domingo, 6 de março de 2016
Balkan route closed, EU to declare
Balkan route closed, EU to declare
Germany sets aside concerns about Turkish human rights to secure a deal on migration with Ankara.
By JACOPO BARIGAZZI 3/6/16, 8:05 PM CET
The Balkan route taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants to Europe is going to be closed, EU leaders will declare Monday at their summit with Turkey in Brussels, diplomats and officials said over the weekend.
Their statement — to be approved by leaders on Monday — was discussed by EU ambassadors on Sunday afternoon. “Irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route are coming to an end; this route is now closed,” according to a copy of the document obtained by POLITICO.
The meeting did not last long and ambassadors also endorsed the aim to “take forward, as a matter of priority all the elements of the Commission roadmap,” according to a diplomatic source, who added that the draft statement was not controversial. The migration roadmap, which was put out on Friday, envisages a series of steps for the return to normality in the Schengen area by December, dismantling the internal border controls reintroduced by some member states.
The new commitment to close the Western Balkan route used by hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees traveling from Greece to Northern Europe would end the “wave-through policy” that allowed migrants to cross borders with minimal controls.
The final statement stresses the need to be aware of other routes that migrants might take if the road running through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia is shut down. There are fears, especially in Rome, that migrants will try to travel north through Albania and across the Aegean Sea to Italy.
EU unease about Turkey
An agreement at the summit still faces political hurdles, in particular unease within the EU over a domestic crackdown in Turkey. Hours after European Council President Donald Tusk left Ankara last week, Turkish authorities on Friday seized Zaman, the country’s largest opposition newspaper.
The seizure prompted a mild censure by Brussels and silence in Berlin, which is eagerly seeking to get Turkey’s help to slow the flow of migrants into Europe. “We should not the referee the subject of human rights for the entire planet,” Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told the Passauer Neue Presse on Saturday.
But there’s enough discomfort with Turkey’s behavior to cause trouble on Monday. “I am afraid we could have an intense discussion on that since some are complaining that the EU has been too soft with Ankara,” said a diplomat.
The summit is intended to address the refugee crisis by making it clear that migrants will be swiftly returned to Turkey and that last year’s “open-door” policy, that made it possible for more than a million people to make their way to Germany, is over.
To help ease the humanitarian strain on Greece, where thousands of migrants are now stuck after borders were closed further to the north, the EU is counting on Turkey’s help. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in his meeting in Ankara with Tusk on Thursday, agreed to step up the return of illegal migrants from Greece as part of a bilateral readmission program with Athens, another official said.
“On Monday, I would like us to agree that all available EU tools, including accelerated relocation, should be used to address the humanitarian consequences for the refugees, not least in Greece, in a speedy and effective way,” Tusk wrote in his invitation letter to leaders who’ll gather in Brussels Monday.
Turkey to accept returnees
Davutoğlu, who will take part in the first session of the summit, also confirmed Turkey’s readiness to take back Syrians rescued in international waters by a NATO-led operation. NATO on Sunday reached a deal with Frontex, the EU border agency, on how to coordinate efforts. “We welcome that Frontex and NATO reached a common understanding today on the modalities of their cooperation in the Aegean Sea,” said Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, in a joint statement Sunday with the Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
On some days, as many as two-thirds of the 3,000 people coming into Greece are non-Syrians. The plan is to give these people a one-way ticket home.
The statement that was worked on Sunday calls for members to approve a humanitarian package for Athens, presented by the Commission on Wednesday, before the next summit of EU leaders on March 17.
Part of the effort to help Athens includes a speeding up of the existing relocation programs for 66,400 refugees from Greece that has largely been moribund, diplomats said. The draft statement calls for action to “accelerate relocation to alleviate the heavy burden that presently weighs on Greece.”
Diplomats said they were optimistic that a consensus will emerge at the summit. The closure of the Balkan route will also soften the problem of Austria’s unilateral decision to impose a yearly and daily cap on the number of refugees the country will accept, a decision branded by the Commission as a violation of international law, said an official.
Ahead of the summit on Monday morning Tusk will hold bilateral meetings with some of the leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, which holds the rotating presidency.
Tusk will also meet with Nicos Anastasiades, leader of the Greek Cypriot government, that on Monday will graduate from the bailout program three years after receiving the financial lifeline.
Matthew Karnitschnig in Berlin contributed reporting to this article.