Merkel to push for implementation of EU-Turkey migrant accord at summit
Published 17/02/2016 | 02:30
GERMAN chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday that she would press for implementation of the EU's migration deal with Turkey at a summit this week, saying the alternative of closing borders to limit the flow of refugees to Europe would have dire consequences for the bloc.
Speaking at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ms Merkel said the summit was not about agreeing new quotas for distributing refugees across Europe, saying this would be "laughable" given that less than 1,000 have been relocated under an existing scheme.
Instead, she said it was about whether the EU-Turkey pact could successfully tackle the causes of the migration or whether the bloc should "give up and instead close the Greek-Macedonian-Bulgarian border with all the consequences that would have for Greece, the European Union and the Schengen zone."
"I will fight with all my strength on Thursday and Friday for the EU-Turkey agenda as the right way to tackle this," she added.
Meanwhile, speaking in Athens, EU Council President Donald Tusk said excluding Greece from the open-border Schengen area will not solve the migrant crisis.
Europe needed to improve the protection of its external borders, he told reporters after talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens. That required more effort by Greece, but also more support from its European Union partners.
Central European nations this week proposed drafting emergency back-up plans to halt the flow of migrants to western Europe through the Balkans, effectively ring-fencing Greece.
"The migration crisis is testing our union to its limits," Mr Tusk said. "For all those talking of excluding Greece from Schengen, thinking this is a solution to the migration crisis, I say no, it is not."
Greece - the main entry point into Europe for more than a million refugees and migrants since last year, many crossing the sea from Turkey - is under intense pressure from its EU partners to tighten border checks.
EU ministers last week gave Greece three months to fulfil 50 recommendations to fix its borders. If it does not, the EU members of the free-travel Schengen zone can impose checks on internal frontiers for up to two years.
Mr Tusk, who was in Greece to garner support for an ambitious EU reform programme designed to keep Britain in the EU, was echoing sentiments expressed by Ms Merkel, who said Greece needed help in meeting its border protection duties, and should not be shunned.
"Let me be clear," Mr Tusk said. "Excluding Greece from Schengen solves none of our problems."
Greece says the burden it is assuming in the migrants crisis is disproportionate, adding to the strain on a nation reeling from six years of deep recession caused by austerity under the terms of three international financial bailouts.
Athens says the numbers are too big to handle, that it cannot turn back boatloads of refugees and migrants into the sea, and that Turkey should do more to stop the migrants at its shores.
The leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia said on Monday there should be tighter controls on the borders of Balkan countries neighbouring Greece if attempts to limit the numbers from Turkey to Greece failed.