BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday that he saw the first signs that EU states were overcoming their differences to start tackling the year-old migration crisis.
In a letter inviting EU leaders to a summit he will chair on Monday with the Turkish prime minister, Tusk wrote:
“Let me conclude on a prudent positive note. For the first time since the beginning of the migration crisis, I can see a European consensus emerging. It is a consensus around a comprehensive strategy that, if loyally implemented, can help stem the flows and tackle the crisis.”
To prepare the summit with Turkey, Tusk has been on the road to meet leaders in Vienna, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Skopje, Athens, Ankara, Istanbul and Belgrade — the route the migrants travel to enter northern EU countries, especially Germany.
Tusk said there was agreement in all the countries he visited to end a policy of simply waving through the migrants on their way to Germany or Scandinavia.
“It will not solve the crisis but it is a necessary pre-condition for a European consensus,” Tusk said. “On Monday, we should all confirm this approach.”
He said a deal on this would close the Western Balkans route, which was the main entry point for migrants with 880,000 entering in 2015 alone and 128,000 in the first two months of this year.
Tusk said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu agreed that the flow of migrants could be reduced through a large-scale and rapid return from Greece to Turkey of all migrants not in need of international protection.
“The political will is there but it poses a logistical challenge, in which we have to support Greece. Prime Minister Davutoglu also confirmed Turkey’s readiness to take back all migrants apprehended in Turkish waters,” Tusk said.
The EU is also to provide Greece with more money to handle the arriving migrants and relocate them to other EU countries faster.
“On Monday, I would like us to agree that all available EU tools, including accelerated relocation, should be used to address the humanitarian consequences for the refugees, not least in Greece, in a speedy and effective way,” Tusk said.
“This also includes the European Commission’s proposal of a new Emergency Assistance instrument of euro 700 million, recognising the role of national governments in these humanitarian efforts,” he said.
Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Richard Balmforth