EU and Turkish officials have met in Brussels for a summit aimed to tackle the migration crisis. The bloc is offering Ankara an aid package and closer ties in return for help in curbing the flow of new arrivals.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met the 28 EU national leaders at 4 p.m. (1500 UTC) on Sunday to finalize a plan to deal with a record refugee influx.
The European Union plans to give Ankara 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) over two years to improve the situation of the more than 2 million Syrians who are currently in Turkey. The bloc is also offering to relax visa restrictions for Turkish citizens and "re-energize" talks on Turkey's EU membership process. In return, it's asked Turkey to tighten border security, take back migrants who don't qualify for asylum, and crack down on illegal traffickers.
Speaking ahead of the talks, Davutoglu said Sunday was an "historic day" for Turkey.
"This meeting will provide new momentum to relations. It's important in so many aspects because it's the first EU-Turkey summit in 11 years," he said.
"With EU leaders today we will be sharing the destiny of our continent, global challenges of the economic crisis as well as regional geopolitical challenges in front of us, including migration issues."
Worst refugee crisis since WW2
Close to 1 million migrants and asylum seekers have entered the EU so far this year, and the bloc's leaders have been scrambling to manage the influx. Turkey is a main gateway for Europe-bound refugees, many of whom aim to eventually reach countries like Germany and Sweden.
Ahead of Sunday's summit, European Council President Donald Tusk said he hoped for an agreement, but also stressed that Turkey's help alone wouldn't be enough to solve the problem.
"Turkey is not the only key to resolving the migration crisis. The important one is our responsibility and duty to protect our external border. We cannot outsource this obligation to any third country," Tusk said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a key part of the EU-Turkey action plan was replacing illegal migration with legal migration, and improving the lives of refugees who have ended up in Turkey.
"Turkey justifiably expects the EU to provide relief," Merkel said ahead of the talks.
"This plan will make clear that we have to work together more closely with Turkey… We plan to have regular meetings to talk about progress in the implementation of this agenda."
Difficulties to work through
The details of the multi-billion dollar deal still need to be hammered out, and will likely hinge on a number of conditions, including how effectively Turkey can stem the flow of arrivals.
"I don't have the intention of giving my agreement for a blank cheque to Turkey," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said. "I expect clear commitments from Turkey."
Human rights concerns
Progress at Sunday's summit, called just days ago, may also be complicated by Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border on Tuesday. Relations between Ankara and the EU also remain tense over Turkish President Erdogan's increasingly autocratic rule and his country's human rights record.
Speaking in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that both sides needed each other, but emphasized that beginning EU accession talks would depend on certain commitments from the Turkish side.
"This comes together with new investments from the Turkish side in basic fundamentals like human rights, media freedom and, I would like to stress it in particular, the need to restart the peace process with the Kurdish."
nm/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)