Merkel knows Erdoğan means what he says
The alleged minutes of a conversation about the Syrian refugee flow between Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Juncker have appeared in the Turkish media, quoted from Greek websites where they first appeared.
In sum, during the conversation, which took place during the G-20 Summit in Antalya last November, Erdoğan told Juncker and Tusk that they should be grateful that the Turkish government is still trying to hold the Syrian refugees in Turkey. He said he hoped that the EU would share the responsibility - following an earlier visit in October by German Chancellor Angela Merkel - otherwise Turkey could hire buses and help the refugees make their way over the border into EU countries.
Perhaps the leaker’s intention was to show how arrogant Erdoğan was in his dealings with EU officials, thus showing how disturbing Turkish demands can be for European ears. But in Turkey it worked the other way around. Many Turks apparently agree with Erdoğan, believing that this is the right way to deal with “Western hypocrisy.” That is particularly the case as EU officials, who up until a few weeks ago were asking Turkey to seal its border with Syria, have now started to ask Ankara to reopen it after a new refugee wave piled up on the border following the recent Russia and Iran-backed Syrian army advance on Aleppo.
Erdoğan confirmed his words leaked in the minutes on Feb. 11 during a public speech in Ankara. “There is nothing in there that I’m ashamed of,” he said. On the contrary, he said the minutes confirmed that Turkey is doing the right thing. Erdoğan also confirmed the bus angle - after all, what is stopping Turkey from waving goodbye to the refugees as they travel on to EU countries?
Erdoğan also suggested to Junker and Tusk that the EU could do little to stop the refugees, other than closing the EU’s border to migrants, (which is the opposite of what some EU officials are demanding of Turkey right now). He asked whether the EU would open fire on the refugees in order to stop them from entering their countries, or sink their boats. Therefore the most rational way to solve the problem is to come to terms with Turkey in order to bring the situation under control, so that fewer refugees reach the EU and in turn Turkey gets closer to the EU.
Merkel knows Erdoğan well enough to realize that he means what he says. That is why she suggested to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during her visit to Ankara on Feb. 8 that NATO should work with Turkey to secure better control of illegal migration into the EU. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte joined them on Feb. 10 during Davutoğlu’s visit to The Hague. NATO defence ministers have now approved a plan to send a mission under a German commander to the Aegean Sea, which is shared by Turkey and Greece. The Aegean is also the only route that the Russian Black Sea fleet has to support its continued military presence in Syria.
This complex situation is why Merkel is trying to convince the Greek Cypriot government to lift its veto on the opening up of EU membership negotiation chapters with Turkey. She knows that solving this situation is vital for the future of the Union.
In the end, it seems that the Syrian crisis might surprisingly get Turkey closer to the EU.