Raf Casert ?and Jamey Keaten
BRUSSELS: European Union leaders and the Turkish prime minister sealed a joint summit with a commitment to re-energize Turkey’s long-stalled membership talks and bolster their common resolve to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis.
The 28 EU leaders were leaning hard on Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to stem the flow of migrants seeking a better future in Europe’s heartland and European Council President Donald Tusk said the latest estimate showed that “approximately 1.5 million people” had illegally entered the bloc this year, a lot coming through Turkey.
It left the EU in need of help from Ankara, even if their recent relations have been sown with discord. On Sunday, it was hugs all around as Tusk and Davutoglu completed what they called a breakthrough summit to put relations on an even keel again.
“Turkish membership will be an asset,” said Davutoglu after “no disagreements emerged” during the hastily-called emergency meeting.
Both sides got concessions: The EU desperately needs Turkish help to contain the flow of migrants into the bloc, and Turkey resuscitated long-mothballed hopes to join a bloc in which it would, by population, become one of the biggest member states.
The refugee crisis has reminded European leaders just how much Turkey — whether a bloc member or not — is a pivotal partner for the EU and a buffer state from the bedlam rocking much of the Middle East in recent years.
French President Francois Hollande said Sunday that the EU will need to monitor Turkey’s commitments “step-by-step,” deal with the migrant crisis, fight extremism and help end Syria’s political crisis. He said any funds for a $3.2 billion package to help Turkey deal with the migrants on its territory will be released progressively as the commitments are checked.
Davutoglu said that money wasn’t earmarked for Turkey per se but for the refugees on Turkish soil. Yet the hundreds of thousands of migrants coming into the EU this year have caused the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, and EU nations have been at pains to draw Turkey in as part of the solution.
“Turkey must do its utmost to contain the illegal immigration into Europe and the number of refugees has to decline substantially,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
As a sweetener it is again discussing issues that were long off the table.
Davutoglu said Turkey stood committed to help, but couldn’t make hard promises.
As part of the carrot approach, the EU promises to make haste with talks on easing visa restrictions and fast-tracking Turkey’s EU membership.