An EU-Turkey migration proposal presented to European leaders this month proved controversial from the start, and opposition only continues to grow.
The list of complaints is long: German Chancellor Angela Merkel sprung the plan on countries at the last minute; Ankara ambushed the process with more and more demands in exchange for stopping migrants crossing to Greece; and Turkey can’t be trusted to respect human rights of refugees returned there.
Under the framework sketched out at the summit two weeks ago, Ankara would agree to take back migrants who illegally reach Greek shores. In return, Turkey would receive more EU cash (€3 billion on top of an already pledged €3 billion), plus promises to lift visa restrictions for Turks traveling to Europe and speed up talks on Turkey’s membership in the bloc. The deal would also require the resettlement of one Syrian citizen in Europe for every Syrian taken back by Turkey.
Here are six countries that could derail the deal when EU leaders meet again Thursday:
Background: Vienna is skeptical about the deal but not vehemently opposed. Chancellor Werner Faymann is under pressure from the far-right Freedom Party, whose presidential candidate Norbert Hofer demanded the deal be rejected.
“This country [Turkey] and its culture don’t fit into the European community of values,” Hofer said.
According to the latest polls, the Freedom Party is ahead of the two government parties — the Social Democrats and Austrian People’s Party — by as much as 10 percent.
The problem: Vienna knows that Ankara’s conditions come with a big catch: Visa liberalization could lead to a rise in the number of Turks in the country, who make up about 1.3 percent of the population, according to Statistik Austria.
There are fears that a Turkish crackdown on the media, as well as the ongoing conflict with the Kurds, could motivate more Turks to move to Austria — a tough sell in a country where public opinion has increasingly shifted towards curbing migration. Last month, Faymann tried to calm migration concerns and growing hostility to foreigners by introducing a cap on the number of refugees allowed to request asylum in Austria — just 80 a day.
“I do ask myself if we throw … our values overboard” — Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner
Background: Bulgaria is, like Greece, in charge of protecting the EU’s external border. Although the country has sealed its land frontier with Turkey, there are emerging concerns in Sofia that if the EU and Turkey forge a deal that shuts down the migration route over the Aegean Sea, then human traffickers will shift their business north to the Black Sea, and ship migrants to Bulgaria’s shores.
The problem: The current proposal only mentions sending back refugees that arrive on the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. That does not go far enough for Bulgaria, which has threatened to veto any deal that does not prevent potential refugee flows over the Black Sea.
“Bulgaria would not be ready to accept a partial Turkish engagement [only for the Greek islands] which will most probably lead to opening up of new migration routes” — Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov
Background: The island state, whose northern part was occupied by Turkish troops in 1974, is the biggest potential obstacle to the deal. Relations between Nicosia and Ankara are still bad – with Turkey not even recognizing Cyprus – and the latter’s EU membership in 2004 brought those tensions to the European level. In 2006, after repeated refusal by the Turkish government to allow Cypriot ships and planes to access its ports, the EU froze talks on eight negotiating “chapters” in Turkey’s membership bid. When the re-opening of five chapters was discussed at an EU-Turkey summit in November, Cyprus immediately used its veto.
The problem: Cyprus’ major interest is a reunification of the island and recognition by Turkey. Nicosia hopes to achieve those goals through U.N.-led peace talks, which have made tangible progress in past months. With negotiations approaching a crucial point, there is little interest on the Cypriot side to lift its veto — which gives it leverage over Turkey — to back the migration deal.
Background: President François Hollande, unnerved by the success of the far-right National Front and with presidential elections looming, has avoided making any commitment to take in more refugees. His prime minister, Manuel Valls, says 30,000 is all France can manage. This French political reality casts a shadow over any Turkey deal, which calls for the planned resettlement of Syrian refugees across the bloc.
France has publicly criticized Turkey’s human rights record, but its own treatment of refugees at the camp in Calais has come under fire, with Doctors Without Borders saying the terrible conditions there were intended “to dissuade migrants” from coming to France.
The problem: Last week, in a public letter to the Elysée Palace, Amnesty International called the proposed agreement with Turkey a “shameful deal.” On Saturday, Hollande said he had major problems with Ankara’s record on human rights.
“There cannot be any concessions on the matter of human rights or the criteria for visa liberalization” — French President François Hollande
Background: Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, has been the mostvocal opponent of the EU’s refugee relocation schemes. He plans to hold a referendum on the EU’s decision to make such distribution mandatory.
The problem: Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has often stressed that “human mobility will not stop,” warning that the situation in Greece and Italy could easily be repeated elsewhere in Europe. Resettling refugees directly from Turkey to Europe would be like putting “oil on a fire,” Orbán said as he arrived for the March 7 summit.
“If we want to stop the mass migration we must first put the brakes on Brussels” — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán
Background: Spain was itself once a target of irregular flows of migrants but succeeded in stemming them by forging a deal with Morocco. In 2013El País revealed that Spain illegally pushed back migrants entering its territory, without granting them the right to request asylum.
The problem: The government of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at first signalled support for the planned EU-Turkey deal, but changed its position over the weekend after Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez — who is hoping to replace Rajoy as prime minister — said the proposal was “unfair … and not compatible” with European values. On Monday, Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said“Spain will only accept … an agreement that is coherent, compatible to the international law.”
“Everybody who reaches European territory has the right to be treated individually, meaning to present an asylum request, which is examined, and to receive our support in case the request is approved” — Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo