March) and focus on addressing the situation of more than 5,500 unaccompanied children and adolescents in reception centres on the Greek islands.
Speaking to EURACTIV.com on Monday, EU sources expressed cautious optimism that Ankara would eventually ease the pressure at the border following the resumption of talks. However, they did not rule out the scenario that Turkey may be “bluffing”.
A day before Erdoğan first sent migrants at the Greek-Turkish border on 29 February, Cavusoglu had assured Brussels that Ankara would not open its borders with Greece.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]