EU leaders have outlined the main elements of a potential deal with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on a new strategy to overcome the refugee crisis. Turkey is a common point of entry into Europe, making cooperation with Ankara on the matter essential, although the country has been heavily criticised for its questionable human rights record.
The EU has promised to speed up the disbursement of €3bn in financial aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Leaders will discuss unlocking the additional funds, as requested by Ankara.
In an effort to curb the influx of migrants into both regions, for every Syrian returned from the Greek islands, one Syrian refugee from Turkey will be resettled in the EU.
Brussels has also promised to speed up the visa liberalisation process for Turkey, aiming to allow visa-free travel by June. There are also preparations for a decision on reopening talks on Turkey's EU membership application.
However, the deal has yet to be agreed and will be discussed at the next EU leaders summit later this month.
Manfred Weber, Chair of Parliament's EPP group, had a mixed reaction to the announcement, saying; "Despite the fact that Turkey is an important partner, this doesn't mean that we are giving a blank cheque to the Turkish Government, especially when we see its behaviour towards the media. The violation of the freedom of press in Turkey is simply unacceptable."
"The other side of the coin is that we cannot overlook the fact that Turkey is offering shelter to two and a half million refugees and a lot of Turkish money has been spent on helping them. Europe has to pay tribute to all these efforts by the country."
Meanwhile, S&D group leader Gianni Pittella highlighted that; "Any agreement must be based on sincere cooperation and not merely bartering one favour for another. We are talking about human beings and our action must be based on solidarity with people and between countries. We say ‘no’ to a deal at all costs if human rights are not respected."
"Regarding the future of Turkey in Europe, it must be clear that the EU accession process - in which we believe - and the management of the refugee crisis are two separate issues. Accession cannot be based on a trade-off deal. The recent developments on media freedom in Turkey are worrying and must be criticised openly. Turkey, in order to facilitate its accession negotiation process, should fully apply the Ankara protocol and recognise the Republic of Cyprus."
Timothy Kirkhope, ECR group spokesperson on home affairs, was extremely critical of the proposals, saying; "It is clear that some heat needs to be taken out of the Balkans. However, in desperation, some EU leaders are asking us to tear up the rule book for the second time in a year."
"We need Turkey as a major and important partner, but not at any cost. Any money handed over to Turkey must be incremental and based on meeting clear criteria. If they fail to deliver their end of the bargain, then there should be no money. Frankly, I think we would be much more successful spending €6bn on border guards and processing facilities in the EU."
Calling EU leaders "naïve" for "outsourcing our problems to Turkey", ALDE group Chair Guy Verhofstadt argued that, "we should not sell our soul for a deal with a country simply because we are incapable of dealing with our problems and implementing a real European solution."
"Again, we continue to accept empty promises such as the returning of all non-Syrian migrants reaching Greek islands back to Turkey. In other words, we are accepting a deal to return migrants to a country which imprisons journalists, attacks civil liberties, and with a highly worrying human rights situation".
"It is up to the EU to design a strategy to take a grip on the flow coming to Europe; we should not pay Turkey to do this for us," said the Belgian.
GUE/NGL group leader Gabi Zimmer pointed out that, "If the EU accepts the Turkish proposal, it will undermine refugees' individual rights to international protection and asylum. Only accepting Syrians directly from Turkey, while leaving other refugees to a miserable fate, violates international conventions."
"[Turkish President] Erdoğan will do everything necessary to keep his clan in power. As part of that, he ruthlessly blackmails the EU with the lives of innocent people. The fact that the European Union wants to accelerate the accession negotiations now, is either hypocritical or moral suicide."
She blasted the EU for having, "made itself totally dependent on Turkey through its policy of ignorance. Instead of being proactive and acting in due time to support refugees, EU governments buried their heads in the sand until millions of people had arrived from across the Mediterranean."
"Turkey is not the solution to the migration crisis, it is part of the problem. The EU must look very closely at whose hands it is placing itself in," warned Zimmer.