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Real doubts about EU-Turkey deal on migration

Many of today’s European media outlets comment on the remaining issues surrounding the EU-Turkey agreement on migration. Many of them provide broad coverage of the most current controversial issue of the deal: i.e. visa exemption for Turkish citizens. 

The European Parliament criticised the European Commission for its recommendation on this Ankara request, Rzeczpospolita notes, adding that all factions, on both the left and right, are against any loosening of democracy and rule of law criteria for Turkey. Kathimerini reports that the decision of European Parliament President Martin Schulz to freeze the visa granting procedure, since the preconditions are not met, was supported by all political groups. Mr Schulz added that he saw no chance of resolving the issue before the July deadline, Hungarian media report. MEPs are mainly concerned with Ankara’s refusal to change its controversial anti-terrorism laws that allows it to sharply censor criticism, Die Welt adds. Advisor to Turkish President, Burhan Kuzu, reacted by threatening that if the EU does not grant Turkey the visa-free travel, Ankara will send refugees to Europe, writes Právo. MEP Sophie In’t Velt denounced the fact European leaders would rather cooperate with a dictator such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan than agree among themselves,L’Echo notes. 

In Berliner Zeitung, Thomas Kroeter wonders how far Europe can go in attempting to demonstrate its strength to Mr Erdoğan. All this led Turkish Minister for EU Affairs Volkan Bozkir to say that the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement for the refugee issue is at a very dangerous point. Moreover, President Erdoğan accused Europe of failing its commitments, as so far no money had been transferred to Turkey under the refugee deal, Diário de Noticias reports. NRC Next comments that after the exit of Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu, the EU needs to continue the discussion with President Erdoğan who is less lenient. According to Thomas Kulidakis, on, the current dialogue seems more like that of two enemies and not of two neighbours. 

An opinion article in De Volkskrant says that Turkey acts with self-confidence regarding the progress of the visa liberalisation requirements because Europe and Germany in particular, are depending on Turkey. Writing in Süddeutsche Zeitung, Heribert Prantl states that denying Turkish people visa freedom with Europe could possibly represent unfair punishment for the autocratic behaviour of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, adding that it is a mistake to treat visa liberalization and the Turkey deal as the same issue. Other media focus on the European Commission’s proposal to sanction any country that does not participate in hosting migrants, in the name of EU solidarity. 

The Hellenic Republic President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, after his meeting with UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, Peter Sutherland, said he was in favour of imposing sanctions on the EU Member States that do not fulfill their commitments, underlining that Europe is “an area of rights, but also obligations”, Ethnos reports. Indeed, Commissioner Avramopoulos defended this idea to create solidarity among European countries and said the financial aid was also a possibility, Der Standard writes. Both First VP Timmermans and Commissioner Avramopoulos admitted the proposition is not perfect, but said it is “balanced and realistic”, as quoted by La Libre Belgique. MEP Roberta Metsola (EPP) denounced the “ransom proposal” as provocative; permitting member countries to buy their way out of responsibility can hardly be the right path forward. 

Meanwhile, eighteen MEPs from Cyprus and Greece co-signed a joint letter on the refugee crisis, addressing their colleagues at the European Parliament, and calling for a common action and a solution to the crisis. The letter notes that Greece has assumed a disproportionate refugee burden as a gateway to Europe, stressing that the refugee crisis is not only a challenge for Greece and the European leadership, but for the entire European project, notes. In a debate at the European Parliament, the reform of the right to asylum was also widely discussed, Rai News 24 says, adding that Commissioner Avramopoulos and First Vice-President Timmermans stressed the need for a change in the Dublin regulation. 

First VP Timmermans said the EC proposed to add a corrective allocation mechanism to the Dublin rules, HirTV says. Moreover, the European Commission made other proposals, notably promoting a new regulation for the European border guard and coast guard to be discussed in today’s meeting of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, Naftemporiki writes. Moreover, Romanian media highlight that EU countries are to decide today upon the extension, by six more months, of internal border controls for a group of Schengen Member States. In spite of all these attempts, Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis stated that the European Union’s migration policy hasn’t proved effective, since the flow of people searching asylum in Europe is not ending, Zinios notes. Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos meanwhile made it clear that there is no alternative plan for the migration crisis, Real FM says. Answering a MEP’s question, he said that the rumours have no basis, adding that the current plan which is based on cooperation with Turkey is already bearing fruit, reports. Nevertheless, the declaration of 18 March has “neither been signed nor published in the Official Journal of the European Union”, making it “nothing more than a press release” for the time being, according to the European Parliament’s legal service, as quoted by Les Echos

According to a Helsingin Sanomat editorial, it seems clearer and clearer that the joint agreement regarding how to treat refugees will not be completed.  Regarding the situation on the ground, it is reported in The Times that the Greek coastguard have picked up several migrants in the Aegean Sea who were trying to get back to Turkey, a sign that the appeal of Europe is waning. Meanwhile, relaying information brought up by NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), L’Humanité reports that “Turkish authorities abuse and kill Syrian exiles trying to cross its border”. HRW denounced the killing of five asylum seekers over the last two months. France Info reports that 40 million refugees were displaced by war last year, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

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