EU leaders agree on refugee plan to present to Turkey

The 28 European Union states have arrived at a joint position on a refugee deal that will be proposed to the Turkish PM on Friday once the technical details have been finalized.

The common proposal was hammered out in Brussels, where EU leaders gathered to discuss a deal that would be reasonable, legal and would not lead to mass deportations of migrants. According to Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel the EU proposal will be presented to Ahmet Davutoglu early Friday for Turkey to consider.

“The 28 have agreed on a proposal,” French President Francois Hollande said. “It was late in the evening, but it has been done.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a press conference that Ankara must meet international standards on refugee protection and mentioned that negotiations with Turkey are not expected to be easy despite all of the EU countries looking forward to a deal.

No date has so far been set for the start of transferring “irregular” migrants back to Turkey, Merkel said, adding however that the procedure must start soon to avoid a “pull factor.”

“We did not set a date, but Turkey's clear understanding is that within a few days of returns starting, the one-for-one resettlement should begin," Merkel said.

The agreement was “not a deal but a common position” that enables the negotiations to move forward, a senior EU official told AFP. The source also added that EU President Donald Tusk had “understood everyone's red lines.” If Turkey rejects the proposal, the EU heads could meet again to reconsider their position, but it accepted that the deal could come into force within a “few weeks,” according to Merkel.

The general plan aims to relocate thousands of migrants back to Turkey, where the EU will be paying to send back newcomers arriving in Greece but not qualifying for asylum. For every migrant returned, the EU will accept one “legal” Syrian refugee from Turkey who will be distributed among European states.

Davutoglu has been a key architect of the first coherent plan Europe has adopted to deal with the refugee crisis that saw more than 1 million people arrive on the continent in 2015 without visas, more than 80 percent of them through Turkey. Diplomatic sources intimated earlier that the Turkish politician was expecting to “rubber-stamp” a compromise deal, rather than engage in another round of bargaining.

Before boarding his plane, Davutoglu was forced to defend the deal for Turkey, insisting on national TV that it would not become “a depot” for the refugees of the world, and saying that Europe was going to offer a “fair” deal.

Yet, a cornucopia of objections and agendas has emerged across the EU which threaten to derail the plan.

The legality of the deportation scheme has been widely questioned by the UN and NGOs, and Lithuanian Prime Minister Dalia Grybauskaite acknowledged that the proposal was “on the edge of international law.”

Others objected to the additional visa and EU entry concessions, as well funding concerns, considering that Europe has not even been able to find an initial €3 billion ($3.39 bn) it promised Turkey last year, let alone the additional €3 billion ($3.39 bn) Turkey has demanded by 2018 according to a draft proposal leaked on the eve of the summit.

“Turkey is really asking for a lot. I refuse to accept negotiations that sometimes resemble a form of blackmail,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” And the biggest qualms came from Cyprus, which is not recognized by Ankara, and which threatened to veto any deal unless a “compromise solution” is found.