The EU foreign ministers have agreed that they do not want to transfer more money to Turkey so that it does not send more refugees to the EU border. All EU member states have given Athens their support for securing the border.
Clear words are actually rather rare at final press conferences of EU foreign ministers’ meetings. But instead of using diplomatic empty phrases, EU foreign affairs commissioner Josep Borrell addressed a crystal-clear appeal directly to the refugees on the Turkish-Greek border at the end of the meeting in Zagreb: “Don’t come to the border. The border with the EU is not open. If someone tells you you can just enter, it’s not true.”
Praise for Greece
There is hardly any other issue on which the EU has fought as much in recent years as the refugee question, but suddenly there is unanimity among the 27 member states. Greece is doing a good job of defending its external borders, all the ministers said. It is right that no asylum applications are currently being processed, the ministers said. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas added that uncontrolled immigration could even worsen the situation at the border. Critical questions about the use of rubber bullets, for example, were cleverly evaded by the ministers in Zagreb.
No direct payments to the Turkish state
Just as clearly as on the border issue, the German Foreign Minister also opposed direct payments to the Turkish state to help refugees. About two weeks ago, the Turkish President had declared that he would no longer detain refugees who wanted to travel to the EU, and at the same time had called for additional financial aid from Brussels. This was in breach of a 2016 agreement in which Ankara committed itself to controlling the borders with Greece. This year alone, the disbursement of one billion euros from this refugee deal with the Turkish government is planned.
“We will not be blackmailed”
Maas explained in Zagreb that although these funds could flow to aid organisations in Turkey faster than planned, he rejected additional financial aid under the deal. Both sides would have to stick to the agreement of 2016. The EU was not prepared to give in to pressure from Erdogan, Maas said. His counterpart from Austria, like the EU interior ministers on Wednesday, reiterated that Turkey’s behaviour in sending refugees to the border was absolutely unacceptable and cynical. It was “absolutely essential that we make it clear that we will not be blackmailed”, said Alexander Schallenberg.
Help for people in need
However, this does not rule out the possibility that aid organisations in Turkey will eventually benefit from additional funds. Diplomats said that some EU countries would not see fresh money primarily as a concession to Erdogan, but as help for people in need. According to information from the news agency AFP, there are even already plans in the EU Commission to provide a further 500 million euros for Syrian refugees in Turkey in order to defuse the conflict with Ankara. This money would come in addition to the six billion euros from the refugee pact.
The EU has also offered a further 170 million euros in aid for Syria itself, 60 million of it for the Idlib province alone. The German Foreign Minister also announced German aid funds of 100 million euros. Brussels is also planning a donor conference for the victims of the Syrian civil war for the end of June. This was announced by EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Borrell after the meeting of foreign ministers.
Hope after ceasefire agreement
A possible basis for relief supplies to reach the people in the civil war country Syria at all was laid on Thursday at a crisis meeting in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan had agreed on a ceasefire for Idlib. Moscow is on the side of the Syrian government troops in the conflict, whose opponents are partly supported by Turkey.
The agreement in Moscow was welcomed in principle by the EU foreign ministers. In their final declaration, however, they urged the parties to the conflict “to allow the unimpeded provision of humanitarian aid by the international community”. Chief diplomat Borell said: “Let us hope that this ceasefire will improve the possibilities for providing assistance to the people of Syria”, and then described the desperate situation in the Idlib province: “Every day, 100 trucks carrying food and relief supplies cross the Turkish-Syrian border to supply around one million people in the mountains behind it”.
Not a word about a no-fly zone.
The ceasefire must not only be maintained on the ground, but also in the air, Borrell added. A demand that reveals the limited political influence of the EU. On the first day of the meeting, several foreign ministers, most notably Stef Blok of the Netherlands, had already spoken out in favour of the idea of a no-fly zone. But the final declaration no longer contains any mention of this.
Chief diplomat Borrell summed it up again at the end, stating: “The EU would like to speak the language of power, but at the moment we cannot decide on this ourselves,” said the Spaniard. And a UN resolution for an air protection zone has already failed several times in the past two years because of Russia’s approval.