European leaders failed to reach a final agreement on recruiting Turkey to help stem the flow of refugees from the Middle East, with some eastern member states dragging their heels over how much aid to grant their neighbor.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference that the European Union had a draft accord with Turkey on curtailing the flow of migrants and refugees. She said the figure of 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in EU aid to Turkey was discussed at a summit in Brussels, but that the issue had yet to win full support from the 28-nation bloc.
With more than a million migrants set to reach the EU in 2015 and Russian bombing raids on Syria threatening even greater flows for next year, some member states are recoiling at the sacrifices they’ll have to force on their voters.
The summit underscored the challenge facing the EU with the leaders attempting to woo Turkey, already harboring more than 2 million refugees itself, after cold-shouldering the country’s requests to join the bloc for the past decade.
“If we are not able to find humanitarian and efficient solutions then others will find solutions which are inhuman, nationalistic and, for sure, not European,” EU President Donald Tusk said at a news conference after the meeting.
The day that ended with a stalemate over money had begun with Merkel calling on her EU partners to pay their share of the costs of helping refugees. Afterward the chancellor described the progress made in cautious terms, saying that “outlines of cooperation” with Turkey were becoming “quite visible.”
Turkey has spent more than 7 billion euros on refugees in the last three or four years, Merkel noted, so the EU helping out was “burden-sharing.” She said there was “a general sense” among leaders that it was right “to shelter refugees closer to their home rather than financing them here in our own countries.”
While the member states agreed to send hundreds more border guards to help Frontex and other joint agencies patrolling the bloc’s borders, leaders made little progress on how to redesign the system of distributing immigrants, forming an EU border guard corps or on how to ensure arrivals are properly processed.
“These are all divisive issues and the goal today was to have the first serious exchange,” Tusk said.
The migration crisis dominated the summit, but leaders of Germany, France and Britain also discussed the war in Syria, where Russia’s military offensive has triggered fears of a new wave of refugees.
“Bashar al-Assad can’t be the future of Syria,” French President Francois Hollande said. “Does he leave at the beginning, does he leave in the middle, does he leave in the end? What’s important is that he has to go.”
In an interview after the summit, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for a “large international coalition” to end fighting in Syria and Libya among other countries. “I believe that it is important to involve Russia in this coalition, but it would be a mistake to leave only Russia to lead this strategy,” he said.
With the conflict roiling the Middle East fueling the refugee crisis within the EU, Hollande urged member states to match Germany’s generosity in opening its doors.
“Do you think that Germany can continue to take in 500,000 refugees when they are making such an effort and they see the debates in other countries about such smaller efforts?” he asked.
The chancellor, however, was left perplexed by the refusal of her country’s eastern neighbors to respond to her rallying cry.
“For reasons that I don’t yet completely understand, the eastern European member states feel themselves to be to an extent badly treated,” Merkel said. “I don’t understand why they’re so hard line on this issue of refugees.”