Refugee deal with Turkey costly but well-invested, top EU official says

Published 01.01.2019 00:00
Updated 01.01.2019 08:00

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has praised the Turkey-EU deal on migration and refugees, saying it was costly but well-invested.

In an interview with Die Welt on Saturday, Juncker said that migration is not the biggest problem the EU is facing; hence politicians should not address this issue as an insoluble problem.

"If we achieved more orderly cooperation in Europe, the dimension of the challenges would be even smaller than at present. This can be seen in the case of the highly controversial Turkey deal, which has made a major contribution towards reducing the number of refugees coming to Europe. The agreement costs money, but it is money well invested," Juncker said.

Turkey and the EU signed an agreement in 2016 to find a solution to the influx of refugees heading to the union. The agreement foresees that in exchange for Turkey stemming the refugee flow to Europe, the EU would pay Turkey 6 billion euros in financial aid. The agreement also envisages acceleration in Turkey's EU accession talks and visa-free travel for its citizens.

The EU had fully paid its first 3 billion euros tranche for 2016-17 and promised to pay the second tranche for 2018-19 by the end of this year. Although Turkey did its part taking great responsibility, the EU failed to hold up its end of the agreement. The EU has been delaying implementing visa-free travel for Turkish citizens for two years since the deal came into effect.

Juncker said that thinking of Europe on the eve of a downfall because of refugees is simply an exaggeration, adding that their integration though could pose a challenge for many local authorities.

Some 1.8 million refugees and migrants have reached Europe across the Mediterranean since 2014, causing friction among member states. The EU has since been tightening its external borders and asylum laws, as well as offering money and other help to third countries in exchange for preventing people from trekking north.

Juncker said that as many European governments called for better external border protection, the European Commission has drawn up a proposal to strengthen European borders through augmenting the number of EU border guards to 10,000 by the end of 2020. He said, however, that perceiving the refugee issue of having an impact on national sovereignty is blatant hypocrisy.

"First they ask the European Commission to do something, then we make a proposal, and now it is precisely those who have so far loudly criticized the insufficient protection of the EU's external border do not want to make a commitment. Europe cannot operate like that," Juncker added.

Stressing that the European Commission has to act quickly to guarantee that EU's external borders are really under control, Juncker said the member states should put their reservations aside and promptly approve the proposal for protecting the EU's external border.

Thanks to Turkey's efforts, irregular arrivals in the EU decreased by 99 percent. Ankara has spent more than $32 billion of its own national resources to help and shelter refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

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