A summit held in Brussels between European Union countries and Turkey with the aim of finding a formula to deal with the refugee crisis appeared to be heading for a stalemate Monday night.
As leaders met late into the night after a full day of talks on how to reduce the number of refugees and migrants making their way to the EU, while also finding homes for the ones who had already made the crossing, it appeared that demands from Turkey and objections by Hungary created insurmountable obstacles to an immediate agreement.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu tried to get the ball rolling by proposing a scheme under which Ankara would take back all refugees and migrants who arrived in Greece from Turkey’s coast. The EU and Turkey discussed a refugee swap under which the 28-member bloc would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey in exchange for every Syrian refugee that Ankara takes back from Greece.
However, Davutoglu indicated that the EU would have to offer more incentives for the Turkish government to accept such a process. He is said to have sought an extra 3 billion euros in aid, on top of 3 billion already pledged, in return for speedy action from Ankara. There were also proposals for Brussels to bring forward visa-free travel for Turks to June, and speed up the country’s long-stalled EU membership bid.
However, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejected the idea of resettling refugees directly from Turkey, even though it seems this would be a voluntary scheme for EU members.
“He has vetoed the plan which would resettle migrants and asylum seekers directly from Turkey to Europe,” Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told Reuters.
There also appear to have been concerns expressed by Greece and Cyprus about Turkey’s demands for five of its EU accession chapters to be opened.
Beyond that, though, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Greek delegation seem to have kept a relatively low profile during negotiations. Tsipras held separate meetings with Davutoglu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He also stressed his government’s continued efforts to deal with the growing number of refugees and migrants trapped in Greece due to tighter border controls in the Balkans and Central Europe.
Preparations for NATO patrols to begin in the Aegean, including Greek and Turkish territorial waters, appear to be in the final stages.
“Our commanders have defined our area of activity in close consultation and coordination with both Greece and Turkey,” said the Alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
“Our activities in territorial waters will be carried out in consultation and coordination with both Allies. The purpose of NATO’s deployment is not to stop or push back migrant boats, but to help our Allies Greece and Turkey, as well as the European Union, in their efforts to tackle human trafficking and the criminal networks that are fueling this crisis.”
Stoltenberg met on the sidelines of the summit with Davutoglu on Monday to discuss the plan.
“NATO is starting activities in territorial waters today,” he said. “We are expanding our cooperation with the EU’s border agency Frontex and we are expanding the number of ships in our deployment,” he said, saying that France and Britain had agreed to send ships to the Aegean.
Germany is leading the NATO mission that was agreed on February 11, which also includes ships from Canada, Turkey and Greece.