EU refugee deal hits setback as Cyprus objects to Turkey bid

Under the planned deal, Turkey would take back Syrian refugees who land in Greece in exchange for €6bn in aid

The European Union’s controversial refugee deal with Turkey risks being torpedoed by Cyprus, which says it cannot accept the restart of Turkey’s bid for EU membership.

Under the planned deal, which leaders hope to confirm at another summit next week, Turkey would take back Syrian refugees who land in Greece in exchange for €6bn in aid, easier visa access to Europe for Turks and a speeding up of stalled EU accession talks.

But now Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has said he will not lift his country’s veto on opening five new “chapters” in Turkey’s EU membership negotiations. “I will never accept being forced, and I will never give my consent, because otherwise I have no other choice but to not return back home,” he told the Financial Times. 

The veto has been in place since 2009, over Turkey’s refusal to recognise the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia or allow Cypriot ships to dock in its ports. 

An attempt to resolve the dispute that erupted when Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974, dividing the island, had been making headway. Cyprus argues that this is the wrong time to give away any diplomatic leverage. Although Cyprus is blocking six of the 33 chapters, both Germany and France have also blocked parts of the negotiations.

The proposed arrangement would mean sending back to Turkey every Syrian refugee who crosses into Greece illegally. In exchange, the EU would accept, on a one-for-one basis, Syrian refugees applying through legal channels from Turkey. It is due to be confirmed at a summit in Brussels at the end of next week. 

Turkey has addressed a key concern of human rights activists: that it is a “safe” country for the return of illegal migrants. Officials say they are planning new legislation, including readmission agreements, with 14 countries, such as Afghanistan.

Ankara also says it will introduce a new personal data security law, roll out biometric passports, and tighten regulation of its border security agency as it prepares for the planned liberalisation of visa rules. The deal has nonetheless been criticised by the leader of Turkey’s opposition party, which says Ankara should have offered the EU €6bn to take all the refugees, rather than the other way round. 

“Let us give €6bn to them and let them take all Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis themselves,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) told the Hurriyet newspaper.

Meanwhile, EU justice ministers agreed to adopt new anti-terrorism rules criminalising preparatory acts such as training, travelling abroad and financing terrorism. The attempt to harmonise EU states’ rules and crack down on foreign fighters follows last November’s Paris attacks.

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