At a joint EU-Turkey conference held in the Turkish city of Gaziantep on Saturday 23 April, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said that the European Union is planning to spend over one billion euros (about $1.12 billion) by July on projects to improve the living conditions of Syrian migrants in Turkey.
The agreement stipulated that Turkey should be given €3 billion. The payment dates are rather far off, stretching right up to 2019, but Ankara has managed to bypass formal procedures by way of an ultimatum. Before the conference in Gaziantep, Ankara warned EU leaders that it would stop implementing the migrant agreement if Brussels failed to fulfil its side of the bargain. The Turkish government’s dissatisfaction was caused by the absence of an acceptable payment schedule as well as a step-by-step plan to unfreeze Turkey’s application to join the EU and abolish the visa regime.
The EU’s rapid response to Ankara’s ultimatum clearly demonstrates the nature of relations between the EU and Turkey today, and the verbal packaging of the decision to allocate one billion euros as soon as possible is no less revealing. Tusk considered it necessary to flatter Erdogan, stating that «today Turkey is the best example for the whole world on how we should treat refugees». The European Council president added, «no one has the right to lecture Turkey what you should do. I am very proud that we are partners. I am absolutely sure that we will succeed. There is no other way».
The latter remark should have been particularly pleasing to those European organisations and politicians who have been increasingly sounding the alarm with regard to the authoritarian nature of the Turkish regime, the closure of independent media outlets in Turkey, and the persecution not only of Turkish journalists, but European ones as well.
But that is not all, however. If the European Union is hoping to buy off Ankara with a billion euros, then it is sadly mistaken. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stressed that «the issue of the visa waiver is vital for Turkey». There is little doubt that Brussels will agree to this too, even at the expense of destabilising the situation in EU countries. The regional elections in Germany and the first round of the presidential elections in Austria have shown what European voters think about the policies that are turning Europe into Turkey’s hostage.
And while Tusk, Merkel and Timmermans are welcoming Turkey’s «efforts» to resolve the refugee problem, the Balkan route used by refugees to reach Europe from Turkey has not only not ceased to exist, but has been enriched by a new branch through Bulgaria. «The smuggling of people into Central Europe is still flourishing... In addition to the Mediterranean route, which has been used by thousands of refugees to reach Italy, an alternative route has appeared in the Western Balkans: it goes through Turkey (sometimes Greece) to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria», writes the Austrian newspaper Die Presse.
Reporting on the launch of the migration agreement with Turkey, the European Commission refers to a reduction in the number of refugees being detained in the waters of the Aegean Sea. Balkan countries have their own explanation for this fact, however. They say that the route for refugees coming from Turkey has changed. «The Balkan route is not closed, the smuggling networks have once again been revived», notes Rados Djurovic, director of the Asylum Protection Centre in Belgrade. Serbian sources have been quoted by the Austrian media as saying that, «with the help of people smugglers, most are coming to Serbia through Bulgaria, with some even coming through Macedonia» in order to proceed further to Hungary, Austria and other EU countries.
Is it any wonder that the candidates of both parties that have shaped the face of Austria in the post-war decades, the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party, suffered a crushing defeat in the first round of the country’s presidential elections? Winning just 11 percent of the vote, they lagged far behind Norbert Hofer of the Freedom party (with more than 36 percent of the vote), a man who has very little fellow feeling for Turkey. «The refugee crisis was a predominant theme» in the Austrian elections, notes the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher, stating that «the first round of the elections for the right to enter Hofburg Palace has literally stunned Austrian politics».
Will the secret plan that Ankara is hatching for Europe not lead to similar shocks?