• 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
'Hero' refugee hands in €150,000 he found in wardrobe
Muhannad and the secondhand wardrobe. Photo: Minden Police.

A refugee from Syria found a huge stash of money in a secondhand wardrobe he bought. But keeping it for himself would have been a betrayal of his religion, he said.

Istanbul airport bombing
Flights from Berlin to Istanbul cancelled after terror attack
Turkish police block the road after an suicide bomb attack at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul. Photo: EPA.

All flights from Berlin's Tegel airport to Istanbul have been cancelled after a suicide bomb attack killed at least 36 people in the city's major airport.

German extremist groups 'getting bigger, more brutal'
A violent demo in Frankfurt in 2015. Photo: DPA

Political extremism rose sharply in Germany last year - among far-right but also far-left and Islamist radical groups - the domestic intelligence agency said Tuesday.

Berlin puts spies on tighter leash after NSA scandal
An installation of the BND in Bavaria. Photo: DPA

Germany on Tuesday approved new measures to rein in the activities of its foreign intelligence agency after a scandal over improper collusion with the US National Security Agency.

Brexit vote
There's no way back for Britain, says 'sad' Merkel
Angela Merkel (r) and David Cameron in Brussels. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the EU summit in Brussels late on Tuesday that she didn't see any way that the British decision to leave the EU could be reversed.

Brexit vote
British business owner in Germany: why I support Brexit
Alexander McWhinney, owner of The English Shops. Photo: Private.

Scottish business owner Alexander McWhinney tells The Local why he supported the vote for a Brexit despite being an expat - much to the surprise of employees at his stores in the Rhineland.

Germany seeks seat on UN security council
The United Nations Security Council. Photo: DPA

Berlin last had a seat at the highest table of international security in 2011-12. Now the Foreign Minister has announced that Germany wants the role again.

Brexit vote
Merkel: Britain can’t cherry-pick Brexit terms
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that the EU could survive a Brexit and warned Britain the union would not tolerate "cherry-picking" in upcoming negotiations on their future relations.

This film makes Darmstadt look more romantic than Paris
The Russian Orthodox Church in Darmstadt. Source: City, Light and Movement.

Not quite sure where Darmstadt is? A short film shot by a Syrian refugee will have you rushing to locate it on a map.

VW agrees to $14.7 bn payout in US emissions probe
Photo: DPA

Volkswagen has agreed to pay out $14.7 billion in a settlement with US authorities and car owners in the probe over its emissions-cheating diesel-powered cars, court documents showed Tuesday.

Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
US expats: Taxes are due June 15th
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sport
How to sound like an expert on German football this summer
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
Features
6 reasons Germany's summer is unbeatable for thrill-seekers
National
The future belongs to these 10 German regions
Society
How pictures of footballers on chocolates made Pegida really mad
Health
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
7,865
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd