BRUSSELS (AP) â€” European Union leaders eager for Turkey's assist in the migrant crisis cautioned against promising too much to their often reluctant partner at a summit in Brussels Sunday, even as Turkey's prime minister declared the beginning of a new era for relations between the two sides.
French President Francois Hollande said Sunday that the EU will need to monitor Turkey's commitments "step-by-step" to assist end Syria's political crisis, fight terrorism & deal with the migrants crisis. He said any funds of a 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) package to assist Turkey deal with the migrants on its territory will be released progressively as the commitments are checked.
"For the moment, there is this 3 billion that has been freed up & it will be released bit by bit along with the commitments of Turkey," Hollande said upon his departure from the summit. Also part of the new approach toward Turkey are EU promises to make haste with easing visa restrictions & fast-tracking Turkey's EU membership. In return, Ankara must tighten border security & take back some migrants who don't qualify for asylum in Europe.
p>"I want there to be an agreement so that Turkey takes on commitments, Europe supports it, & the refugees can be welcomed," Hollande said.
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he was "thankful to all European leaders for this new beginning, which is not just a beginning of a meeting yet the beginning of a new process, which is very significant for the future of our usual bond in Europe."
According to the International Organization for Migration, almost 900,000 people fleeing conflict & poverty in the Middle East, Africa & Asia have entered Europe this year seeking sanctuary or jobs. More than 600,000 have entered through Greece, many after making the short sea crossing from Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu waves as he arrives for an EU-Turkey summit at the EU Council …
More than 2 million refugees from Syria moreover live in Turkey, yet according to Amnesty International, only around one in 10 are being helped by the government. The rest fend largely for themselves.
Even if support for closer relations with Turkey has often been lukewarm at best in many of the EU member states, the refugee crisis has forced a drastic revision of relations with Ankara.
"Turkey is right to expect that the EU provides relief," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Others though pointed out that any aid had to be offset by Turkish commitments on reform & respect for human rights.
EU President Donald Tusk put it straight to Davutoglu during the opening session of the summit. In return for EU aid, he said, "we expect to see an immediate & substantial reduction of irregular migrants arriving to Europe." Furthermore, he added, the EU nations want Turkey "to realize the usual objective of coming closer together through reforms, the upholding of the highest standards of human rights & media freedom & the implementation of agreed roadmaps & benchmarks" that are part of the EU membership talks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes French President Francois Hollande while Turkish Prime Mini …
Belgium's prime minister Charles Michel said Turkey could not be given a "blank check" from the EU to assist it handle the roughly 2 million Syrian refugees in the country & added his nation is not ready yet to free up money. And even if Turkey has long sought to join the bloc, Michel said Turkey is "far away from membership" & "there is much progress that needs to be made."
The migrant crisis has shaken the EU to its core over the past few months when several member states proved unwilling or unable to deal with the arrival of thousands of needy people on their borders.
Tusk said the future of Europe's 26-nation passport-free Schengen travel area, a cornerstone of European unity, was in jeopardy.
"The most significant one is our responsibility & duty to protect our external borders. We cannot outsource this obligation to any third country. I will repeat this again: without control on our external borders, Schengen will become history," Tusk said.
Yet in a recent membership progress report on Turkey, the EU criticized Ankara's interference with its justice system & Turkish government pressure on the media. Last week, two more opposition journalists were jailed in Turkey.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that there was enough to bind both sides together.
"Turkey & Europe need each other. We are facing the same problems â€” from the war in Syria to terrorism to the stability or instability for the region . we can be partners. We have to put all the issues we have on the table."
Maria Cheng & Jamey Keaten contributed to this article
Politics & GovernmentForeign PolicyTurkeyFrancois Hollande
Source: “Associated Press”