EU, Turkey Salvage Immigration Accord as Border Disputes Persist

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union and Turkey reaffirmed at a summit in Bulgaria their commitment to a refugee accord intended to prevent an influx of Mideast asylum seekers, but achieved no progress in resolving Ankara’s disputes with Greece and Cyprus.

European Council President Donald Tusk, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Black Sea city of Varna on Monday in an effort to mend strained relations, which went no further than both sides agreeing to keep the channels of communication open and to continue cooperating in areas of common interest including security and immigration.

“On migration and support for refugees the EU and Turkey remain very close partners,” Tusk told reporters after the meeting, reaffirming the bloc’s “unwavering commitment to continue” with payments under a 3 billion-euro ($3.7 billion) financial support package agreed two years ago.

EU-Turkey relations soured last year, with concerns in Europe over Erdogan’s crackdown on political opponents and press freedom. Nevertheless, the bloc has been keen to ensure that Turkey continues to maintain an agreement to shelter asylum-seekers escaping conflict and poverty in the Middle East and has refused to formally pull the plug on long-stalled Turkish membership talks.

No Compromises

“If you’re asking whether we achieved any solutions or compromises, my answer is no,” Tusk said. “Strategically, we have a common interest, especially when it comes to stabilization of the region. But when it comes to concrete solutions – no, we didn’t achieve any kind of concrete compromise today.”

Turkey’s military operations in northwest Syria and the purchase of a Russian missile defense system have further strained relations with allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and drawn Germany’s harsh criticism.

Erdgogan reiterated Turkey’s desire to join the EU on its own terms, while seeking concessions on visa-free travel and a customs union upgrade with his biggest trading partner, without committing to EU entry criteria on human rights and judicial independence.

“For Europe which is vying to become a global power, it would be a grave mistake to exclude Turkey from its expansion policies,” Erdogan said at the same briefing.

Greece, Cyprus

On March 23, EU leaders “strongly” condemned Turkey for obstructing exploratory drilling off the coast of Cyprus and the ever more frequent clashes over Greece’s territorial waters. They also called for the release of two Greek soldiers who, Athens says, wandered off across the border during a routine patrol last month.

The EU didn’t manage to secure any assurances at the Varna summit either on the release of the two Greek soldiers it has detained, or that Ankara would stop provoking Greece and Cyprus in the Aegean and Southeastern Mediterranean, an EU official said, asking not to be named, in line with policy. 

“We trust our Turkish friends to solve this problem in the best possible way” by Greek Easter, which is on April 8, Juncker said.

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