EU-Turkey refugee deal not a blank cheque warn EU Parliament chiefs

€3bn aid package mustn't come at the expense of ignoring human rights and fundamental freedoms.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

30 Nov 2015

Senior MEPs from Parliament's main political groups have warned that Sunday's deal with Ankara to help reduce the flow of refugees and economic migrants isn't a 'blank cheque' for Ankara's EU aspirations.

EU heads of state met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels over the weekend to finalise a deal that will see Turkey take action to stop the passage of Syrian refugees and other non-European migrants through the country.

In return, the EU has promised to "re-energise" Ankara's stalled EU accession negotiations and open up visa-free travel to Turkish citizens.


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Turkey has had candidate status since 1999, and has been negotiating to join the EU club since 2005. Their progression has not been without controversy over the years; earlier this month, the European Commission published a progress report on Ankara's candidacy, in which it accused the Turkish government of "major shortcomings" in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

There has also been ongoing violent conflict between government forces and the country's Kurdish minority. Only a few days ago, prominent pro-Kurdish lawyer and rights activist Tahir Elci was shot dead while he was giving a speech calling for an end to the violence.

Nevertheless, EU negotiators reiterated calls for accession talks to be "re-energised" and announced that, "both sides agreed to have regular summits twice a year, in an appropriate format." 

In the summit's concluding statement, it was announced that, "the EU is committed to provide €3bn of additional resources. The need for and nature of this funding will be reviewed in the light of the developing situation."

EU leaders were also keen to highlight that Sunday's agreement was about more than just keeping refugees from entering Europe, saying that that both the EU and Turkey, "are committed to carry further their existing ties and solidarity and adopt result-oriented action to prepare their common future. They are determined to confront and surmount the existing risks and threats in a concerted manner to reinforce the European project."

It was also announced that the Commission is aiming to present its "visa liberalisation roadmap" for Turkey by March next year, with a view to lifting visa requirements for Turkish nationals in the Schengen zone by October 2016.

Both sides agreed to implement a joint action plan to "bring into order migratory flows and help to stem irregular migration", with immediate effect. 

Speaking at Sunday's summit, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he was confident that, "the crisis situation we find ourselves in today, which is a real eye-opener on how interdependent we already are, will lead to a fresh start in EU-Turkey relations."

He also stressed that, "this is not about cooperating just for technical reasons or temporary circumstantial reasons. EU-Turkey relations must be a long-term strategic choice."

However, Manfred Weber, the head of Parliament's powerful EPP group, was less positive than his German Socialist counterpart, tweeting, "Turkey is key to stem the refugee crisis. The fact that an agreement was reached is positive, but bitter pills come with it. This is not a blank cheque. Turkey also needs the EU as a partner. The EPP group will continue criticising human rights and press freedom violations."

Gianni Pittella, the head of the second largest political grouping in the Parliament, the Socialist and Democrat S&D group, echoed Weber's comments, saying that the talks had been "constructive and positive", but cautioning that he did not want any "blank cheques. We need a comprehensive dialogue on EU migration."

 

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