Kenny backs Turkey's plea to ease visa laws for citizens for cooperation on refugees
Published 16/10/2015 | 02:30
Turkey has demanded that the EU start easing restrictions next year on Turks travelling to the EU if it wants full cooperation to stem the flow of Syrian refugees and other migrants from its territory to Europe.
As EU leaders held a summit in Brussels dominated by talk of concessions to Turkey in return for Turkish help on the migration crisis, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara would not finalise a previously drafted agreement to take back migrants rejected by the EU without progress on the visa issue.
"We will not sign the readmission agreement before steps are taken on the Schengen visa and thus a visa liberalisation is secured for Turkish citizens," he told a television interviewer, saying he wanted a deal by the first half of next year.
Parallel, linked agreements on readmission and visa-free travel were made in late 2013, laying out conditions to be met, and expectations, that would take some three to four years.
As the summit got under way in Brussels, where EU leaders are considering offers to make visas easier for some Turks, French President Francois Hollande said of the Turkish demand: "Just because we want Turkey to help us by keeping back refugees, we mustn't ease restrictions unconditionally... So there will be a proposal that will set many conditions."
However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ireland was in favour of reopening EU membership talks with Turkey in exchange for its help in stemming the flow of refugees streaming into Europe.
"Obviously, this has implications for some other countries and that will be a source of discussion," Mr Kenny said on his way into a summit, adding that there were "very significant numbers of people, refugees, in Turkey".
Mr Kenny also said that Ireland "doesn't have a problem" with giving Turkish citizens access to visa-free travel within the EU to secure the country's agreement to house refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries.
EU leaders were meeting to thrash out ways to bolster border controls and push Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to do more to keep refugees from departing for Europe.
Over 700,000 people have made their way to Europe since the beginning of the year. The EU expects another mass exodus in the wake of Russia's military actions in Syria.
Last month EU countries agreed to relocate 160,000 people in need of international protection from Greece and Italy, the EU's two refugee hotspots. Ireland has agreed to relocate 4000 people.
But so far only 19 people have travelled from Italy to Sweden, according to the European Commission, which hit out this week at the slow pace at which EU governments have responded to the crisis.
Mr Kenny echoed the criticism, adding that the EU response to a call for extra border guards was "very weak" and that it needed to be "dealt with and dealt with effectively". Ireland does not contribute guards as it is not a member of the EU's border management agency.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said EU negotiators made progress in new talks in Turkey.
"It's moving in the right direction," said the EU chief executive, who last week in Brussels presented Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan with a draft joint "action plan" for cooperation on migration.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament before leaving for the summit that Europe needed to offer better support to help Turkey deal with the influx of refugees from war-torn neighbours. Over two million Syrians are in Turkey. "Without a doubt Turkey plays a key role," said Ms Merkel, who will visit Ankara on Sunday. "Most war refugees that come to Europe travel via Turkey. We won't be able to order and stem the refugee movement without working together with Turkey."
But embracing Turkey presents the EU with a dilemma as it constantly said Ankara fails to respect human rights.