Tensions rise ahead of summit

VIENNA • The March 7 summit in Brussels will see Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and leaders of the 28 European Union states discuss the progress of last Novem- ber's EU-Turkey deal aimed at cutting the flow of migrants.

Under that deal, Turkey agreed to tackle people smugglers and improve conditions for Syrian refugees, in exchange for three billion euros (S$4.6 billion) and speeding up Ankara's EU membership bid.

But alarm is growing in EU capitals as thousands of migrants are still reaching the Greek islands from Turkey, after more than one million of them made the perilous journey last year.

Failure to make progress at the summit will spell "disaster" for the bloc, with its passport-free Schengen zone at risk, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said last week. Relations with Turkey have been increasingly tense, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to flood Europe with refugees if Ankara did not get more help during a November visit by EU president Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

  • CURBS IN PLACE

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    BELGIUM: The latest EU country to suspend rules allowing the free movement of citizens across most of Europe's internal borders.

    GERMANY: It has restricted rail travel from Austria and put checks on cars.

    AUSTRIA: It has expanded border controls to all frontiers.

    FRANCE: Controls were introduced after last November's Paris terrorist attacks, which raised fears that extremists could infiltrate the migrant flow.

    SWEDEN: Introduced identity checks last November for travellers from Denmark. Controls were put in place on Oresund Bridge, a link with Copenhagen.

    DENMARK: Fearing migrants trying to pass through to Sweden would be stuck, it imposed new controls on people trying to enter from Germany.

    NORWAY: Although not an EU member, it is in the Schengen area and has imposed controls.

    SOURCES: NEW YORK TIMES, EUROPEAN COMMISSION

Mr Tusk said EU members had to "fully apply" the Schengen border code and restore effective controls on the EU's external frontier in Greece. He said he was opening a new chapter of their struggle with the migration crisis called "Back to Schengen".

"It's not an easy decision but the truth is there is no alternative to (Schengen)," said Mr Tusk. "We must face together the humanitarian consequences of our decision. The country which we must support in particular is Greece.

"A test of our European-ness will be, on the one hand, going back to Schengen, and on the other, (having) a readiness to stand by Athens during these hard times."

But in reference to unilateral new measures by Austria and countries through the western Balkans to limit migrant numbers, Mr Tusk called on EU members to "coordinate more and better".

"It is natural that important decisions are taken in the capitals but we need to make sure these decisions are coordinated so they are effective, reinforcing each other, instead of eroding trust further," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'Tensions rise ahead of summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe