Athens, February 18, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Zacharias Petrou
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday, ahead of the European Council meeting on February 18-19 that will focus on two crucial issues: finding common ground for Britain’s concerns ahead of a referendum to stay or leave the EU, and secondly on developments in the refugee crisis.
According to reports, Tsipras expected to be given an indication by Juncker as to the creditor’s intentions on the ongoing bailout review while the issue of dealing with the refugee crisis was also discussed.
“You’re doing a good job with the refugee crisis. Keep it up,” Jean-Claude Juncker told Tsipras.
Greek government sources said after the meeting: “The two sides agreed that management of the refugee issue demands a comprehensive and coordinated cooperation between EU member-states, as well that it is imperative to avoid unilateral actions.”
Tsipras and Juncker noted the crucial role of cooperation between the EU and Turkey for an “effective and humanistic” management of the refugee flows, and also discussed the need to increase the funds Greece receives from the European Union for the rescue, accommodation and registration of refugees.
Regarding the Greek bailout program, they agreed the first review must be completed as soon as possible.
Tsipras was scheduled to participate on Thursday in a tripartite meeting between Germany, Greece and Turkey on the refugee crisis and attend a second meeting on the cooperation with Turkey, along with the leaders of ten EU member-states, Turkey and the President of the European Council Donald Tusk.
However, a bomb blast in Ankara on Wednesday night which killed 28 people led to the Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu calling off his trip to Brussels. Despite this change of plans, Tsipras is expected to present to his counterparts the progress made in the completion of hot spots on the Aegean islands.
The Greek premier is due to return from the European Union leaders’ summit on Friday in time for a parliamentary debate on the measures included in the so-called “parallel program” that the government hopes to pass on Saturday.
One day ahead of an EU summit in Brussels to discuss the migration crisis, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that shutting down the Greek border to slow the influx would be illegal and unacceptable.
“It would be neither legal nor politically acceptable to cooperate with third countries in order to close the border to one of our member states,” Juncker said in an interview with German newspaper Bild.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed on Wednesday that European Union countries should work with Turkey to curb the flow of migrants.
“We are used to certain things in Europe taking a certain amount of time but it is always worth working, and I will do that, to achieve common ground all the same,” Merkel said at a news conference.
Composed of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, the “Visegrad Four” group has pressed other EU member-states to prevent refugees and migrants from taking the Western Balkan route towards mainland EU.
Furthermore, both FYROM and Bulgaria have lately been invited by the “Visegrad Four” to strengthen border controls in the Balkans to stem migration inflows from Greece.
Greek main opposition New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis also held a series of meetings in Brussels on Wednesday, with the refugee crisis topping the agenda.
The final solution to the refugee and migrant crisis facing Europe lies in Turkey and cooperation between the EU and the neighboring country is crucial in resolving the issue, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
“I reiterated to Juncker our consistent view that the closure of the northern border will not resolve the refugee problem,” he said adding that despite initial delays, there is significant progress in fulfilling Greece’s commitments towards the EU.
“But the refugee problem will not be resolved simply with the construction of hotspots. Europe must also fulfill its commitments, especially regarding the relocation of refugees from Greece to European countries,” he added.
Greece has made significant progress in constructing and operating identification and registration centers on selected Greek islands, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said in a press briefing on Wednesday.