Brussels // Turkey ratcheted up its demands for helping the EU with the migrant crisis at a high-stakes summit in Brussels on Monday, demanding an extra €3 billion (Dh12.14bn) in aid in return for its cooperation.
Ankara is also haggling for a refugee swap under which the European Union would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey in exchange for every Syrian refugee that Turkey takes back from the overstretched Greek islands.
Under the last-minute proposals by Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the 28-nation bloc would also bring forward visa-free travel for Turks to June, and speed up its EU membership bid.
The EU is paying an increasingly high price to secure Turkey’s help in dealing with the biggest migration crisis since the Second World War, but has little choice as Turkey is the main launching point for the Greek islands.
In Ankara, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the EU for a four-month delay in disbursing the original €3 billion in aid for 2016-17 under a deal agreed in November.
“It’s been four months. They are yet to deliver,” Mr Erdogan said from Ankara. “My prime minister is currently in Brussels. I hope he will return with the money.”
More than one million refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe since the start of 2015 – the majority fleeing the war in Syria – with nearly 4,000 dying while crossing the Mediterranean.
In a surprise move, Mr Davutoglu unveiled what his spokesman called a “new proposal” at a lunch with EU leaders in Brussels, forcing them to extend the lunchtime summit until dinner to discuss his demands.
The Turkish premier hinted as much as he arrived for the talks, saying: “Turkey is ready to work with EU. Turkey is ready to be member of EU as well.”
European Parliament head Martin Schulz confirmed Turkey’s demand, saying it “will require additional [EU] budgetary procedures”.
But the leader of Turkey’s most prominent pro- Kurdish party, Selahattin Demirtas, said the EU is making an historic mistake in its haste to conclude a refugee deal with Turkey, overlooking human rights violations that risk plunging the bloc’s largest membership candidate into civil war.
The EU is turning a blind eye to an opposition crackdown in Turkey that’s polarising society and complicating efforts to find a political solution to the nation’s Kurdish conflict, Mr Demirtas said in an impromptu interview en route to Brussels.
“The EU is trying so hard not to upset Erdogan, and that’s a big mistake,” Mr Demirtas said. “The world has gone very silent on what’s happening in Turkey, and that’s saddening and also short- sighted. If the war in Turkey continues like this, you’re also going to have refugees from Turkey.”
One EU diplomat said Turkey was proposing “a potential gamechanger” where it will take back not only irregular economic migrants who have reached the Greek islands but also those from Syria deemed genuine refugees.
“In return, we have said for every Syrian they take back, we will resettle one Syrian” from camps in Turkey, where 2.7 million Syrian refugees are living, the diplomat added.
Turkey would also see visa-free travel brought forward to June if Ankara commits to immediately bringing into force the deal to readmit illegal migrants sent back from the Greek islands.
But the EU must still overcome its own bitter divisions over dealing with the migration crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker insisted on Monday that a mention of closing the main Balkans route for migrants be dropped from a proposed final summit statement.
The West Balkans route is the main path for migrants to get from Greece to wealthy Germany and Scandinavia.
But Austria last month abruptly capped the number of asylum seekers it would accept, triggering a domino effect of border restrictions along the Balkans that has trapped tens of thousands of desperate migrants on the border between Greece and non-EU Macedonia. Meanwhile Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras renewed calls Monday for fellow EU members to honour a deal to relocate thousands of refugees.* Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg