… and now ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls !’
EU – Turkey statement, 18 March 2016
Today the Members of the European Council met with their Turkish counterpart. This was the third meeting since November 2015 dedicated to deepening Turkey-EU relations as well as addressing the migration crisis.
The Members of the European Council expressed their deepest condolences to the people of Turkey following the bomb attack in Ankara on Sunday. They strongly condemned this heinous act and reiterated their continued support to fight terrorism in all its forms.
Turkey and the European Union reconfirmed their commitment to the implementation of their joint action plan activated on 29 November 2015. Much progress has been achieved already, including Turkey’s opening of its labour market to Syrians under temporary protection, the introduction of new visa requirements for Syrians and other nationalities, stepped up security efforts by the Turkish coast guard and police and enhanced information sharing. Moreover, the European Union has begun disbursing the 3 billion euro of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey for concrete projects and work has advanced on visa liberalisation and in the accession talks, including the opening of Chapter 17 last December. On 7 March 2016, Turkey furthermore agreed to accept the rapid return of all migrants not in need of international protection crossing from Turkey into Greece and to take back all irregular migrants intercepted in Turkish waters. Turkey and the EU also agreed to continue stepping up measures against migrant smugglers and welcomed the establishment of the NATO activity on the Aegean Sea. At the same time Turkey and the EU recognise that further, swift and determined efforts are needed.
In order to break the business model of the smugglers and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk, the EU and Turkey today decided to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU. In order to achieve this goal, they agreed on the following additional action points:
1) All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey. This will take place in full accordance with EU and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion. All migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement. It will be a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order. Migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive, in cooperation with UNHCR. Migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey. Turkey and Greece, assisted by EU institutions and agencies, will take the necessary steps and agree any necessary bilateral arrangements, including the presence of Turkish officials on Greek islands and Greek officials in Turkey as from 20 March 2016, to ensure liaison and thereby facilitate the smooth functioning of these arrangements. The costs of the return operations of irregular migrants will be covered by the EU.
2) For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU taking into account the UN Vulnerability Criteria. A mechanism will be established, with the assistance of the Commission, EU agencies and other Member States, as well as the UNHCR, to ensure that this principle will be implemented as from the same day the returns start. Priority will be given to migrants who have not previously entered or tried to enter the EU irregularly. On the EU side, resettlement under this mechanism will take place, in the first instance, by honouring the commitments taken by Member States in the conclusions of Representatives of the Governments of Member States meeting within the Council on 20 July 2015, of which 18.000 places for resettlement remain. Any further need for resettlement will be carried out through a similar voluntary arrangement up to a limit of an additional 54.000 persons. The Members of the European Council welcome the Commission’s intention to propose an amendment to the relocation decision of 22 September 2015 to allow for any resettlement commitment undertaken in the framework of this arrangement to be offset from non-allocated places under the decision. Should these arrangements not meet the objective of ending the irregular migration and the number of returns come close to the numbers provided for above, this mechanism will be reviewed. Should the number of returns exceed the numbers provided for above, this mechanism will be discontinued.
3) Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU, and will cooperate with neighbouring states as well as the EU to this effect.
4) Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or at least have been substantially and sustainably reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated. EU Member States will contribute on a voluntary basis to this scheme.
5) The fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated vis-à-vis all participating Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016, provided that all benchmarks have been met. To this end Turkey will take the necessary steps to fulfil the remaining requirements to allow the Commission to make, following the required assessment of compliance with the benchmarks, an appropriate proposal by the end of April on the basis of which the European Parliament and the Council can make a final decision.
6)The EU, in close cooperation with Turkey, will further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated 3 billion euros under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey and ensure funding of further projects for persons under temporary protection identified with swift input from Turkey before the end of March. A first list of concrete projects for refugees, notably in the field of health, education, infrastructure, food and other living costs, that can be swiftly financed from the Facility, will be jointly identified within a week. Once these resources are about to be used to the full, and provided the above commitments are met, the EU will mobilise additional funding for the Facility of an additional 3 billion euro up to the end of 2018.
7) The EU and Turkey welcomed the ongoing work on the upgrading of the Customs Union.
8) The EU and Turkey reconfirmed their commitment to re-energise the accession process as set out in their joint statement of 29 November 2015. They welcomed the opening of Chapter 17 on 14 December 2015 and decided, as a next step, to open Chapter 33 during the Netherlands presidency. They welcomed that the Commission will put forward a proposal to this effect in April. Preparatory work for the opening of other Chapters will continue at an accelerated pace without prejudice to Member States’ positions in accordance with the existing rules.
9) The EU and its Member States will work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in particular in certain areas near the Turkish border which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe.
All these elements will be taken forward in parallel and monitored jointly on a monthly basis.
The EU and Turkey decided to meet again as necessary in accordance with the joint statement of 29 November 2015.
Remarks by President Donald Tusk after the meeting of the EU heads of state or government with Turkey
First, we needed to ensure that each and every migrant arriving in Europe will be treated individually. In other words that our agreement complies with all EU and international laws. This includes the respect for the principle of non-refoulement and it excludes any kind of collective expulsions. The EU agencies and the UNHCR will be invited to participate in this process. As for the legality of this agreement I want to express my thanks to Jean-Claude and the Commission for their work and contribution.
Second, I made it clear that this deal needs to be acceptable for all EU member states, regardless of their size. Today we have a balanced proposal that takes on board Cypriot concerns. When it comes to accession talks with Turkey, we agreed to open Chapter 33 during the Dutch presidency based on the Commission’s proposal to be presented in April.
Finally, on timing. We agreed that all irregular migrants coming from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March, this Sunday, will be returned to Turkey. The implementation will be phased-in gradually and based on the so-called one-for-one principle.
On a more general note, some may think this agreement is a silver bullet. But reality is more complex. It is just one pillar of the European Union’s comprehensive strategy and can work only if the other pillars are also implemented. This includes: strengthening the EU’s external borders, keeping the Western Balkans’ route closed and getting back to Schengen, amongst other elements.
Leaders called for strengthening of our cooperation with the Western Balkan countries in tackling the migration crisis. Yesterday I spoke with President Ivanov about it and reassured him of our support.
European Council conclusions, 17-18 March 2016
1. The European Council confirms its comprehensive strategy to tackle the migration crisis. Several elements of our common European response are in place today and are yielding results. Work on other elements is being taken forward diligently, so that they can be implemented as soon as possible. Priority will continue to be given to regaining control of our external borders.
2. Following the decisions of the Heads of State or Government of 7 March, and in the context of the Joint Action Plan with Turkey and its expansion, the European Council calls for:
√ more work to be done on hotspots; much progress has been achieved in making all hotspots fully operational and increasing reception capacities; this effort should be continued, with the full assistance of the EU, including support for Greek asylum structures;
√ the use of all means to support the capacity of Greece for the return of irregular migrants to Turkey in the context of the Greek-Turkish readmission Protocol and the EU-Turkey readmission agreement as of 1 June 2016. Member States declare their willingness to provide Greece at short notice with the necessary means, including border guards, asylum experts and interpreters. The European Council asks the Commission to coordinate all necessary support for Greece, for the full implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, and to develop an operational plan. The Commission will coordinate and organise together with Member States and agencies the necessary support structures to implement it effectively. The Commission will regularly report to the Council on its implementation;
√ emergency support to be provided to help Greece cope with the humanitarian situation. The rapid adoption of the Regulation on emergency support is an important step in that respect. The draft amending budget presented by the Commission should be adopted without delay. Member States are invited to make immediate additional contributions under the Civil Protection Mechanism as well as to provide bilateral humanitarian assistance;
√ accelerated relocation from Greece, which includes conducting the necessary security checks; the number of applications now being larger than the number of offers, as shown in the Commission report of 16 March, Member States should swiftly offer more places, in line with the existing commitments.
3. The European Council takes note of the Commission Communication “Next operational steps in EU-Turkey cooperation in the field of migration”, in particular as to how an asylum application from a migrant crossing from Turkey into Greece can be declared inadmissible, based on the concept of “first country of asylum” or “safe third country”, in accordance with European and international law.
4. The European Council reiterates that the EU-Turkey Statement does not establish any new commitments on Member States as far as relocation and resettlement are concerned.
5. The EU reiterates that it expects Turkey to respect the highest standards when it comes to democracy, rule of law, respect of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.
6. The European Council reaffirms its support to Jordan and Lebanon. It calls for pledges to be disbursed promptly and EU Compacts to be finalised to enhance support to refugees and host communities in both countries.
7. The European Council calls for strengthening of cooperation with the Western Balkans countries in tackling the migration crisis and contributing to the objectives of the European Council.
8. Further to its February 2016 conclusions, the European Council invites the European Investment Bank to present to its June meeting a specific initiative aimed at rapidly mobilising additional financing in support of sustainable growth, vital infrastructure and social cohesion in Southern neighbourhood and Western Balkans countries.
9. The European Council is extremely vigilant as regards possible new routes for irregular migrants and calls for taking any measures that may become necessary in that respect. In this context, the fight against smugglers everywhere and by all appropriate means remains key. The EU stands ready to support the Government of National Accord, as the sole legitimate government of Libya, including, at its request, to restore stability, fight terrorism and manage migration in the central Mediterranean.
10. The European Council reaffirms its previous conclusions on the various elements of the comprehensive strategy and is pleased with progress on the European Border and Coast Guard proposal, which should be adopted as soon as possible. Work will also be taken forward on the future architecture of the EU’s migration policy, including the Dublin Regulation.
√ Meeting of the EU heads of state or government with Turkey – 18 March 2016 [all videos]