NEWS

EU agreement with Turkey hanging in the balance

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A crucial two-day European Union summit gets under way in Brussels on Thursday aiming to finalize a draft deal hammered out last week with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, but its outcome remains uncertain as it seeks to overcome objections raised by member-states.

The EU said on Wednesday there was still a lot of work to be done, warning that a deal would depend on Turkey’s stance on the peace talks over the divided member-state of Cyprus.

“Work is progressing but there is still a lot to do,” European Council President Donald Tusk said in a letter to EU leaders ahead of today’s summit.

He added that a deal would be an opportunity for Turkey “to support settlement talks in Cyprus. Only if this is possible can we move forward.”

Cyprus had raised objection this week to Turkey’s demand to speed up its membership negotiations as one of the conditions it set to take back refugees that illegally enter Greece from its shores. But Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said he will veto any deal that expedites Turkey’s bid unless Ankara recognizes Cyprus as a state and fulfills its obligations to open up its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and planes.

But objections were also raised by other member-states that reject the idea that they will have to accept quotas of refugees to unburden countries such as Greece that have borne the brunt of the crisis.

Turkey’s poor human rights record is also under the spotlight, with European Parliament President Martin Schulz saying he does not anticipate a “final breakthrough” this week.

Another obstacle is Ankara’s demand for visa-free travel in the EU for Turkish citizens. But according to countries including France and Austria, Turkey has yet to fulfill a whole series of requirements.

While it remained unclear how many compromises EU leaders are willing to make for an agreement, the legal aspect of any deal will come under the scrutiny of the UN and legal experts who have denounced the agreement to deport migrants back to Turkey as a contravention of international law.