Refugee crisis: EU agrees migrant package with Turkey

The EU and Turkey have agreed a multibillion-euro package aimed at stemming the flow of refugees from Syria to the EU.

 

By William Louch

16 Oct 2015

Member states have agreed a draft action plan with Turkey aimed at controlling the flow of refugees into Europe through Turkey. The multibillion euro aid package was described by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, as a "major step in the right direction."

The proposed package would offer Turkey significant financial assistance - up to €3bn - as well as a commitment to discussing visa-free access for Turkish people travelling to Europe and "re-energising" Turkey's EU accession negotiations.

However, Tusk made it clear that any agreement with Turkey "makes sense only if it effectively contains the flow of refugees."  


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Ankara is seen as a key partner in helping control the influx of refugees into Europe. Turkey currently hosts two million refugees and over 450,000 refugees have used the country as a launch pad to enter Europe, mainly through Greece. It is clear any solution to the crisis will have to involve Turkey.

Significantly, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, backed the package, offering support for increasing financial aid to €3bn - up from €500m. She emphasised the need to show solidarity with Turkey, saying, "in the future we have to be stronger in burden sharing if we think of the fact that they (Turkey) have been left virtually alone in the past."

She continued, "If we say Turkey has indeed spent over €7bn over the past few years, then, in turn, that would mean the EU also shoulders a comparable sum."

The agreement received a mixed response from MEPs.

Mariya Gabriel, a Vice-Chair of Parliament's EPP group, supported the package tweeting, "The EU-Turkey Action Plan is a step further to support refugees and prevent irregular migration."   

However, other MEPs issued less enthusiastic responses raising concerns on the number of refugees coming into the EU and questions over the legitimacy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's regime.

The European Parliament's Greens/EFA co-presidents Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lamberts highlighted Turkey's key strategic role, calling closer relations a "step in the right direction," though warned that, "the EU member states should not make Erdoğan their chief border guard."

In a joint statement they added, "it is wrong for EU leaders to remain silent on the worrying escalation in Turkey… this lack of criticism risks creating the impression that the EU supports the irresponsible politics of the Erdoğan government just two weeks before the election."

This sentiment was repeated by Marietje Schaake, an ALDE group MEP, who noted that though "We need Turkey as an ally in fighting ISIS and we think Turkey is a vital country for trade relations," EU leaders, including Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker were "lacking maturity" and "have not been focused enough" on the issue of human rights in Turkey.  

Nigel Farage, leader of Parliament's Eurosceptic EFDD group, labelled the agreement "astonishing" saying, "it is quite extraordinary that such a massive decision can have been made so suddenly."

He went on, "Even if the €3 billion was to prevent the current migrant tide, visa-free access [for Turkish citizens] means that will be replaced if not surpassed by a new migrant tide."

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