European Council President Donald Tusk presents himself as a strong leader of the 28-member EU bloc. The truth is that it’s people like Tusk – an unelected bureaucrat – and other feckless so-called EU leaders who are bringing the Union to breaking point.
The gap between ordinary EU citizens and political figureheads who are accused of being out of touch and unaccountable has grown to a chasm. And Donald Tusk is the epitome of this EU mis-leadership.
Last weekend Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were in Turkey to shore up the so-called refugee deal. Tusk and Merkel are the EU leadership personified, as the incumbent president of the European Council and head of Europe’s strongest economy. Visiting a refugee center near Turkey’s southern city of Gaziantep, Tusk and Merkel lavished praise on the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for its handling of the humanitarian crisis stemming from the five-year Syrian war.
Central to the so-called EU-Turkey deal is the granting of $6.8 billion in taxpayers’ money to Ankara for accommodating some three million refugees on its territory. In return, Turkey is to take back tens of thousands of migrants who have become stuck in Greece. The refugees are being forcibly returned to Turkey where they will allegedly be processed in an orderly asylum application to Europe. Don’t hold your breath on that being delivered.
Tusk claimed that Turkey was a model for the rest of the world in handling refugees, while at the same time piously declaring that the EU was fulfilling its humanitarian commitments. Those claims are bluntly contradicted by rights groups and UN agencies, who have denounced the EU-Turkey deal as a travesty of international law because it denies refugees an automatic right to asylum. There are also disturbing reports of refugees being mistreated in Turkey and even of Turkish military firing live rounds to stop people from crossing the border from Syria.
All the fulsome praise that Tusk and Merkel were bestowing on Turkey seems therefore more of a cynical public relations exercise to sell the refugee deal as a viable, ethical solution.
If Tusk and Merkel showed real leadership on the refugee crisis afflicting Europe they would hold Erdogan’s Turkey accountable for inciting and fueling the proxy war in Syria. Instead of shuffling around symptoms of the crisis, the EU leaders should strike at the root cause – which is the US-backed destabilization of Syria for regime change.
Of course, the EU is unable to address that root cause because it is itself complicit in facilitating the covert war on Syria, through certain member countries like Britain and France supplying weapons to armed factions. Also, the EU has slapped economic sanctions on the government of President Bashar al-Assad, thus in effect aiding the illegal regime-change objective.
These political limitations aside, the fact is that the EU is approaching the refugee crisis from a completely flawed premise. Collaborating with the Erdogan regime and rewarding it with $6.8 billion in aid, plus promises to fast-track EU accession – is as far removed from tackling the root problem of Syria’s refugees as one can possibly conceive. In other words, this is a typical EU farce, the same farcical incompetence and unaccountability that is driving more and more of its 500 million citizens to view the Brussels bureaucracy and aligned national leaders with such contempt.
It’s not as if there is no evidence to impute Turkey for destabilizing Syria. Reports this week from the residents of the Syrian town of Al-Shaddadi which was liberated in February from occupation by the Islamic State (Daesh) corroborate that the al-Qaeda-linked terrorists were smuggling massive cargos of oil into Turkey to generate war funds and weapons.
Russian military surveillance videos over several months had already verified that oil tankers were streaming across the Turkish border from eastern Syrian oilfields.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin earlier this month informed the UN Security Council that Turkey was the main conduit for fighters and weapons, including chemical weapons, for various armed groups in Syria.
In the face of this mounting evidence, Erdogan’s regime in Ankara continues to deny, stupendously, that it is fueling the war in Syria by supporting terrorist groups. And all the while the gullible European Union leaders continue to also live in denial of this reality, in contrast to their public who can see glaringly what is going on in the racket of state-sponsored terrorism.
The recent breakdown in the Geneva talks and the upsurge in violence around Syria’s key city of Aleppo have the hallmarks of a concerted tactic in which Turkey is a main protagonist. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Turkey has «decisive influence» over the political opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee, and its associated militant brigades, such as Ahrar ash-Sham.
Panning out from the Syrian conflict, the Erdogan regime’s embrace of lawlessness and despotism is also abundantly manifest in its ongoing crackdown on its own Turkish society. The closing down of critical media outlets and prosecution of journalists on trumped-up charges has even been flagged by a recent EU Parliament dossier. But listening to Tusk and Merkel one would think all is rosy in the land of Erdogan.
Just as disturbing is Ankara’s repressive counterinsurgency methods against Kurds and Armenians in Turkey’s southeast region. A report in the New York Times disclosed how the Ankara authorities are confiscating Armenian properties in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, which is being seen as a hidden agenda for ethnic cleansing. Turkish historians view that development as having resonances with how the Armenian genocide began incrementally in 1915, with forced relocations and expropriations.
Worryingly, too, Erdogan’s draconian onslaught against independent news media is increasingly targeting European and other international outlets. In recent weeks, journalists belonging to Dutch, German and Russian news organizations have been arrested or banned from entering the country based on tenuous allegations of «insulting» Erdogan.
A bizarre case is that of Jan Boehmermann, the German satirist, who is being investigated by German prosecutors at the behest of Ankara over an allegedly defamatory poem he recited on national television – in Germany. Merkel’s government gave the go-ahead for the Turkish prosecution case.
Still, in the midst of this unprecedented crackdown on supposed European values by Erdogan’s Turkey, EU leaders like Tusk and Merkel proclaim that there will «no compromises» with Ankara.
Before their visit to Turkey last weekend, Tusk wrote an op-ed in German magazine Der Spiegel in which he sought to affect an image of principled defiance.
Tusk wrote: «Recent experience with Turkey shows that Europe must set clear limits to its concessions. We can negotiate money but never our values. We cannot impose our standards on the rest of the world. Equally, others cannot impose their standards on us. Our freedoms, including freedom of expression, will not be part of political bargaining with any partner. This message must be heard also by President Erdogan».
Despite Tusk’s tough talk, bargaining away European values is exactly what he and Merkel appear to be doing with Erdogan. The Turkish potentate is up to this eyes in sponsoring terrorism and a covert war of aggression in Syria, while cracking down on democratic freedoms within his own country and «imposing his standards» on Europeans – and yet Tusk and Merkel sheepishly close their eyes and shut their mouths over a catalogue of violations and war crimes.
European «leaders» like Tusk and Merkel are so desperate to put a stop to the refugee problem on their borders that they are fully prepared to appease Erdogan for any seeming short-term solution. Even though the «solution» means transgressing EU laws and pandering to a rogue regime in Ankara.
In his Der Spiegel article, Tusk also unwittingly reveals the deeper concern that motivates the tawdry liaison with Turkey. The real fear among the Brussels bureaucrats is the rise of anti-EU political parties who are capitalizing on public contempt for establishment politicians.
Given the refugee influx over the past year, Tusk writes: «Europeans experienced increasing helplessness and uncertainty, along with more or less justified fears about security, the ability to integrate newcomers in our societies and the social and financial implications of an unrestricted flow of migrants. This growing unease provided fertile ground for radical, populist, often nationalist sentiment. With surprising intensity, the debate became infused with apocalyptic prophecies and questions about the future of Europe».
Then the European Council president adds: «Stopping this dangerous trend was a change of paradigm».
The paradigm shift that Tusk and Merkel have personally overseen is the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey. At all costs, the deal must be implemented because, as Tusk infers, the very edifice of the EU is being challenged by a disaffected public and anti-EU parties who have gained in almost every member state – the latest being Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party in Austria who stunningly won the first round of presidential elections this week.
But the irony is that it is the EU’s own incompetent and unscrupulous top tier of politicians like Donald Tusk and Angela Merkel who are responsible for undermining the foundations of the very bloc that they claim to be upholding.
The crisis in the EU is a crisis of bankrupt politics espoused by unaccountable leaders who make decisions that are not at all serving the interests of their populations. These incompetent, unscrupulous and anti-democratic political leaders are the real enemy within. Their sordid liaison with despotic Turkey amid the background of a covert war of aggression on Syria is but one touchstone of the corrosive malaise.