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EU Summit: “One in-one out” deal to be sealed on March 17-18

European leaders said early this morning that they had reached the outlines for a possible deal with Ankara to return thousands of refugees to Turkey and were hopeful a full agreement could be reached at a summit.

Although many states strongly disapproved Visegrad countries, as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also noted in his statements, EU leaders did not decide to open the northern border of Greece keeping the Western Balkans route closed.

Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, outlined proposals to resettle one Syrian refugee in Europe for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands.

After 12 hours of talks in Brussels, the German chancellor Angela Merkel described the one in, one out proposal as “a breakthrough” that would deter refugees from making the perilous sea crossing to Greece, but said Europe needed more time to agree final details.
EU leaders will aim to seal the deal with Turkey at another summit on 17-18 March.

In a statement, EU leaders said they broadly supported a deal that included:

1. the return of all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU
2. the resettlement of one Syrian from Turkey to the EU for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greece
3. speeding up of plans to allow Turks visa-free travel in Europe, with a view to lifting visa requirements by June 2016
4. speeding up the payment of €3bn promised in October, and a decision on additional funding to help Turkey deal with the crisis. 5. Turkey reportedly asked for EU aid to be increased to €6bn
preparations for a decision on the opening of new chapters in talks on EU membership for Turkey

The Turkish proposals, which had been agreed with Merkel and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on the eve of the summit, came as a surprise to other EU leaders. One said EU officials were left scrambling to find out if it was “legally and logistically possible”, while another diplomat said it was “naive” to think that such a complex plan could be agreed so quickly.

David Cameron said the proposal to return all refugees who make it across the Aegean sea to Greece could provide the basis of a settlement that would finally close the refugee trail through the Balkans.
“It has been a long and difficult evening but I think we do have the basis for a breakthrough which is the possibility that, in future, all refugees who arrive in Greece will be returned to Turkey,” he said.
“That would, if implemented, break the business model of the people smugglers and end the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe. That is something that I have been arguing for for a year and I think this is significant but only if it is fully implemented and that’s what needs to happen next.”
Following the summit, European Union chief Donald Tusk said: “the days of irregular migration to Europe are over”.
Human rights groups say returning asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey would be illegal, but the EU is desperate to reduce the flow of migrants and refugees coming to Europe.
The German chancellor gave a strong signal that she supported doubling the aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey, as the EU bargained with Ankara to do more to stop migrants and refugees arriving on Greek shores. EU leaders have been asked to provide €6bn (£4.6bn) over three years, twice the €3bn offered last November. Merkel said an extra €3bn would be needed, but more time was needed to agree the details.
Turkey has given shelter to almost 3 million refugees, while almost 363,000 Syrians claimed asylum in Europe last year. Up to 2,000 refugees are arriving on Greek shores every day, many from Syria, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Davutoğlu promised to tackle people smuggling: “With these new proposals, we aim to rescue refugees, discourage those who misuse and exploit their situation and find a new era in Turkey-EU relations.”

He told European leaders that Turkey wanted more for its citizens in exchange for helping the EU. He called for visa liberalisation for 75 million Turks by 1 June, an advance of the October deadline proposed last year, as well as re-starting Turkey’s long-stalled EU accession talks.
Neither demand is easy. Cyprus has long blocked Turkey’s membership talks over the presence of Turkish troops in the breakaway Turkish-speaking north of the island, while a host of bureaucratic hurdles have to be cleared to make visa liberalisation, relaxing requirements placed in Turks, a reality.

The summit comes at an awkward moment for EU-Turkey relations after the Turkish government seized control of Zaman, the country’s biggest daily newspaper, which had been critical of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his Justice and Development party.

After the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, threatened to veto a deal with Turkey, a reference to media freedom was added to the final summit statement. Several EU leaders told Davutoglu they were concerned about growing restrictions on press freedom, while the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, urged Turkey to respect the highest standards on democracy, the rule of law and freedom of expression.

In the background to the Turkey talks, EU leaders were at loggerheads over managing refugees in Europe. Germany objected to an early draft of the summit communiqué that declared the closure of the western Balkan route used by ­refugees and migrants travelling from Greece to northern Europe.

According to German media, Merkel thought it wrong to announce the closure of the route when Syrians and Iraqis were entitled to asylum under EU law. In reality, the majority of refugees and migrants in Greece are already barred from using the route, with at least 35,000 stuck in Greece. Conditions at the Idomani camp near the Greek-FYROM border, where 13,000 are stranded, are increasingly desperate, with food and water limited.

European unity has been stretched to breaking point, with countries taking unilateral action to reintroduce border controls across the passport-free Schengen zone. EU leaders will call for all ­controls to be lifted by the end of the year.
Cameron said earlier that there was no prospect of the UK joining a common European ­asylum policy.