German Chancellor Angela Merkel has done something of a U-turn and offered Turkey a deal: support for faster progress with its bid to join the European Union in return for more cooperation with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees, and reaccepting those who have been rejected by Europe.
Speaking in Istanbul at a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday, Merkel said Germany would be willing to help accelerate the path to visa-free travel to the EU for Turks and push forward Ankara's protracted EU membership talks.
In return, she expects Turkey to agree more quickly to take in migrants sent back by the EU, so-called "readmission agreements" that Davutoglu has said he will sign up to only if there is progress on liberalizing the visa regime for Turks.
The German chancellor reiterated her opposition to Turkey joining the EU just 10 days ago, with her and her party previously saying they were strongly against Turkey entering the EU because of its poor human rights record.
But now she needs Turkey's help that position has apparently changed. "I think we have used the crisis we are experiencing, through a very disorderly and uncontrolled movement of refugees, to again achieve closer cooperation on many issues, both between the European Union and Turkey, and between Germany and Turkey," Merkel said after meeting the Turkish premier.
One Turkish diplomat quoted in the Independent before Sunday's talks commented: "You can't criticize Turkey from Monday to Friday and then on Saturday come and beg for support."
Dubbed a "punch-bag" for her own party by some German media due to frustrations over the refugee crisis, Merkel now wants to cement a European deal with Turkey on aid and closer ties in return for help in encouraging refugees there to stay put.
She has resisted pressure to tighten Germany's border controls and turn away refugees arriving from Austria, even as Germany expects 800,000 to a million new arrivals this year.
Both the Turkish and German leaders said they had agreed there could be no lasting solution to the migration crisis without resolving the conflict in Syria, from where more than 2 million refugees have now fled to Turkey.
Syrian refugees have spoken to VICE News about the difficulties they encounter there, including limited access to education and resentment from locals. "They don't give us papers," one 24-year-old refugee told VICE News recently. "I tried to work there when I started working, I worked for a whole week and the boss didn't give me money, there was nothing I could do about that. My second job, they gave me money at least but it wasn't enough. I couldn't have a decent life there. That's why Syrians are leaving Turkey, they are exploiting us."
President Tayyip Erdogan, whom Merkel also met during her trip to Turkey, said he had asked her — as well as France, Britain and Spain — for support on accelerating Turkey's EU membership bid.
Erdogan and his ruling AK Party, which faces a general election on November 1, have an interest in avoiding any suggestion of a sellout to help ungrateful Europeans. He has used the opportunity to grandstand, on Friday accusing the EU of insincerity in talks on Turkish membership.
In truth, both Erdogan and Merkel know there is no near-term prospect of Turkey joining the EU. But both can still gain something from Sunday's meeting.
For Merkel, nailing down Turkey's commitment to the action plan is important to stemming the refugee flow and relieving the political pressure on her at home.
For Erdogan and the AKP, winning the promise of an accelerated path to visa-free travel to the EU for Turks could be an election boon.
Europe's migration crisis showed no signs of letting up on Monday with the UN refugee agency saying more than 10,000 refugees were now stranded in Serbia, stranded by limits imposed further west in Europe. The agency warned of shortages in aid.
"We can only say that there are more than 10,000 refugees in Serbia," UNHCR spokeswoman Melita Sunjic told Reuters. "It is like a big river of people, and if you stop the flow, you will have floods somewhere. That's what's happening now."
"There is a lack of food, lack of blankets, we are missing everything," Sunjic said by phone from the Serbian-Croatian border.
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