AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Europe needs Turkey to dramatically cut the number of migrants reaching Greece within weeks or the pressure for more border closures and fences will grow, the EU’s top official in charge of ties with Ankara warned on Saturday.
Frustrated that refugees continue to stream into Greece despite a Nov. 29 deal between Ankara and Brussels to slow down the flows, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn said Turkey must show results by the time EU leaders meet for a Feb. 18-19 summit.
“This action plan was agreed more than two months ago and we are still not seeing a significant decline in the number of migrants,” Hahn, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, told Reuters after an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Amsterdam attended by Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“Turkey could do more, I have no doubt,” Hahn said, adding that Ankara’s need to shift forces to curb violence in southeastern Turkey was “no excuse” for not patrolling its western coast and cooperating with Greece.
The European Commission, the EU executive, is set to publish on Wednesday a report on Turkey’s progress in implementing the migrant deal. While Turkish police targeting people smugglers have made arrests and Turkey has introduced a limited work-permit scheme for Syrian refugees, the Commission report is likely to be critical.
“We need results before the EU summit to show leaders that this is working,” Hahn said. “I am concerned there’s not enough time.”
More than one million people arrived in Europe last year, fleeing war and failing states in the Middle East and North Africa. Numbers show little sign of falling, despite the winter.
Asked to detail the cost of a failed deal with Turkey, Hahn said: “It increases the pressure to find other solutions,” referring to border fences that go against EU rules on the freedom of its citizens to move across frontiers to live and work.
Hahn’s warning of the consequences of inaction was highlighted by a call from Hungary and Austria at the Amsterdam meeting for fences on the Macedonian and Bulgarian borders with Greece and between Austria and Slovenia to stop migrants.
Hahn said if such fences were built it would only create a “domino effect” with many EU nations closing their frontiers and putting at risk the bloc’s passport-free Schengen zone.
Six Schengen members, including Germany and four other EU countries, have resorted to reinstating temporary border checks in the passport-free area. They can stay in place until May.
The EU has agreed to give Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) to keep Syrian refugees on its soil in return for an acceleration of the EU accession talks and speeded-up visa liberalization for Turks visiting Europe.
The deal is contentious because while EU countries now recognize they need strategically important Turkey, they are concerned about what they see as President Tayyip Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism.
Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Andrew Bolton