Angela Merkel is flying to Turkey today for crunch talks over the status of the controversial migration deal she worked out on behalf of the EU with the Turkish government. The German chancellor is trying to bolster support for the month-old agreement, which sees thousands of failed asylum seekers deported from the EU back to holding camps in Turkey.
Human rights groups have claimed that the pact might not be legal, claiming the Eurasian country is not a safe place to which to return vulnerable migrants, with Amnesty International saying that Syrians have been returned illegally to their homeland. Ankara denies the charge.
Turkish authorities, meanwhile, are also threatening to scotch the deal if its citizens are not granted the legal right to visa-free travel throughout the EU. Under the terms of the deal, Turkey is obliged to meet 72 conditions by 4 May to earn the visa waiver, but European authorities are claiming that just half of these points have currently been met.
Refugees for Schengen admission
Under the terms of the deal, Turkey earns additional EU funding for housing refugees, as well as the promise of a fresh look at stalled talks to allow the country to join the union.
The official focus of Merkel's visit, however, is the refugees currently living in camps on the dangerous Turkish-Syrian border. Merkel is due to visit a refugee camp near the southern city of Gaziantep on Saturday, and will then meet with the Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. However, "all issues would be mentioned during the conversation with the Turkish prime minister," she told press.
Merkel will travel with the European Council president Donald Tusk, and the EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans – architects of a scheme that has hugely reduced migrant arrivals in Europe, from more than 56,000 in February to around 7,800 over the past month.
Fight over a poem
One figure Merkel is not scheduled to meet is Turkey's controversial Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose decision to invoke an obscure German law that prohibits insults to foreign heads of state has caused her serious problems this week.
Erdoğanwas incensed by a satirical poem written about him by the German comedian Jan Böhmermann, and Merkel acquiesced to his demand to press for a criminal prosecution through the courts. Her decision has caused major ructions in Germany, and senior members of her own coalition government are now in open rebellion, attempting to get the offending clause overturned before the case even reaches trial.