• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Merkel: EU summit 'first real chance' to solve refugee crisis
Angela Merkel in the Bundestag. Photo: DPA

Merkel: EU summit 'first real chance' to solve refugee crisis

AFP · 16 Mar 2016, 16:08

Published: 16 Mar 2016 14:23 GMT+01:00
Updated: 16 Mar 2016 16:08 GMT+01:00

Speaking on the eve of a crucial Brussels summit, Merkel made clear the EU would stand firm on civil rights in Turkey and that Ankara's bid to eventually join the 28-nation club is "not on the agenda now".

Europe, divided and desperate to end its biggest refugee influx since World War II, is pinning its hopes on a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Under the plan hailed as a "game-changer", Turkey would seek to stop refugees' dangerous sea journeys and take back illegal migrants from Greece.

For each Syrian it accepts, it would send one to the EU in a more orderly redistribution programme.

But the proposed deal -- which would offer Turkey the carrot of eased access to the visa-free Schengen zone and an acceleration of EU accession talks -- has drawn heavy fire on several fronts.

Many critics have voiced unease over human rights concerns in any deal with Turkey, over its arrests of journalists and academics and an intensifying military campaign against Kurdish separatists.

France has warned against attempts by Turkey to strongarm Europe, and Czech President Milos Zeman charged that Ankara's request for billions of euros more in EU aid amounted to "blackmail".

Merkel, addressing the concerns in a speech to parliament, stressed that no shortcuts would be taken.

Europe would continue to "voice our convictions to Turkey regarding, for instance, the protection of press freedom or the treatment of the Kurds," Merkel said.

But she also reached out to Turkey, saying she could understand its request for more EU financial aid.

"What Turkey has done for ... some 2.7 million refugees can't be praised highly enough," she said.

"Europe has not covered itself with glory in how, as a union of 28 members states with 500 million citizens, it has struggled with fairly sharing the burden."

Stumbling blocks

Sounding a hopeful note, Merkel said the EU summit may "reach an agreement that could give us, for the first time, a real chance at a sustainable and pan-European solution to the refugee crisis."

However, major stumbling blocks remained on the eve of the meeting -- the most immediate thrown up by Cyprus, which threatened to torpedo the plan over its territorial feud with Turkey.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was set to meet President Nicos Anastasiades ahead of the summit to discuss the issue, after EU president Donald Tusk jetted to Nicosia on Tuesday for emergency talks.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its north in response to an Athens-engineered coup attempt.

Turkey does not recognise the Cypriot government, and Nicosia has blocked six key chapters of Ankara's negotiations for EU membership since 2009, effectively halting the process.

Tusk conceded there was "a catalogue of issues" to address before the largest diplomatic push yet to stem the massive influx.

'No blanket returns’

More than 1.2 million people fleeing war and misery flocked to Europe last year, most hoping for new lives in wealthy Germany and Scandinavian countries.

Story continues below…

The flow of people into northern Europe has been halted for now as eastern European countries have effectively shut down the Balkans route with coordinated border closures.

This, however, has caused a bottleneck of tens of thousands of migrants in Greece.

Refugees' desperation again became clear this week when some 1,500 made a dash across a river on the Greek-Macedonian border, only to be sent back to the muddy camps and tent cities on the Greek side.

The EU-Turkey deal aims to discourage more boat arrivals -- but legal experts have argued that sending asylum seekers back en masse to Turkey would breach international law.

Tusk has admitted the deal needs to be "rebalanced", and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans made clear on Wednesday that, in fact, "there can be no blanket returns".

"Returns can only take place in accordance with the international and EU legal framework... the case of each person needs to be assessed individually in the light of the charter of fundamental rights and European directives."

He stressed that "we are not turning our back on the refugees because they will be assured adequate international protection, either in the EU or in Turkey."

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Today's headlines
German army to tighten checks of soldiers amid concerns of jihadists
Photo: DPA.

The German army are planning stricter checks of their soldiers as officials fear that jihadists could be using the armed forces as a way to train.

New train line to cut 2 hours off Berlin-Munich trips
Photo: DPA

It has been 25 years in the making, but on Wednesday the rail line that is set to mark a new era for travel between Germany's capital and its economic powerhouse went live.

AfD leader attacked and beaten in Mainz
Uwe Junge. Photo: DPA

The leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Rhineland-Palatinate was attacked on the street on Tuesday evening by a group of young men.

100 flights cancelled due to Frankfurt airport security alert
Travelers being evacuated from Terminal 1 of Frankfurt airport. Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: Some 100 flights were cancelled on Wednesday at Frankfurt Airport after the major transfer hub went on alert because a woman had managed to evade security checks.

Record 125k people file suit against Canada trade deal
A leader of one of the groups opposing the trade deal stacks another box full of lawsuit documents, presented to the Constitutional Court on Wednesday. Photo: DPA.

More than 125,000 Germans have filed the largest citizen lawsuit in German history against the controversial proposed CETA trade deal between Canada and the EU.

Merkel: 'Germany will remain Germany'
Photo: DPA.

One year after Angela Merkel first declared "we can do this," leading to a huge uptick in refugees applying for asylum, the Chancellor reflected this week on her policies and the future of Germany.

Nazi beach resort ruin turned into luxury playground
Prora. Photo: DPA

One of the biggest relics left behind by the Nazis is undergoing a radical transformation on a German island, harnessing a property boom to become a luxury tourist destination.

Berlin plans to be first state to arm police with tasers
Photo: DPA.

Berlin's plans to arm police patrols with taser guns would make it the first German state to implement extensive use of the electroshock weapon.

Far-right AfD leader injured by flying frozen cake
Jörg Meuthen and a cake. Photo: DPA

The co-leader of the far-right AfD party was attacked with a cake while attending a political event on Monday. But the fact the dessert was frozen made the act "dangerous", according to the politician.

Underwater pensioner hunts boats on famed Bavarian lake
A passenger boat on Lake Starnberg. Photo: DPA

"I love chasing the ships, and what a great feeling it is when they sound the horn!" he gleefully exclaims.

National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
7,567
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd