By Alastair Macdonald and Francesco Guarascio
The European Union wants more Turkish cooperation with Greece and other EU neighbours to stem migration flows and in return is ready to offer more funding for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Turkey, according to an EU plan published on Tuesday.
The draft action plan was presented to President Tayyip Erdogan by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday, during a visit to Brussels by the Turkish leader. Officials on both sides said the document would form the basis of further negotiations to address the migrant crisis.
“Erdogan agreed to the principles, which is why today we could make it public,” said one senior EU official involved in the talks. “President Juncker has now sent officials to Ankara to start negotiating the details,” the official said.
EU diplomats said that, while agreement on the plan was only a first step, it was nonetheless a breakthrough, as in the past Erdogan had refused to even discuss the issue of absorbing more migrants from Syria and Iraq.
Erdogan, whose country faces a snap parliamentary election on Nov. 1, was scathing about Europe’s restrained approach to the refugee crisis during rallies in Strasbourg and Brussels before he met European officials on Monday.
But in three back-to-back meetings and at a dinner in Brussels, the mood was said to be far better than the strained meetings of the past, when tensions over Turkey’s stalled EU membership bid dominated proceedings.
Facing its worst migrant crisis since the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the EU has dropped its criticism of what it sees as Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism and is looking to Turkey for help.
The EU plan lists actions to be taken by the EU and Turkey on two broad themes — supporting refugees and their Turkish hosts and secondly preventing irregular migration.
The draft said the EU would provide up to 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) for this year and next to help Turkey cope with some 2.2 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well as further funding. Some refugees would have a chance to resettle from Turkey to Europe.
Among actions the EU draft recommended for Turkey were stepping up its coast guard activity and cooperation with the Greek navy as well as tightening its land borders with Greece and Bulgaria and taking back irregular migrants who crossed into the EU but were then found not to qualify for asylum.
It contains no mention of Erdogan’s call in Brussels for Europeans to back Ankara’s plan to set up “safe areas” and no-fly zones in northern Syria, on which EU officials and member state governments are deeply sceptical.
But it does in its preamble state that the plan is part of a broader relationship with Turkey, that includes its longstanding application to join the EU and negotiations on giving Turks easier visa terms for travel to the European Union.