The EU and Turkey have held an emergency summit amid the worsening dispute between those parties over issues such as the effectiveness of Turkey’s use of the funds allocated by the EU for the resettlement of refugees, protection from illegal migration across the EU’s external borders, and assistance to Greece – a transit point for most of these displaced people. However, as much as can be understood from Angela Merkel’s speeches and interviews, there will be no review of the migration policy of the EU as a whole.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was in Brussels and made it clear precisely who is in control of the situation. Thousands of migrants arrive each day at the Greek port of Piraeus, creating an additional burden on Greece’s infrastructure and stirring up discord within the «European family», which is already not very friendly. Closing the Balkan route will put Athens in an even more difficult position. Like other Balkan countries, Macedonia has imposed partial restrictions on border crossings.
The flood of illegal migrants into Europe was largely triggered by Turkey’s moves to inflame the civil war in Syria, a fact which some journalists from the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet had attempted to reveal before being sent to jail for their efforts. And now, in early March, the Turkish government has been subjected to yet more timid criticism for «not respecting EU principles». This was in reference to the campaign of harassment conducted by the Turkish government against the newspaper Zaman. A court in Istanbul has actually placed that periodical, which is allegedly linked to the well-known US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, under state control, which entails a confiscation of property. On the evening of March 4, police special forces stormed the newspaper’s offices, firing water cannons and tear gas. This is hardly the first example of the persecution of the press in that country. Shall we say the only thing that’s needed for this is to begin asking awkward questions about the brutal war against the Kurds in the country’s southeast, the support of terrorist groups in Syria, or the Erdoğan family’s insatiable appetite for business …
According to Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, the timing of the Turkish authorities’ attack on the freedom of the press was no accident. That German politician is certain that Ankara decided to take that step before signing the agreement with Brussels and is thus counting on Europe to hold its tongue on the issue of human rights violations.
Meanwhile Mr Erdoğan has proposed building a new city in northern Syria to house refugees. As we can see, the leader of Turkey has already dismembered Syria in his mind, giving Europeans the impression that he has negotiated all this with Obama.
The countries of the European Union had previously approved the financing for a fund to support refugees inside of Turkey. Ankara added three billion euros to its balance sheet, in addition to a revival of the talks on joining the EU and visa liberalization, plus various related perks, such as the Bundestag dropping its discussion of a potential resolution condemning the Armenian genocide that took place during the time of the Ottoman Empire, in exchange for which the Turks will reduce the influx of migrants into the EU, instead resettling them within their own borders. But the transparency about how the money will be received and spent is, to put it mildly, insufficient.
During the five years of the Syrian crisis, Turkey, according to statements made by its leaders, has taken in almost three million refugees, in contrast to nearly two million taken in by the European Union, far from all of whom are even of Syrian origin.
Ankara’s conduct makes it clear that it is unlikely to remain satisfied for long with the three billion it is already getting in compensation from Europe. Turkey’s bill for ensuring «calm» in Berlin, Paris, and other European cities could rise to five billion euros. Or even seven, or more, as Ankara deems necessary.
«Erdoğan, who is being offered €3 billion, will not demand €6 billion, but €9 billion. That figure will rise after each summit», claims Miloš Zeman, the president of the Czech Republic. According to information obtained by Reuters, during the closed-door talks Ahmet Davutoğlu has already requested 20 (!) billion, as well as the coveted goal of the right to visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. As of the evening of March 7, Ankara’s intermediate demands looked like this: Six billion euros and an accelerated path to EU membership.
On the night of Jan. 8 Donald Tusk stated that an agreement had been reached on these points: All new illegal migrants arriving to Greek islands by sea from Turkey will be returned; the plan for visa liberalization will be accelerated; the allocation of €3 billion, plus an additional mechanism for financing assistance for refugees in Syria, will be accelerated; preparations will be made to open new chapters in the negotiations on entry of Turkey into the EU; safe zones could be established in Syria; and Syrian refugees will be resettled based on a one-for-one principle. This document awaits approval during the next scheduled meeting on March 17-18. According to Davutoğlu, visa-free travel between the EU and Turkey will become real by the end of June.
On March 7 a meeting was held in Brussels between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ahmet Davutoğlu. According to Stoltenberg, NATO will back the fight in the Aegean Sea against smuggling and illegal immigration under the auspices of the Standing NATO Maritime Group, which was established to conduct «intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance at the Turkish-Syrian border». The NATO Secretary General particularly noted that the mission of the alliance is not to detain those who are trying to reach Europe or to return them to their homeland. The head of the alliance, worried about Russian air activity in Syria, warned that the crisis must not be militarized. But if one believes the commander of NATO in Europe, Philip Breedlove, Russia is the one whose actions in Syria are spurring the exodus of refugees into Europe. Given this situation, Ankara’s efforts are aimed primarily against the Syrian army, which is fighting the terrorist groups that are not included under the cease-fire provisions.
Returning illegal migrants back to the country from which they came will also require EU agencies to work with Turkish authorities in the fight against cross-border crime. But apparently the criminal «business models» are advantageous to some people in Europe itself. Reports in the Bulgarian media about trade in stolen Syrian gasoline that passes through Turkey might well prove to be merely the tip of the iceberg, just like Bilal Erdoğan’s Italian escapades.
According to international organizations, 100,000 migrants have arrived in Greece just in 2016, intending to travel onward, mostly to Germany, which, according to a report by Eurostat, has taken in almost 442,000 people in the past year – more than a third of all asylum seekers in the European Union. A noticeable increase in crime and social unrest has forced the Bundestag to tighten the rules for admitting refugees and Angela Merkel to call for the acceleration of the prosecution of migrants who have committed crimes. However, no decisions have been made at the European level on this matter, which explains the growth in anti-immigrant and right-wing nationalistic sentiment that has compelled authorities in individual states (Sweden, France, Germany, Hungary, and Austria) to resort to local legal and technical measures to stem illegal migration.
It is not alarmist to predict that the potential for conflict in Europe is going to escalate. This tension could find an outlet in the form of terrorist attacks, while the US State Department diligently notifies the whole world of the latest terrorism threat levels. And it is quite natural to conclude that when it comes to migration policy, individual states are more effective than supranational institutions. On one condition – those states must be able to exercise real, not mock, sovereignty within their own borders.