NEWS

EU not giving Turkey a ‘free ride’ says Timmermans

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A provisional EU-Turkey deal to stem the flow of migrants in return for concessions to Ankara is not offering Turkey “a free ride”, European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday.

Timmermans told a news conference that Turkey would, for example, need to carry out required measures by the end of April to allow Turks visa-free travel into the European Union by the end of June, as Ankara has requested.

“We are certainly not giving Turkey a free ride,” he said.

He also said that Turkish requests to open new “chapters” of its long stalled negotiation on accession to the EU would be considered and said that would need the agreement of EU member states. Cyprus is blocking opening some chapters until Turkey stops excluding it from some existing agreements with the EU.

Timmermans acknowledged widespread concerns about human rights in Turkey but said that the European Union had an interest in expanding the accession process in order to address those issues.

There would be no “blanket returns” to Turkey and that both Greece and Turkey would need to change legislation in order for the scheme to work in accordance with EU and international law.

But the alternative to the deal was to see more people arrive in Greece, where borders have been closed to prevent them moving to the rest of the EU, notably to Germany. He referred to poor conditions at Idomeni, on the Greek border with Macedonia, where thousands of migrants are stranded.

EU leaders will discuss the proposals at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday and Timmermans said the Commission believed it was the right thing for the EU to seal a final deal.

He insisted refugees were not being turned away from Europe and that the EU would ensure they were given full international rights to protection in Turkey if there was conclusion of the accord by which Turkey takes back people reaching Greece.

Under the draft plan, the EU would take in one Syrian refugee direct from Turkey for every one returned to Turkey.

Timmermans said initially those resettled would benefit from an existing scheme by which member states offered 22,000 places last year. EU officials say about 18,000 places remain.

Once those are filled, Timmermans said, there were a further 54,000 places, allocated under a different EU scheme intended to take asylum seekers from one EU state to another, but which could be modified to include the relocation of people from Turkey to Europe.

Beyond that, Timmermans said, it would be necessary for European states to offer many more places to resettle asylum seekers from Turkey.

“There is no way, politically or morally, to turn Turkey or Greece into huge refugee camps,” he said.

[Reuters]