EU-Turkey summit on refugees, migrants risks delay

20 November 2015
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A summit between the European Union and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to seal cooperation on Europe’s migration crisis may be delayed because the two sides have yet to agree how to implement a joint action plan, European diplomats said on Friday.

The meeting was provisionally pencilled in for Nov. 29 when EU leaders met in Malta last week on the sidelines of a summit with African nations on controlling migration flows.

But diplomats said EU and Turkish officials have been unable to finalise a plan involving 3 billion euros in European funds, measures to keep refugees and migrants in Turkey, accelerated visa liberalisation for Turks visiting Europe, and a revitalisation of Ankara’s stalled EU accession negotiations.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said no date had been set for the summit yet after Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans held talks in Ankara on Thursday, but he denied that the talks had stalled.

Noting that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk had met Erdogan on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Turkey on Monday, Schinas told reporters: “There is movement, the ball is rolling.

“We do hope that this process will lead soon to transform this joint action plan into an effective agreement that can be operationalised and produce change on the ground.”

An EU official familiar with the exchanges said Ankara was loath to commit to a timetable for improving conditions for refugees before the EU comes through with the money. Only Britain has made a firm financial pledge so far.

This was partly due to delays in the formation of a new Turkish government amid indications of a power struggle within the Islamist-rooted AK Party which won an absolute parliamentary majority in a Nov. 1 election, he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been driving the EU thaw with Ankara, despite concerns about Erdogan’s authoritarian drift, to help Berlin cope with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and other migrants, most of whom came through Turkey.

“We need Turkey’s help and they are very aware of this. They are tough negotiators. If you rely too much on the Turks for help, you are making a mistake,” a German official said.

The EU aide said Turkish officials were reluctant to sign up to specific commitments before a new government was in place and they knew who their political masters would be.

European officials said they detected tension between Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Erdogan over the sharing of power.

Erdogan, the AKP’s founding strongman, wants to change the constitution to give the presidency executive powers. Davutoglu, who won the election, wants to keep more power with a government answerable to parliament.

He had been expected to name his cabinet this week after receiving the mandate to form a new government from Erdogan on Tuesday, but the announcement has been delayed until next week.

Government officials say the delay is simply a matter of scheduling, with Erdogan in Istanbul for meetings over the past few days while Davutoglu was in the capital Ankara.

But sources in the AK Party have said there are tensions over the shape of the new government, with Erdogan wanting his key advisors in senior posts to maintain influence, while Davutoglu is eager to emerge from his shadow.

The make-up of the cabinet will determine Turkey’s economic and foreign policy direction. Former deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, an anchor of foreign investor confidence over the past decade, is seen as the potential new foreign minister, sources have said, although he is not a close Erdogan ally.

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