By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will seek European financial, political and military support in talks on Monday with EU and NATO leaders but will be told he must first stop encouraging migrants to cross his country’s borders into Greece.
Tens of thousands of migrants have been trying to get into Greece, an EU member state, since Ankara said on Feb. 28 it would no longer try to keep them on its territory as agreed in a 2016 deal in return for billions of euros in aid for refugees.
Turkey hosts some 3.6 million refugees from Syria, where its troops are facing off against Russian-backed Syrian government forces. Erdogan repeated his criticism on Sunday that the EU had failed to provide sufficient help for the refugees.
“The events at the Greek-Turkish border clearly point to politically motivated pressure on the EU’s external border,” the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said ahead of her talks with Erdogan in Brussels on Monday evening.
“Finding a solution to this situation will require relieving the pressure that is put on the border,” she told a news conference.
The EU is keen to avoid a repeat of the 2015-2016 migrant crisis, when more than one million people, mostly from the Middle East and Asia, reached the EU via Turkey and Greece.
That flow was largely halted by the 2016 deal, which the EU hopes to salvage, though Turkey now fears a new influx of refugees following an upsurge in fighting in Syria.
The EU says it has so far paid about half of a promised 6 billion euros to help Turkey finance housing, schools and medical centers for the refugees on its soil. It has dangled the prospect of further aid, but has yet to deliver.
“A precondition for any additional EU help should be to stop all support to illegal border crossings and move people away from the border,” a German conservative member of the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, said on Monday.
The 2016 accord had also envisaged the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey, rewarding Turks with visa-free travel to the bloc and faster progress in EU membership talks.
But ties between the two soured following a botched coup against Erdogan in July 2016. The EU criticized the scale of Erdogan’s post-coup crackdown on dissent and has effectively frozen Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the bloc.
Turkey, which is a NATO member, wants more European support in Syria, where it aims to build settlements for the refugees.
“Turkey has requested a political exchange with the EU, dialogue to put all things on the table. We can do that, but not under pressure,” an EU diplomat said.
Erdogan will meet NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at 1530 GMT and then later the EU Commission’s von der Leyen and the chairman of the bloc’s national leaders, Charles Michel.
(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Gareth Jones)