Europe News

Migrant crisis: Leaders meet to seal EU-Turkey deal


Heads of state and government from the European Union (EU) and Turkey are meeting for a two-day summit on Thursday to clarify the details of a deal aimed at stemming the flow of migrants into the 28-nation bloc but some countries are unhappy with draft proposals on the table.

The summit will include U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande among other leaders from the region and will be chaired by the European Council President Donald Tusk.

The summit comes after a special European Council meeting on March 7 that involved representatives of Turkey in a bid to push forward with a deal aimed at stemming the flow of migrants into the 28-nation bloc. There, the EU agreed to give Ankara more money to cope with the influx of migrants (around three million migrants, most fleeing Syria's civil war, are in Turkey) as well as faster EU membership talks for Turkey and easier visa-free travel.

In return, Turkey agreed to halt the influx and said that it would take back Syrian migrants who arrived in Greece (the recession-hit country is struggling with the numbers of migrants arriving) and those intercepted in its waters, but demanded that for that every Syrian migrant they take back, the EU accept a Syrian refugee from Turkey.

A man holds a German flag as migrants and refugees protest for the opening of borders near the Greek village of Idomeni, where thousands are stranded on March 7, 2016.
Louisa Gouliamaki | AFP | Getty Images

More than a million migrants entered the EU in 2015, according to the United Nations, although this is likely to be a conservative estimate. Many have traveled from Turkey to Greece by sea, or over land, then travelling northwards through Europe to countries like Germany.

The preliminary deal was not met with universal agreement. Cyprus, a country divided into Greek and Turkish parts, is especially not happy with the prospect (albeit distant) of Turkish accession to the EU. Anti-immigration parties across Europe are also not happy with the deal, saying it doesn't do enough to discourage migrants. Allowing easier, visa-free travel for 77 million Turks too has not gone down well in other quarters either.

Deal needs work

One analyst closely following the summits said a deal at the latest meeting was likely but that its implementation would prove difficult, particularly given resistance at a national level in many countries.

"Resistance from a number of member states to different parts of the deal will complicate the talks and could water down some elements. In any case, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's bet on the Turkey deal remains at risk from implementation problems," Carsten Nickel, senior vice president at risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence said in a note on Wednesday.

In addition to Cyprus' concerns, Nickel said, other countries were also cautious about the deal.

"The French government is under domestic pressure from the right-wing populist National Front over the prospect of visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens, while Spain is questioning the viability of turning back refugees under international law. The Bulgarian government is concerned that the deal does too little to prevent migrants from travelling to its country, and east European nations as well as Paris remain unwilling to significantly increase the number of refugees they would accept under an EU-wide relocation scheme agreed – but never implemented – last year."

More to be done

Ahead of the two- summit on Thursday, Tusk said in a statement that the objective of the summit was clear: "To conclude an agreement to further strengthen our cooperation with Turkey in order to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe."

"But as my talks in the last ten days have proven as well as my trip to Nicosia and Ankara yesterday, there is still a lot to be done before we can reach an agreement acceptable to each and every one of our 28 Member States and Turkey."

Tusk said there was "still a number of issues to be resolved and on which we are working." The most important one, he said, and one "where we cannot and will not compromise, is the absolute need to respect both our EU law and international law. This is indispensable. Without that Europe will no longer be Europe," he said.

Lastly, Tusk added, "while we all focus on how we can further strengthen our cooperation with Turkey on migration and beyond, we should not forget the larger picture. No matter how good and game-changing such an agreement is, it will not in itself end the migration crisis. But it can and should help," he said.

"That is why we cannot afford to rely on this agreement alone. And that is why we have to remain serious on our common European comprehensive strategy that goes beyond Turkey."

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.