Athens hopes EU-Turkey talks ease border tension

Amid wider efforts to handle the novel coronavirus outbreak, Greece hopes talks between the European Union and Turkey could help ease its border crisis, which followed a decision by Ankara to “open the gates” to Europe for migrants and refugees.

The EU and Turkey recently agreed to review a four-year-old deal on managing migrants and refugees in an effort to settle a dispute that sent thousands of people to the Turkey-Greece border in the hopes of reaching Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were due to join talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, while Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the meeting would be an opportunity to finally “set the record straight”.

There were dangerously chaotic scenes at the Greek-Turkish border earlier this month, as Greek police fired tear gas at refugees and migrants attempting to cross.

Ankara and Athens accused each other of using the migrants for their own political gains. “Now that things have quieted down, this is the time to set the record straight and make sure that what has happened is not going to happen again,” Mitsotakis told the Guardian newspaper.

Revision of the bloc’s 2016 deal with Turkey might be the best way of ensuring similar crises don’t erupt again, the Greek prime minister said.

Erdogan has accused the EU of not meeting its obligations, including failing to pay money promised to Turkey under the 2016 deal. The EU says it is disbursing the funds but also accused Erdogan of “blackmail” for waving migrants through to Europe late last month after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Syria.

According to the 2016 deal, the EU promised $3.35 billion in aid to Turkey to help manage migrants. The deal also included the end of visa restrictions applied to Turkish citizens when traveling to Europe as of June 2016, but the visa restrictions still remain. Both parties had agreed to “re-energize” Turkey’s EU bid.

Mitsotakis, who is juggling two crises, migration and novel coronavirus, has been the first to call for a breakthrough, the paper said.

“We have to have strong economic ties. We have our differences, we need a roadmap to resolve them,” Mitsotakis said, speaking about Greece’s relations with Turkey.

Turkey hosts nearly 3.6 million refugees from Syria, where its troops are facing off against Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

EU countries have rallied behind Greece, which is also a member of NATO, and described it as a “shield” protecting Europe’s borders with the outside world.

The coronavirus has had an impact on the situation, as Turkey over the weekend closed its borders to nationals from nine EU states, but not Greece, as a containment measure.