The EU official who has led talks with Turkey on the migrant crisis said he was “strongly encouraged” by a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday at which the two sides discussed a voluntary resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees.
The meeting, held at the Austrian embassy in Brussels before a broader EU summit, was attended by nearly a dozen European leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is counting on Ankara to stem the flow of hundreds thousands of Syrians from Turkey into Greece and onward to Germany and other EU countries.
It took place as a report from the government of Luxembourg, in its capacity as president of EU ministerial councils, said there was little evidence that Turkey had managed to reduce departures of migrants for Greek islands in the two weeks since it signed an “action plan” with the EU to do so.
Despite that, the deputy head of the European Commission, First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who has led EU executive's negotiations with Turkey and attended the “mini-summit”, expressed hope that the deal would work.
”For us it is important to continue work with Turkey on the implementation of the action plan,” Timmermans said. “I'm strongly encouraged to do that because of the positive and proactive attitude of Prime Minister Davutoglu.”
Another official who attended the meeting with Davutoglu said the leaders agreed tentatively that the Netherlands, which takes over the EU presidency from Luxembourg next month, would invite all 28 EU member states to a meeting next year to discuss the resettlement plan, with the aim of discussing it at the bloc's next regular summit in mid-February.
But before that happens, the official said, Turkey must show that it is cracking down on illegal migration through its territory.
“All agreed that is a common task to handle the refugee crisis and reduce illegal migration,” the official said.
Germany, by far the top destination for asylum seekers in Europe, has been the driving force behind the voluntary resettlement idea, saying it would help Turkey, as well as EU member states to have more control over who gets to Europe.
The idea is linked to a wider deal with Turkey under which Ankara would prevent migrants leaving for Greece in return for 3 billion euros from the bloc, accelerated visa-free travel for Turks to the EU and reviving long stalled membership talks.
In addition to Merkel and Davutoglu, the meeting on Thursday was attended by nine other EU leaders, Timmermans, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.