A “one in, one out” system was proposed at the summit – where one Syrian refugee would be resettled in the European Union for every person who was sent back to Turkey from Greece.
The new proposal doesn’t add new technical measures to the EU-Turkey action plan agreed in November, an EU source told EUobserver.
Merkel said on Monday that “we want to fight illegal immigration and that is only possible in cooperation with Turkey“, but she, in particular, is concerned about trapping the migrants in Greece if other options are cut off, and about renewed turmoil there after a debt crisis almost forced the country out of the eurozone.
“You end up in situations like this when you have neglected to build the capacity to deal with the bigger issues of our time”, said Fredrik Erixon, the director of the European Center for International Political Economy, a research group in Brussels. “Turkey is ready to be member of European Union as well”.
The EU states remain divided over their response to the crisis with strains showing this year even in Germany and Sweden, seen as the countries most open to refugees.
A row broke out over plans to include in the summit’s conclusions a mention of the closure of the main migrant route through the Western Balkans – the path from Greece to wealthy Germany and Scandinavia in the north.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “we do have the basis for a breakthrough which is the possibility that in future all migrants who arrive in Greece will be returned to Turkey“.
During 12 hours of negotiations, Turkey insisted that any agreement would require Europe to advance Turkey’s long-delayed hope of joining the bloc.
But Turkish leaders upped the ante on Monday, demanding the additional funds by 2018, on top of 3 billion euros the EU had already pledged to help Syrian refugees in the country, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said.
They fear a repeat of when 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.
Also important for Turkish public opinion is a request to bring forward by four months to June a plan to make it easier for Turks to travel without visas to Europe’s Schengen zone.
Erdogan said it was not the fault of Turkey, which is hosting 2.7 million refugees from the Syrian civil war, that so many migrants were using its coast as a springboard to reach the EU.
Merkel opposed moves at the summit to declare the Western Balkan route closed, as had been demanded by countries along the path.
Of immediate concern was the plight of people stuck at Greece’s northern border with non-EU member Macedonia, which for the past year has been one of the most popular routes for asylum seekers to reach central Europe via the Balkans.
Some 150 Syrians on Monday held a protest to demand passage, holding a German flag and shouting the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – one of the few European leaders who has shown keen interest in their plight.
“European politicians should be rolling out the red carpet to these vulnerable people, instead they’re rolling out the barbed wire”.
Faced with Turkey asking for more in return for its help, the EU has had “to grow up hard”, a European diplomat said.
Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban told reporters he would refuse to resettle anyone from Turkey.