By Francesco Guarascio and Jan Strupczewski
Turkey asked the European Union for 3 billion euros on Thursday, easier travel to the EU for its citizens and diplomatic favours in exchange for helping stem the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe, EU officials and diplomats said after talks in Ankara.
Faced with their worst migration crisis since World War Two, European countries need the support of Turkey from where most of migrants and asylum seekers transit to reach Europe.
Senior Turkish and European Commission officials who talked late into the night in Ankara were “close to finalising” a cooperation agreement largely along the lines of a Commission draft published last week, officials involved in the talks said.
A new draft, seen by Reuters, removed a reference to an offer of 1 billion euros, some of which was already scheduled to be paid. It now says the EU will offer “substantial and concrete new funds” outside those already part of aid programmes.
Any measures will eventually need approval from EU leaders, who were meeting in Brussels on Thursday to discuss cooperation with Ankara. They were not expected to make major decisions.
Separate from the written ‘action plan’, EU officials and diplomats said Turkey presented the negotiators with other demands, including the 3 billion euros and speeding up a deal that would, in time, give all Turks visa-free access to Europe.
Ankara also wants a revamp of the negotiations leading to EU membership, overcoming a years-long deadlock. Six new ‘chapters’ — areas where EU states share common policies — should be opened on energy, economic and monetary affairs, foreign affairs, education, home affairs and the judiciary. Since accession talks began a decade ago, 14 chapters have been opened. The full process requires accords in over 30 areas.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also wants invitations to EU summits and for Turkey to be on an EU list of countries considered “safe” for rejected migrants to be deported to — a status being accorded to all other EU candidate countries.
The Commission negotiating team is led by First Vice President Frans Timmermans and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn. EU officials stress that any agreement will need to be endorsed by the Council of the EU’s 28 member governments.
Diplomats and officials questioned whether the request for new aid was realistic in the short term: “The 3 billion euros are like a Christmas shopping list that is completely unrealistic,” one source close to the negotiations said.
The Commission, which manages collective EU funds, has committed 250 million euros of fresh money but cannot offer more as the EU budget has a limited flexibility, officials said.
“EU states will have to do their part, at least matching the Commission commitment and offering more if they wish so,” a top EU negotiator said.
EU leaders gathered in Brussels on Thursday “will somehow address the issues raised but, as they are so recent, there is a limit on how far they can go,” a EU diplomat said.
Several diplomats said the speeding up of visa liberalisation — offering visa waivers to business travellers, for example — would be possible as long as Turkey accepts previously agreed conditions and also implements a parallel agreement to take back migrants rejected by the EU.
Broadening EU membership talks could face opposition from Cyprus, which has blocked the opening of new chapters in the past as it tries to secure a peace deal with the Turkish-backed breakaway state in the north of the island.