7 Mar 2016

Migrants: EU leaders discuss closure of Balkan route

EU leaders meeting in Brussels are discussing the closure of the Balkan route migrants and refugees have been using to reach Germany and other European countries.

Although some countries want the route from Greece to Germany barred to migrants, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is insisting that it remains open to Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing violence and war.

A draft EU statement says “this route is now closed”, but this can be modified.

More than one million people, mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, entered Europe last year, with most ending up in Germany. Tens of thousands of migrants are stranded at Greece’s border with Macedonia, which is limiting the numbers it is allowing to cross.

EU leaders are holding talks with Turkey in the hope of curbing the migrant flow, with Ankara using the crisis to lobby for EU membership.

Mrs Merkel and other leaders are offering Greece help to house migrants, who have been arriving from Turkey on a daily basis.

They are also seeking assurances from Turkey that it will do more, with Nato support, to combat the people smugglers involved in the transport of migrants in the Aegean.

Turkey is being offered 3bn euros in aid to re-admit migrants who have passed through its territory.

‘Turkey ready to join EU’

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “I am sure these challenges will be solved through our cooperation and Turkey is ready to work with the EU.

“Turkey is ready to be a member of the EU as well. Today I hope this summit will not just focus on irregular migration, but also the Turkish accession process to the EU.”

Mrs Merkel, who has faced criticism in Germany for the welcome she has given to migrants and refugees, requested the emergency summit to show voters the EU is acting to resolve the crisis.

Her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said on Sunday that Berlin had major doubts about whether Turkey should become a member of the EU.


Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been accused of moving in an authoritarian direction, with the government’s recent seizure of a critical newspaper exacerbating those fears.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he had told Mr Davutoglu that media freedom was “a non-negotiable element of our European identity”.

But EU leaders are wary of alienating Turkey because they need Ankara’s help to reduce the number of migrants arriving in Europe.

In Brussels, David Cameron said Britain would not sign up to an EU common asylum policy. “We have an absolutely rock solid opt-out from these things. There’s no prospect of Britain joining a common asylum process in Europe,” he said.