Merkel sees EU summit as "real chance" to end Europe's refugee crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday called for EU leaders this week to agree to more aid for Turkey to help accommodate millions of refugees, saying the European Union had "a real chance" to resolve the region's migration crisis.

Merkel will join EU leaders for a two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday to see "whether we can reach an agreement that could give us, for the first time, a real chance of a lasting and pan-European solution to the refugee crisis," the chancellor told the lower house of German parliament.

She said that Europe will be defined for years to come by its management of the refugee crisis, adding that its status as a "rich continent" means it must rise to the challenge in unison.

Merkel hopes to secure backing at the summit for a new plan to stem the influx of refugees into Europe - a plan that rests on a deal with Turkey that has been criticized by human rights advocates, European partners and Merkel's own domestic allies.

"There is still a lot to be done before we can reach an agreement acceptable to each and everyone of our 28 member states and Turkey," EU President Donald Tusk warned on Wednesday evening.

But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said he believes "progress is possible the next two days."

As part of the new migration deal, Turkey has called on the EU to offer more than the 3 billion euros (3.32 billion dollars) it already promised to help the country shelter the almost 3 million refugees it has taken in. Merkel called this "completely understandable."

EU leaders will consider pledging up to 3 billion euros more to Turkey through 2018, according to a draft statement prepared for their summit seen by dpa.

But other demands made by Ankara have proven more challenging, particularly any accelerated drive to EU membership for Turkey.

The country's bid to join the EU is "not on the agenda now", Merkel told the Bundestag. Ultimately, she said there should be a "balancing of interests according to our values."

Cyprus, which has a particularly thorny relationship with Turkey, has threatened to veto part of the migration deal, arguing that Ankara has failed to fulfill past obligations related to its bid for EU membership.

Ankara has also sought visa-free travel for Turks to Europe in exchange for its help on migration, which would include taking back migrants who reach the EU.

Visa-free travel has been a long-standing goal of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The EU has shown itself ready to deliver this by June, but is insisting that Ankara first finish meeting 72 benchmarks set by Brussels for the liberalization of visas.

"There is still much to solve," Merkel said.

The German leader has resisted national solutions demanded by her domestic critics, such as stepping up border controls or placing caps on the number of new arrivals, which reached 1 million in 2015.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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