European Union leaders will roll out the red carpet for Turkey’s newly re-elected President Recep Tayip Erdo?an at a summit about how to help the country stop the flow of Syrian refugees from its borders into the EU.
Meeting at a European Council held in Valletta, Malta today (12 November), heads of state and government also heard plans to give Turkey the €3 billion aid it wants to help it cope with the migration crisis.
More than 650,000 of the 800,000 refugees who have reached European Union countries by sea this year have left from Turkey, which is home to some two million refugees from neighbouring Syria and other countries in the region.
Ankara has also demanded an end to the stalemate in talks for Turkey to join the 28-nation bloc, visa-free travel for Turkish nationals, and for Brussels to resume inviting Turkish leaders to EU summits.
The decision to hold a summit of all 28 member states and Turkey opens the way for fresh talks over the crisis. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the goal of the summit would be to “conclude” negotiations with Turkey on a migration cooperation accord.
Juncker said he asked EU leaders contribute €2.5 billion over two years to aid asylum seekers in Turkey. A further €500 million would come from the EU budget.
Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who today flew in from Turkey, described additional measures to leaders, including a visa liberation process, and a commitment to “re-energize” the long-stalled enlargement process, that could eventually see Turkey become an EU member.
Fresh from his election victory, Erdo?an was keen to agree to a summit before it committed to stepping up border security. An EU source said, “This is about showing to Turkey that they are equal partners.”
European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed a summit of all 28 member states and Turkey would be held in Brussels before the end of the year. He said it was “99% sure” the summit would take place by the end of this month.
“It was decided that there will be a European Council with Turkey invited,” French President François Hollande told reporters, “It could be held at the end of November or beginning of December.”
Tusk said both he and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker would meet with Erdo?an, who is criticised for his authoritarian rule, in the margins of the upcoming G20 meeting, which takes place in Antalya, Turkey.
EU legislation planned
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he would table legislation to create the Turkish Refugee Grant Facility.
It would mobilise €500 million of EU Budget cash and €2.5 billion of pooled contributions from EU member states. It will be in place for 2016 and 2017, with the first funds being disbursed on 1 January, 2016.
The amount of money from individual countries would be calculated using the same Gross National Income (GNI)-based method as member states’ contributions to the EU budget.
The Facility needs a legal basis, which requires the Commission to draft new law. It will go through the usual legislative process, meaning it will need the backing of both the Council and the European Parliament.
How the money is spent would be decided by the Commission, with the Turkish authorities, according to the plan, but immediate humanitarian assistance would be prioritised.
Turkish involvement “is crucial for political buy-in”, a Commission document said.
As leaders gathered in Malta this morning, the news broke that Turkish police raided a well-known opposition newspaper in Erdo?an’s latest crackdown.
Earlier this week, a severely critical report held back by Brussels until after the Turkish elections, urged the new government top stop backsliding on the rule of law, rights and the media.
Asked today about the raid on the Zaman newspaper, Timmermans told EURACTIV that the Commission “had been clear” about its view of such actions.
The European Council followed a meeting of EU and African leaders held yesterday and this morning, which agreed funding and an action plan to mitigate the migration crisis.
The European Union has agreed on a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-communist members of the bloc, to share out 160,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the 700,000 refugees the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates will reach Europe's borders from the Middle East, Africa and Asia this year.
The EU is also courting Turkey with the promise of money, visa-free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.
- 15 November: G20 meeting
- Before end of 2015: EU summit with Turkey