The EU and Turkey will meet in March to push forward a deal to stem the migration crisis, European Council President Donald Tusk said yesterday (18 February).
“We agreed that our joint action plan with Turkey remains a priority and we must do all we can to succeed,” Tusk told a press conference after the first day of a two-day European Union summit in Brussels.
“This is why we have the intention to organise a special meeting with Turkey in the beginning of March,” Tusk said without elaborating.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany – the member state that received the most refugees last year, at more than one million – said the special summit with Turkey could take place on 5 March or 7 March.
Merkel said the EU “must see quickly if measures work” under the plan agreed at another EU-Turkey summit in November, in which Turkey agreed to cut migrant flows in exchange for three billion euros in aid.
Pressure to enforce the plan is growing, as EU officials say thousands of refugees are still crossing the Aegean daily from Turkey, after more than one million made the perilous journey last year, the greatest such movement of people in the bloc’s history.
A meeting of the leaders of 11 EU countries with Turkey had been planned before the full summit on Thursday, but was cancelled after Turkey’s Premier, Ahmet Davutoğlu, pulled out following a bomb attack in Ankara.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker meanwhile said the EU leaders agreed “there was no alternative to smart, intelligent cooperation with Turkey.”
Is Turkey cooperating?
In the conclusions on migration adopted past midnight, EU leaders noted that the flow of refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey remain much too high.
“We need to see a substantial and sustainable reduction of the number of illegal entries from Turkey into the EU,” they stated.
Central European states say the number of asylum seekers arriving from Turkey needs to drop from as many as 2,000 a day to as low as dozens of people per day.
The so-called Visegrad countries (Poland, Czech republic, Slovakia and Hungary), which oppose admitting asylum seekers, said on Wednesday (17 February) that they would push for further border restrictions in Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone unless they see results from Turkey.
Leaders also express their concern over the continued and sustained irregular migrant flows along the Western Balkans route. Most of the migrants cross from Greece to Macedonia and continue through Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia into Austria and Germany.
Potential new routes
“It is also important to remain vigilant about potential developments regarding other routes so as to be able to take rapid and concerted action,” leaders state. It is assumed that if Macedonia closes its borders, refugees could seek a route through Albania into Italy. Another potential new route would be an increase migrant flow from Greece through Bulgaria.
“Asylum seekers do not have the right to choose the member state in which they seek asylum,” the conclusions read. Asylum seekers should normally live in the country in which they have sought and obtained asylum. However, with the arrival of huge numbers of migrants, this basic rule of the EU’s Dublin asylum system has simply proved unworkable.
Leaders have also welcomed NATO’s decision to assist in the monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings in the Aegean Sea, and called on all members of the alliance to support this measure. The EU, in particular the EU’s border management agency FRONTEX, should closely cooperate with NATO, leaders stated.
Meanwhile a top UN official said Europe has “completely failed” in its response to the migrant crisis.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told a German newspaper on Thursday that despite the EU relocation plan agreed on last September, to distribute 160,000 refugees around the bloc, only 600 had actually been shared out.