Turkey offered the European Union greater help on Monday to stem a flood of migrants into Europe but raised the stakes by demanding more money, accelerated membership talks and faster visa-free travel for its citizens in return.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told EU leaders Ankara was willing to take back all migrants coming from Turkey from a set date who are denied asylum in Europe, as well as those intercepted in its territorial waters, diplomats said.
In response, the EU leaders were considering his request to double their funding until 2018 to help Syrian refugees stay in Turkey and take in one Syrian refugee directly from Turkey for each one Turkey takes back from Greece’s Aegean islands, overrun by migrants, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
An emergency EU-Turkey summit, originally due to last half a day, was extended to give Davutoglu a chance to present new ideas going beyond Ankara’s commitments so far.
The 28 EU leaders, desperate to end an influx of more than a million people since early 2015 fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond, were discussing his proposals and will meet him again to discuss them over dinner, an EU official said.
“They (Turkey) are offering more and demanding more,” he said after the first working session, during which diplomats said all sides recognized strategies so far had not worked.
“Our aim is to go further with game changing ideas,” a spokesman for Davutoglu told Reuters, describing the Turkish proposals on a full halt to movement in return for direct resettlement as a plan to “end the tragedy in the Aegean”.
At a preparatory meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Sunday night, Davutoglu demanded more than the 3 billion euros ($3.29 billion) earmarked so far to support Syrian refugees in Turkey. One source said Ankara was seeking 20 billion euros.
“I am sure these challenges will be solved through our cooperation and Turkey is ready to work with the EU,” Davutoglu said on arrival for the summit.
“Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well. Today I hope this summit will not just focus on irregular migration but also the Turkish accession process to the EU.”
Among his demands, diplomats said, was to grant Turks visa-free travel in the EU from June instead of waiting for a planned review of preparatory measures in October.
The EU document proposed moving forward visa liberalization to June. But one EU diplomat said further concessions to Ankara would be a “hard sell” to member states facing rising pressure from anti-Muslim populist parties.