European Council President Donald Tusk has said that a "joint action plan with Turkey remains a priority" in dealing with Europe's refugee crisis. His comments came after hours of talks with EU leaders in Brussels.
Speaking to the press early Friday after the first day of the EU leaders summit in Brussels, EU Council President Donald Tusk announced a special meeting with Ankara to better tackle the wave of migration that has hit Europe.
"We agreed that our joint action plan with Turkey remains a priority. And we must do all we can to succeed. This is why we have the intention to organize a special meeting with Turkey in the beginning of March," Tusk said.
Following Wednesday's terror attack in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu canceled his trip to Brussels for the summit, forcing EU leaders to postpone their meeting on the issue.
'No alternative' to cooperation with Turkey
More than 1 million people entered the EU in 2015, many of them fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. The influx of migrants, many who have come through Greece via Turkey, has prompted several EU member states, including Germany, to implement border controls in the Schengen passport-free travel zone.
A quota-based relocation system to ease pressure on frontline countries, such as Italy and Greece, has proven ineffectual with former Soviet countries refusing to accept the implementation of the EU plan.
"We must respect the rules and laws that we have all adopted together. This concerns both the decisions on relocation as well as the need to gradually get back to a situation where all members of the Schengen area apply the Schengen borders code," Tusk added.
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that cooperation with Turkey was crucial to managing the wave of migration that has led to a political crisis in the 28-nation bloc.
"We have confirmed that there is no alternative to a good, intelligent and wise cooperation with Turkey," Juncker said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the EU officials' statements on migration, stating: "In Europe, we are all always partners."
"The important statement for me today is that we have not only reaffirmed the EU-Turkey action plan, but we have said it is our priority," Merkel said early Friday.
Merkel has come under heavy criticism by fellow lawmakers and opposition politicians for her open-door policy to refugees in Germany, especially Syrians fleeing a bitter conflict in their homeland.
'Some progress' on UK
Meanwhile, talks to renegotiate the UK's membership in the European Union "made some progress" on Thursday, according to Tusk, although some European leaders believe the process could take longer than expected.
"For now, I can only say that we have made some progress but a lot needs to be done," Tusk said. A British official, however, said significant gaps remained on key issues. Bilateral talks have continued throughout the night.
Earlier Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "battling for Britain" at the Brussels summit, looking for changes to the UK-EU relationship that would be "credible for the British people."
"The question of Britain's place in Europe has been allowed to fester for too long," Cameron said. "If we can get a good deal, I will take that deal. But I will not take a deal that doesn't meet what we need," he added, warning the UK would walk away if the deal was not good enough.
After the first day of talks, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was optimistic. "I think it is going well. I hope that tomorrow we will have a deal," the Spanish premier told reporters.
However, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said "it may take longer than they think," referring to Cameron's attempt to seal a deal with the 28-nation bloc before a popular referendum on a Brexit, or UK exit of the EU.
By law, Cameron must set a date to hold a referendum on the matter before the end of 2017, although analysts believe the British premier will likely set it for this year, possibly as early as June.
European leaders will continue their meeting in Brussels on Friday.
ls/cmk (Reuters, AP, dpa)