Brussels: EU leaders sit down with Turkey`s premier on Monday seeing a glimmer of hope for an end to the refugee crisis that has divided Europe but troubled by having to seek favours from a government that scorns their ideas of human rights.
With tens of thousands of migrants hoping to reach Germany stranded in Greece by closing borders, the summit will formalise the closure of the Balkan route out of Greece, diplomats said, while pledging help to Athens and seeking assurances that Turkey will, with NATO naval back-up, bar the sea to people smugglers.
The leaders in Brussels are likely to tell Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of concerns about rights after the Turkish government seized control of a critical newspaper. But EU officials said they will also be anxious not to alienate Ankara just as hopes are rising of a solution to the crisis.
Fellow EU leaders, long bitterly divided over how to end chaotic movements that have put Europe`s Schengen free-movement system in jeopardy, will also assure Greek Prime Minister Alexis
Tsipras of help housing those now stranded in Greece who hope to follow the million that found refuge in Germany last year.
An EU endorsement of recent border closures by Macedonia, Austria and other countries on the route north from Greece will be accompanied by a renewed commitment to revive plans to relocate asylum claimants around the EU, diplomats said.
A draft EU agreement will declare that the “West Balkan route is closed”, although diplomats added that the statement was likely to go through considerable redrafting.
NATO said on Sunday a new naval force secured approval for operating in Turkish and Greek waters. That will lend force to a deal with Turkey to take back migrants halted in its waters and those who reach Greek islands but fail to qualify for asylum.
Meeting Davutoglu two days after his government seized control of Zaman, Turkey`s top-selling newspaper, EU leaders are torn between anger at Ankara`s action and fear of derailing Turkish willingness to stop migrants sailing for Greece.
European Council President Donald Tusk, the former Polish premier who will chair Monday`s talks, had barely left a meeting with President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday and declared cautious optimism on the migrant crisis when police seized the newspaper.
“It`s a slap in the face,” one senior EU official told Reuters after EU envoys met in Brussels on Sunday evening.