EU leaders battle to save deal on curbing influx of migrants
Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30
EU leaders were last night battling to salvage a deal designed to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe.
They struggled to agree on the details of an accord they hoped would "break the business model" of people smugglers and "offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk" at sea, where 464 people have died or gone missing this year alone.
The deal has been beset by legal concerns over the deportation of migrants and political opposition from Cyprus to speeding up Turkey's EU membership talks.
"It now appears as if the elements of the deal that were going to be on the table will not be able to be completed," Taoiseach Enda Kenny said.
The accord, outlined at an emergency summit 10 days ago, offers Turkey more money, visa-free access to the EU and speedier membership talks in exchange for Turkey taking back Syrians that enter the bloc illegally via the Greek islands.
It includes an EU pledge to take one legal Syrian refugee from Turkey for every illegal Syrian migrant that Ankara takes back, and a promise to increase the number of refugees it allows in - as long as the flows to Greek islands diminish.
So far this year, 143,886 people have arrived by sea to Greece, on top of the 856,723 that arrived in 2015.
EU leaders reuniting in Brussels to finalise the deal were last night grappling with how to make it legally sound, following criticism from the UN and human rights groups that deporting migrants en masse back to Turkey would contravene international and EU law.
The European Commission attempted to silence critics this week by insisting asylum claims would be treated individually and that those denied refugee status could appeal.
The Council of Europe - the Strasbourg-based international human rights organisation, which is not an EU institution - yesterday welcomed the Commission's clarification, saying that it was "extremely important that every application for asylum should be treated individually and there should be no question of 'blanket' returns".
EU leaders were also trying to get Cyprus on board after Nicosia said it would derail the deal unless Turkey opens its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, a requirement under the 1970 Ankara Protocol governing Turkish-EU customs rules.
"If Turkey will fulfil its obligation according to the Ankara Protocol in the negotiations, the negotiating framework, then there is no problem. But without it we could do nothing," said Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on his way into the talks.
EU leaders are concerned that the dispute could derail peace talks between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities on the island, which are close to a conclusion.
Negotiations continued late into the night, with EU leaders battling over the wording of the deal before they put it to Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu at a follow-up meeting in Brussels on Friday.