The Turkish PM, Ahmet Davutoğlu, arrived to Brussels with a fresh set of demands, surprising many European leaders. The draft proposal will pave the way for Turkey to readmit all migrants crossing to the Greek islands back into Turkey after a set date.
In return, the draft proposal states that “for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU member states.” Furthermore, the EU agreed to speed up the process of easing visa restrictions for Turkish citizens to the Schengen area by June 2016, compared to October as previously agreed.
The EU also reaffirmed their commitment to the process of negotiating Turkey’s accession to the European Union after Davutoğlu made it clear that “Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well. Today I hope this summit will not just focus on irregular migration but also the Turkish accession process to the EU.”
The EU reportedly accepted Davutoğlu’s demand for a further $3bn, doubling what they had originally been promised. The increased demands of Ankara shows the relative weakness of the EU’s negotiating position, with the Turkish government hoping to capitalise on the refugee crisis as leverage for short-term gains from Europe.
Such a deal represents a breakthrough and a huge success for the AKP who have faced criticism for human rights abuses and crackdowns on press freedom in Turkey. These crackdowns culminated in dramatic scenes last week with the take-over of the largest newspaper in Turkey, Zaman; a Gülen affiliated paper highlight critical of the AKP government. On Monday, the newspaper was re-launched with a series of positive articles on President Erdoğan.
The proposals also go a long way to stemming the flow of refugees using smuggling routes into Europe from Turkey, a priority for European leaders. This year alone, 110,000 people have entered Greece from Turkey, according to the International Organisation of Migration; which is 30 times higher than this time last year. As the bad weather recedes, this number will only increase as the warmer summer months are more suitable for smugglers to conduct their operations across the Aegean Sea.
The EU’s Donald Tusk visited Turkey last week where he floated the idea of a fast and large scale mechanism to ship back irregular migrants from Greece which would “effectively break the business model of smugglers.”
Turkey’s offer to readmit all migrants after a certain date back into Turkey appears to adhere to Tusk’s demands, but many EU leaders have expressed concern regarding Turkey’s human right record and the state of press freedom in the country.
Immediately following the draft proposal on Monday, EU sources told Reuters that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was prepared to block any summit statement unless a reference to media freedom was included.
The fact that such a steep new set of proposals have been offered by Ankara at a time when press freedom in Turkey is at an all-time low following the seizure of Zaman newspaper last week may well stall the negotiations. Furthermore, Ankara’s crackdown on Kurdish militants in cities in the volatile south-east has led to an outcry of human rights abuses.
Salahattin Demirtaş, the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP, voiced concern over the likely deal; arguing the EU was making a historical mistake: “The EU is trying so hard not to upset Erdogan, and that’s a big mistake,” Demirtaş said, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The world has gone very silent on what’s happening in Turkey, and that’s saddening and also short-sighted. If the war in Turkey continues like this, you’re also going to have refugees from Turkey.”
Amnesty International have also denounced such a proposal, claiming that such a deal is a new low for Turkey and the EU, “essentially horse trading away the rights and dignity of some of the world’s most vulnerable people” and makes a mockery of “the EU’s obligation to provide access to asylum at its borders.”