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EU, Turkey face-off


EU, Turkey face-off

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BRUSSELS/ANKARA – The European Union is scrambling for a new agreement with Turkey to prevent migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond flooding into the EU. But there is little sign so far that Ankara is ready to accept the terms Brussels is offering.

Since Turkey announced on February 28 that it would no longer abide by a 2016 deal to keep refugees on its territory, accusing the EU of falling short on commitments of financial support, some 35 000 migrants have massed on the border with Greece where they have been thrust back by Greek forces.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday in Zagreb, where its foreign ministers met to weigh the crisis, that member states were willing to offer more money to Turkey beyond the six billion euros (US$6.79 billion) pledged in 2016.

But Turkey, which hosts almost four million refugees and migrants, first had to stop using migrants as a bargaining chip.

“Turkey has a big burden . . . and we have to understand that,” Borrell said. “But at the same time, we cannot accept that migrants are being used as a source of pressure.”

Even if the EU does decide to offer more money, it’s not clear it will be sufficient to assuage Turkey or be the kind of support that Ankara, which is simultaneously involved in conflicts in Syria and Libya, really wants.

So far, the EU has retained oversight over the use of the funds it disburses. But an EU diplomat involved in discussions in Zagreb said the Turks wanted funds paid directly to them, something EU member states are very unlikely to agree to.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to halt fighting between Russian-backed Syrian forces and Turkish troops.

On his flight back from Moscow, Erdogan appeared unimpressed by what the EU was offering so far, saying the Union was always offering help but then falling short or not stepping up.

“The West unfortunately has many faces,” he told reporters. “From the EU . . . they made us some promises as well. I don’t know if there will be a result from there or not.”