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BRUSSELS, Belgium (UPDATED) – The EU and Turkey will hold a special summit in early March to push forward a deal to stem the migration crisis, European Council President Donald Tusk said Friday, February 19.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels also unanimously opposed “unilateral actions” by member states after Austria said it would cap the daily number of asylum claims.
“We agreed that our joint action plan with Turkey remains a priority and we must do all we can to succeed,” Tusk told a press conference after the first day of a two-day European Union summit in Brussels.
“This is why we have the intention to organize a special meeting with Turkey in the beginning of March,” Tusk said without elaborating.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany – the EU country that received the most refugees last year at more than one million – said the special summit with Turkey could take place on March 5 or March 7.
She said the EU “must see quickly if measures work” under the plan agreed at another EU-Turkey summit in November, in which Turkey agreed to cut migrant flows in exchange for 3 billion euros in aid.
Pressure to enforce the plan is growing as EU officials say thousands of migrants are still crossing the Aegean daily from Turkey after more than one million made the perilous journey last year, the greatest such movement in the bloc’s history.
A meeting of the leaders of 11 EU countries with Turkey had been planned before the full summit on Thursday, February 18 but was cancelled after Turkey’s premier Ahmet Davutoglu pulled out following a bomb attack in Ankara.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker meanwhile said the EU leaders agreed “there was no alternative to smart, intelligent cooperation with Turkey.”
Central EU countries which oppose admitting asylum seekers said Wednesday, February 17 they would push for further border restrictions in Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone unless they see results from Turkey.
Central European states say the number of asylum seekers arriving from Turkey needs to drop from as many as 2,000 a day to as low as dozens of people per day.
Juncker also said EU leaders unanimously opposed “unilateral actions” to resolve the migrant crisis after Austria said Wednesday it would cap the daily number of asylum claims at 80.
European migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned in a letter to Vienna that such plans would “be plainly incompatible” with EU law and Austria should reconsider them.
Austria hits back
But Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann hit back strongly at his fellow EU leaders and said he would not postpone the asylum cap.
“I made clear, if everyone would take as much as Austria, the 37,500 (in 2016, down from the 90,000 it took in 2015), it would be two million in the European Union just in this year,” Faymann told reporters.
“There is nothing to postpone, nothing to change. 37,500 is not peanuts.”
Since January, the country of nearly 9 million has already received 11,000 asylum claims, or around 250 a day.
Last year we had “more asylum requests than Italy and much more than France. And everyone who looked at a map knows that these two countries are much bigger than Austria and have more inhabitants as well.”
The move came a day after Vienna said it would step up controls at existing checkpoints along its southern frontier with Italy, Slovenia and Hungary to curb the influx of migrants and refugees trekking up through the Balkans.
Separately the police chiefs of Austria and 4 other countries on the migrant route through southeast Europe announced an agreement Thursday for a joint refugee registration point at the Greek-Macedonian border.
Sweden said it plans to house nearly 1,800 migrants on a luxury cruise ship, as it struggles to cope with its share of the huge migrant influx into Europe.
Meanwhile a top UN official said Europe has “completely failed” in its response to the migrant crisis.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, speaking in a German newspaper interview, referred to an EU deal struck last September on relocating 160,000 refugees from overstretched Greece and Italy to other EU states, but only about 600 have been moved until now. – Lachlan Carmichael, AFP/Rappler.com