EU-Turkey Migrants’ Deal on the Verge of Collapse: What Next?
Alex GORKA | 29.05.2016 | WORLD / Europe, Middle East

EU-Turkey Migrants’ Deal on the Verge of Collapse: What Next?

Turkey could make «radical decisions» and suspend all of its agreements with the European Union, warned Yigit Bulut, an advisor on economy to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. «Let them continue to apply double standards, let them continue not keeping promises made to Turkish citizens», he said, «But they should know that Turkey will make very radical decisions very soon as long as they maintain their attitude».

«Turkey could review all relations with the EU including the customs union deal», Bulut explained, «Readmission agreements, and all other deals could be suspended. Europe has to keep its promises».

In March Turkey concluded a deal with the EU to curb the flow of migrants in exchange for a series of incentives including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

The deal was largely negotiated by former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davotuglu, who quit over a rift with Mr Erdogan.

According to the agreement, Ankara is obliged to meet a list of 72 criteria by the end of June ranging from biometric passports to respect for human rights, including counter-terror laws. Changes to the legislation were among the conditions set by the EU. On May 12, the European Parliament made a decision to delay its discussion of the visa liberalization process for Turkish citizens for as long as Turkey fails to fulfil its benchmarks. On his part, President Erdogan has made clear that there will be no changes related to the anti-terror law provisions while the army is battling Kurdish militants in the southeast.

In recent weeks, Erdogan has stepped up his rhetoric toward Brussels. According to the Turkish President, Turkey's parliament will block the deal with the EU on migrants if Ankara does not gain visa-free access to the bloc – a key demand by Turkey in the March agreement.

Turkey formerly set the end of June as a deadline for the 28-member bloc to scrap visas for Turkish citizens, but sources in the EU said it is nearly impossible to meet the deadline.

On May 23, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, there might not be enough time for the deal provisions to be implemented. She expressed her «deep concern» over the state of democracy in Turkey and voiced doubt that a plan to offer Turks visa-free travel to the EU would be implemented on time. The Chancellor’s blunt comments came after the talks with Erdogan on the sidelines of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (May 23-24). The German leader said to Erdogan that a democracy needed «an independent judiciary, an independent press and a strong parliament».

Speaking at the close of the Summit, Mr Erdogan warned: «If that is not going to happen... no decision and no law in the framework of the readmission agreement [on migrants] will come out of the parliament of the Turkish Republic».

The bilateral relationship is going to worsen even further on June 2, when the German parliament intends to pass a resolution commemorating the 1915 genocide carried out by Turkey against Armenians. Germany is actually the leader of the European Union. The deterioration of the bilateral relations between Berlin and Ankara will inevitably impact the already troubled relationship between the EU and Turkey.

Concerns over the potential collapse of the deal with Ankara have reportedly prompted EU officials to consider a ‘Plan B’ – striking a similar deal with Greece, instead of Turkey.

The EU was right to postpone visa liberalization for Turkish citizens until Turkey fulfils its end of the migrant deal. But it is time to work out a viable ‘Plan B’ in case the deal falls apart, writes Solon Ardittis, Director of Eurasylum, a European research and consulting organization specializing in migration and asylum policy.

Ever since Turkey concluded the association agreement with the EU in 1963, it has been a kind of black sheep in the family. For instance, Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 greatly complicated the relationship with Europe. Today the ongoing war with the Kurdish nationalists in Anatolia is prosecuted brutally. In its opposition to Assad’s government in Syria, Turkey has effectively supported the Islamic State (IS), tolerating the dispatch of some supplies to it and denying the United States and its allies the right to use Turkish air bases as launching points for air strikes on it till last August. The issue of human rights violations has always been hot on the Europe-Turkey agenda. Here is the latest example – Turkey's parliament on May 23 adopted a highly controversial bill that would lift immunity for dozens of MPs. The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) fears the legislation is aimed directly against its lawmakers. The move could see dozens of HDP deputies facing criminal prosecution and losing parliamentary seats on accusations of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in the southeast.

Turkey has never come close to European standards of individual liberties or transparent government.

Europe struck a deal with an unreliable partner. One should face the reality – the chances are slight that the agreements with Turkey will work. The EU has to envisage a much more ambitious, viable and consensual set of measures to address a possible resurgence of the migrants’ crisis. It’s not Turkey only – there is a possibility of a new migratory front expanding in Libya. It is likely that a possible suspension of the EU-Turkey agreement would lead to both additional border control measures and stepping up on-going efforts by Frontex and NATO, including surveilling migrant boats as closely as possible to the Turkish coast and getting people safely off the boats at the start of their journey. The EU could make arrangements with the Persian Gulf countries on a EU-led global resettlement scheme.

In any case, the bloc’s decision to postpone the visa liberalization till Turkey fulfils its international commitments is the right thing to do. Otherwise, the Union will renounce the very foundation it’s built on.