On Mar 8, 2016, the EU and Turkey held a summit on the problem of refugees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was eager to involve Turkey in her plan to root out illegal migration in the EU, but the summit ended in nothing as Turkey appeared with new preconditions. Let’s consider some of them.
1. Turkey is ready to block the “Balkan route” and to take back the refugees who get to Greece via its territory irrespective of their nationality and motives. But in exchange it is going to send as many deported Syrian refugees back to the EU.
Thus, the Turks suggest making illegal migration legal. But this “privilege” will apply to Syrians only. As many as 2.5 million Syrian refugees are believed to be residing in Turkey for the moment. The Turkish plan gives the Europeans the right to select the best of them (young, married, educated non-terrorists).
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has already said that this plan is contrary to the international law as the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits collective expulsion of aliens. Today, Turkey is offering only temporary protection but not the right to apply for refuge. Human rights activists warn that Turkey is not a safe place for Syrian refugees as it prevents their entry and deports them back home. So, Turkey’s plan is contrary to the EU’s values and morals.
The reverse side of this problem is the plan to fix refugees quotas for EU member states. This is something Central and Eastern European members are not ready to accept. Right after the summit Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that his country was against resettling Syrian refugees to Europe and is going to veto the quota plan. In order to confirm his words, Orban is going to organize a nationwide referendum this summer. Here the Turkish plan needs unanimity but many EU members are not ready to receive refugees from Turkey.
2. The Turks are going to charge a fee for its manipulations with refugees. They demand that in the next three years the EU redouble its 3bn EUR for refugees staying in their territory. The problem here is though haven’t yet received even 3bn EUR, the Turks want the EU to give them 6bn EUR. Here too they need consensus.
3. Turkey also wants the EU create a visa free regime for Turkish citizens in June 2016 (three months before initially scheduled date). The Europeans are reluctant to let Turks travel Europe without visas because of humanitarian and value-related problems. The Turkish authorities’ recent decision to close the opposition’s Zaman daily has given the Europeans one more ground for doubting their respect for European values. One more problem here is that visa free regime will make it easier for non-Turk citizens, particularly, Kurds to seek refuge in Europe.
4. The Turks also require five new points on the agenda of in their membership talks with the EU. They insist that it should be their own moral obligations to receive or not to receive refugees from Syria and that this process should not be linked to the EU membership talks. The Turks are trying to avoid the EU’s criticism concerning human rights and freedom of speech problems in their country. In the meantime, Cyprus has already objected to speed-up in the talks.
5. Turkey wants the world community to create a security zone in the north of Syria. But the EU cannot do this without the consent of the Syrian Government. One more obstacle here is Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council. So, the Europeans may well face the need to reconsider their anti-Russian sanctions.
The EU-Turkish summit lasted for as long as 12 hours with no specific decisions passed. Turkey’s plan goes far beyond the agreement reached in Nov 2015. Both sides are interested here even though it looks like the Turks have taken the Europeans by the throat. They in Brussels are obviously displeased with the Turkish plan but they need unanimity here. So, they have given EU leaders time for considering the plan.
Some Europeans are worried that the EU may let “unpredictable” and “authoritarian” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to solve their migration crisis. They are warning that here Europe is dealing with blackmail. Some sources reported that during the summit Davutoglu said that Turkey might block humanitarian cargo flows for refugees from Syria and thereby might force them to rush to Europe.
One more problem is that the Turkish plan neglects refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa. Today, hundreds of thousands of refugees from all over Africa are waiting in Libya for good weather and boats to move to Italy. So, the Turkish plan can solve only some of Europe’s refugee-related problems.
On Mar 17, EU leaders will have to reply to Turkey’s initiative. Merkel is sure that it will be carried out. But she is the only EU leader that has accepted the plan. European mass media regard this plan as a “Turkish dog-lead” for Europe. It seems that Merkel needs this plan only to confirm the leadership of her country in the EU and her own political role in Europe.
And so, she is trying in vain to pass the past summit off as an achievement and Turkey’s additional preconditions as the next step against illegal migration. The forthcoming elections in three German federal lands are expected to show what the Germans think about Merkel’s efforts but it is already known that their opinion is not favorable.
Three times fewer refugees came to Germany in Feb 2016 as compared with Jan 2016. But the figure is still high – 61,000 people. In Jan 2016, Germany registered 92,000 people against 127,000 in Dec 2015 and 206,000 in Nov 2015. These dynamics give ground for hope that the wave of emigration is ebbing.
But there are also pessimists, like the Slovenians, who have closed their borders for refugees and are going to let only people that will seek refuge in their country. Serbia and FYR Macedonia followed suit. So, the “Balkan route” is being closed without decisions from the EU or plans from Turkey. During the next summit the EU will pretend that centralized decision on refugee is possible. In reality, the Europeans are unable to solve this problem. Nor are we they willing to give the Turks preferences for their support in the matter.