BRUSSELS (AA) – European Union leaders have agreed on a wide range of proposals by Turkey to solve the migration crisis, but say they need more time to finalize the plan.
EU leaders will continue discussing the plan at another summit meeting on 17-18 March.
European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters in Brussels following a Turkey-EU summit meeting Monday that the bloc has agreed on six proposals by Turkey, including the return of all irregular migrants, accelerating visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and sharing the work of sheltering Syrian refugees.
Ankara has requested visa-free travel for its citizens by the end of June and an additional 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey.
According to Turkey’s proposal to the EU, seen by Anadolu Agency, the country wants the 28-nation bloc to “share the burden” based on a formula of “for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU member states”.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference in Brussels following the summit that the aim of this “burden sharing” proposal is to discourage irregular migration.
“Our main objective is humanitarian… we don’t want to see women and children dying in the Aegean Sea,” Davutoglu said.
Turkey is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees in the world and has spent more than seven billion euros ($7.7 billion) on meeting the needs of the refugees, according to European Commission figures released last year.
According to the proposal, Turkey will “readmit expeditiously all irregular migrants crossing into the Greek islands from Turkey without prejudice to Turkey’s current commitments under international law”.
“This readmission will be for a temporary period and only for humanitarian purposes,” the proposal says.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz told reporters at an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on Monday that the parliament was prepared to discuss speeding up the procedure on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.
“Visa liberalization is one of the requests of the Turkish side in the process of full and deepened cooperation,” Schulz said. “We are prepared to discuss to speed up the procedure but in full respect of the parliamentarian rights of the European parliament.”
The EU has already pledged three billion euros to meet the needs of Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey along with visa liberalization and the acceleration of the candidate country’s accession process.
In exchange, the EU expected Turkey to crack down on human smugglers and stem the flow of refugees coming into Europe via its neighbor Greece.
Schulz said Turkey’s request for an additional three billion euros required the cooperation of the European Parliament and depended on whether EU member states were “willing to put money on the table”.
Turkey has said Monday’s summit in Brussels should not only focus on irregular migration but also on Turkey’s accession into the EU. Schulz said there had been an attempt to link the two issues.
“One thing isfor us as European parliamentarians […] we have to separate accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU and all questions related to opening the new chapters from the short-term management of [the] refugee crisis,” Schulz said.
“To avoid that refugees arrive in Greece, we have to cooperate with Turkey,” French President Francois Hollande told reporters in Brussels.
In exchange for the three billion euros that were allocated to Turkey by the EU, Ankara must “make commitments in relation to the fight against smugglers” and conduct readmissions of “a number of migrants who left Turkey” to Europe, explained Hollande .
“The plan is simple to tell, hard to implement: it’s external border security, cooperation with Turkey and solidarity with Greece, and that is what France will defend,” summarized the French leader.
Reacting to some news reports that claimed Turkey was demanding more money from the EU, Davutoglu said: “Turkey does not ask for money from anyone.”
Davutoglu said the country uses its “national budget” for the refugees. “What we want is the equal sharing of the burden for Syrian refugees,” he added.
The premier reiterated that EU membership is a “strategic issue” for Turkey, adding: “We want Turkey to be integrated into the EU.”
He hoped that Turkish citizens will be able travel to the Schengen visa-free zone at the latest by the end of June.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that the EU welcomed Turkey’s proposals but added they needed time until the next EU Summit on 18 March. “Many EU countries should confer with parliaments,” she added.
Releasing a joint written statement, the EU Heads of State or Government welcomed the discussion with Davutoglu on EU-Turkey relations and on the progress made in the implementation of the Joint Action Plan.
According to the statement, they “warmly” welcomed the additional proposals made by Turkey to address the migration issue.
They agreed to work on the basis of principles which include returning all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU.
The principles also contain accelerating the implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap with all member states with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June.
There is to be a speeding up the disbursement of the initially allocated three billion euros to ensure funding for a first set of projects before the end of March.
The EU will also prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the Turkey’s accession negotiations “as soon as possible”.