BRUSSELS: European Union leaders was expected to offer Turkey cash and a boost for its membership bid in exchange for its cooperation with the migrant crisis at a summit Sunday, although key issues remain to be hammered out.
Officials said the EU is expected to agree a three-billion-euro ($3.2 billion) aid package for Turkey to help it stop the flow of refugees to Europe from the conflict in Syria, 2.2 million of whom are currently in Turkey.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, standing in for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is also set to win a deal for the opening in December of a new chapter in Turkey’s stalled accession talks for the 28-nation bloc.
But Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet on the Syrian border on Tuesday and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to skip the summit will likely add strain to an already complicated relationship between Brussels and Ankara.
EU president Donald Tusk said in his invitation letter to leaders that the summit “will mark an important step in developing our relations and contribute to managing the migration crisis.”
Pushed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to hold the summit as she seeks to ease the refugee burden on her country, Tusk decided to go ahead with the meeting despite a major terror alert in Brussels.
‘Leave some things ambiguous’
Fueled by the Syrian war, some 850,000 people have entered the EU this year and more than 3,500 have died or gone missing in what has become Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Turkey is the main gateway for migrants and refugees to reach Europe and Brussels has been wooing Ankara for months to secure its cooperation, but relations remain difficult and the devil will be in the details of the deal they will reach on Sunday.
The multi-billion-euro aid package will likely be tied to Turkey’s success in tackling the flow of migrants, while the timeframe of the payout is also still up in the air, European officials said.
“Will it be one year or two years? Will it have to be in stages? The summit will leave some things ambiguous,” a European source said.
Disagreements also remain within the EU over the contribution of individual member states and whether some can be taken from the bloc’s budget.
Turkey is meanwhile set to get its wish for the acceleration of its bid for membership of the EU.
Turkish and European officials said the summit would agree to open Chapter 17 of Turkey’s accession process — covering economic and monetary policy — by mid-December.
Heightened security fears
Turkey also wants a freeing-up of the rules for visas for its nationals for visiting the EU, and it wants more summits with the bloc.
The case for cooperation with Turkey comes against a backdrop of growing security concerns over the migrant crisis, especially after the November 13 attacks in Paris, claimed by the Islamic State group (IS), which left 130 people dead.
But relations between Europe and Turkey remain tense over Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule, rights abuses and Turkey’s alleged backing for Islamist rebels in Syria.
Greece and Cyprus are particularly skeptical about bolstering ties due to their history of regional tensions with Ankara, European officials said.
And NATO member Turkey’s downing of the Russian warplane — which sent tensions with Moscow soaring at a time when the West is looking to build an international coalition against IS — “will further complicate an already difficult EU-Turkey dialogue,” Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund think-tank told AFP.
But he said the summit could be the “opportunity for a compromise” with Turkey’s hand now possibly weakened by its tensions with Moscow.