Diplomacy: EU leaders hold talks with Ankara while Luxembourg sees little progress.
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed confidence after talks with the Turkish prime minister on Thursday that Ankara would do its part to bring about a sharp reduction in the number of illegal migrants entering the European Union.
Describing the talks with Ahmet Davutoglu and nine other EU leaders ahead of a broader summit of the bloc as positive, Merkel also said discussions would continue on a resettlement scheme under which EU countries could choose to take on fixed numbers of Syrian refugees from Turkey.
“This meeting was very good,” Merkel said, noting that ongoing talks with Turkey would focus on how to “strongly and significantly reduce” illegal migration as well as a mechanism for legal migration through voluntary quotas.
“Not everyone needs to take part in this process, but it isn’t a closed shop either. Every country that wants to participate is welcome,” she said.
Germany, by far the top destination for asylum seekers in Europe, has been the driving force behind the voluntary resettlement idea, saying it would help Turkey, as well as EU member states, to have more control over who gets to Europe. Under pressure at home, Merkel is counting on Ankara to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of Syrians from Turkey into Greece and onward to Germany and other EU countries.
The meeting at the Austrian embassy in Brussels took place as a report from Luxembourg, in its capacity as president of EU ministerial councils, said there was little evidence Turkey had managed to reduce departures of migrants for Greek islands in the two weeks since it signed an “action plan” with the EU to do so.
Despite that, the deputy head of the European Commission, First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who has led the EU executive’s negotiations with Turkey and attended the “mini-summit”, expressed hope that the deal would work.
“For us it is important to continue work with Turkey on the implementation of the action plan,” Timmermans said. “I’m strongly encouraged to do that because of the positive and proactive attitude of Prime Minister Davutoglu.”
Merkel said the European Commission would present a report on the resettlement plan at the next EU summit. But another official who attended the meeting with Davutoglu said that before any quotas were agreed, Turkey must show it was serious about cracking down on illegal migration through its territory.
The resettlement scheme is linked to a wider deal with Turkey under which Ankara has pledged to prevent migrants leaving for Greece in return for 3 billion euros from the bloc, accelerated visa-free travel for Turks to the EU and reviving long stalled membership talks.
In addition to Merkel and Davutoglu, the meeting on Thursday was attended by nine other EU leaders, Timmermans, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Elizabeth Piper)