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Merkel ready to push Turkey EU accession in exchange for migrant help (Update 2 ‘EU will also support Cyprus’)

Germany is ready to help drive forward Turkey’s European Union accession process, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday, extending support to Ankara in exchange for Turkish help in stemming the flow of refugees to Europe. She spoke of preparing chapters currently blocked due to the situation in Cyprus.

“How can we organise the accession process more dynamically?” Merkel asked at a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who said Turkey expected an acceleration in its EU accession process and that progress had been made on establishing visa-free travel to the EU for Turks.

“Germany is ready this year to open Chapter 17, and make preparations for (chapters) 23 and 24. We can talk about the details,” Merkel said during a joint news conference with Davutoglu in Istanbul.

Chapter 17 concerns Economic & Monetary Policy but chapters 23 and 24 are part of the eight chapters blocked due to the situation in Cyprus.

Cyprus said earlier this month it would not not agree to the opening of two new EU-Turkey negotiating chapters as long as the neighbouring country did not meet its obligations towards Cyprus, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said.

Speaking during an EU foreign ministers working lunch in Luxembourg that discussed Turkey’s role in the refugee crisis, Kasoulides said there was a need for the EU to co-operate with Turkey.

The foreign minister stressed however, that Cyprus would not agree to opening chapters 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, and 24 – Justice, Freedom, and Security, as long as Turkey refused to fulfil its obligations towards Cyprus.

Turkey has refused to implement the Additional or ‘Ankara’ Protocol with EU, which would require the Turkish government to remove all discriminatory obstacles towards Cyprus as member state.

The Turkish ban on Cypriot air and sea traffic is a major aspect of the protocol, and the delay in implementing it for Cyprus, has since 2006, prevented any movement on eight chapters necessary for Turkey to move forward with its EU accession.

Asked during the news conference in Istanbul how the EU could convince the Greek Cypriots when it came to opening chapters, Merkel acknowledged that the approval of all member states was needed to open chapters but said they would also offer support to Cyprus, according to the Cyprus News Agency but she said the main issue right now was to resolve the migrant situation.

Merkel said in return for accelerating the path to visa-free travel to the EU for Turks and pushing forward Ankara’s protracted EU membership talks, she expected Turkey to agree to take back migrants rejected by the EU, something Davutoglu has said he will only agree to if there was. progress on the visa issue.

“I think we have used the crisis we are experiencing through a very disorderly and uncontrolled movement of refugees, to again achieve closer cooperation on many issues, both between the European Union and Turkey, and between Germany and Turkey,” Merkel said after meeting the Turkish premier.

Dubbed a “punch-bag” for her own party by some German media due to frustrations over the refugee crisis, Merkel wants to cement a European deal with Turkey on aid and closer ties in return for help in encouraging refugees there to stay put.

She has resisted pressure to tighten Germany’s border controls and turn away refugees arriving from Austria, even as Germany expects 800,000 to 1 million new arrivals this year.

Both the Turkish and German leaders said they had agreed there could be no lasting solution to the migration crisis without resolving the conflict in Syria, from where more than 2 million refugees have now fled to Turkey.

A “safe zone” in northern Syria, a proposal long championed by Turkey but which has gained little international traction, is badly needed if the flow of refugees is to be stemmed, Davutoglu said, warning of a potential new wave of migration as fighting intensifies around the Syrian city of Aleppo.

“Our priority is to prevent illegal immigration and reduce the number of people crossing our borders. In that respect we have had very fruitful discussions with the EU recently,” Davutoglu told the news conference.

But he said that while progress had been made on an EU offer to Turkey last week of an action plan including “re-energised” talks on joining the bloc, as well as aid and the prospect of easier travel visas, several issues remained to be resolved.

“Firstly, the sharing of the refugee burden should be fair. The amount of aid…is secondary. What is more important is the common will to tackle this issue. Turkey has been left alone in recent years,” he said.

Visa-free travel for Turks should be brought forward to July 2016 instead of the current planned 2017 in return for Turkey signing a “readmission agreement” to allow in migrants sent back from Europe, he said. Turkey should also be allowed to participate in EU summits, he added.

“Germany is ready to offer support. If we take the question of visa liberalisation, we can talk in the German-Turkish working group … about specific possibilities to push through visa facilitation,” Merkel said.

Just two months ago, Merkel was practically able to dictate terms to Greece over an aid plan to tackle its debt crisis. But over neighbouring Turkey, she has far less leverage to get her way, particularly as just 10 days ago, she reiterated her opposition to Turkey joining the European Union.

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