Lawmakers from the European Union and Turkey are set for crunch talks on the refugee crisis Thursday, with EU officials warning that many hurdles must be overcome before any agreements are reached.
Leaders from the 28-member bloc will convene in Brussels, ahead of a summit with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Friday, to discuss an ambitious resettlement plan that would see Turkey take back refugees who reach European shores from its soil. In return Ankara wants an extra US$3bn to help refugees, visa-free travel for its citizens and a quick resumption of EU membership talks.
Turkey agreed to take back any refugees who land on the Greek islands, en route to mainland Europe, after a draft deal was proposed earlier this month. However, that draft has been receiving criticism from many fronts.
"Work is progressing but there is still a lot to do," said European Council President Donald Tusk Tusk, who is chairing Thursday's summit, in a letter to EU leaders. "The catalogue of issues to be resolved before we can conclude an agreement is long."
Turkey has pressed for the opening of membership talks in five policy areas, known as chapters, including the rule of law and media. However, the EU is only offering to “prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible."
Several of the aforementioned chapters have been blocked by Cyprus over Turkey's refusal to give it the same rights as other EU states in access to Turkish ports and airports.
Cyprus, which lays only 300 miles (482 km) from Syria in the Mediterranean Sea, was split in two in 1974 after Turkish troops invaded a third of the island following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Now the north of the country is controlled by Turkey and the south by the Republic of Cyprus.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has said he will only lift his veto on Turkish accession chapters if Ankara ends its refusal to recognize Cyprus. Turkey wants concessions for its allies in self-declared Northern Cyprus.
"I conveyed to President Tusk our position that the Republic of Cyprus does not intend to consent to the opening of any chapters if Turkey does not fulfill its obligations as described in the negotiating framework," the Cypriot president was quoted as saying by Reuters after a meeting with the president of the European Council on Wednesday.
Any refugee deal has to be approved by all 28 member states at the summit.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (C) poses with European Union leaders during a EU-Turkey summit in Brussels, March 7, 2016.| Photo: Reuters