Several countries fear that an agreement to send refugees back to Turkey is not legal under international law.
Lawyers for the EU institutions however were insisting it is legal as every person applying for international protection would have their case considered in the normal way and would be able to appeal any decision.
The Latvian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, summed up the attitude of several leaders when she said the proposal was “very complicated, very difficult to implement and is on the edge of international law”.
There was some comfort, however, offered by the Council of Europe — which is separate from the EU, and oversees the European Convention on Human Rights. It welcomed that all asylum seekers would be treated individually with no question of blanket returns.
However, some were not reassured about the Turkey deal. Belgian prime minister Charles Michel described it as “a form of blackmail” and said the EU was “not going to be duped”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was not optimistic. “This meeting will concentrate on the migration issue and it’s not going to be easy to solve”, he said but described the draft as “acceptable”.
It allows for the removal of all migrants on the Greek islands to the mainland where their request for protection will be considered.
All Syrians are likely to be successful together with Iraqis and Afghans, and it is expected they will be allocated to member states who have pledged 72,000 over two years, including 4,000 to Ireland.
Any migrants arriving on the islands from Turkey after this will have their request for asylum considered.
Those who qualify will, however, be returned to Turkey where they will go to the back of queue of this applying to come to Europe. For each Syrian returned, the EU will agree to take a Syrian refugee from Turkey.
Reception centres in Greece and Italy are being beefed-up to allow them accept and process asylum seekers. The timing of when all this will happen is seen as critical because of fears that once announced, there will be a massive influx of refugees desperate to get to the EU before the border with Turkey is finally shut.
The EU has already promised €3 billion to Turkey to be spent — in conjunction with UN supervision — on their 2.6 million Syrian refugees and they are expected to agree to an additional €3 billion up to 2018.
The second major problem was with Turkey’s request for long-stalled talks on joining the EU to be resurrected. Cyprus has vetoed this because of the partition of the island following the Turkish invasion and occupation of the island since the 1970’s.
Negotiations between leaders in both parts of the island have progressed well but Cyprus wants Turkey to lift its ban on their ships docking and their airplanes landing in Turkey among other points before agreeing that the EU can open five more chapters in the accession talks.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is most interested in securing visa free travel for his citizens to the EU. This would be short stay, 90-day, visas that they say are mostly required by business people.
The EU had already agreed to introduce this in October but Turkey wanted it brought forward to June. However, they have still to fulfil 32 of 74 conditions which many doubt they will be able to do.