New migration deal won't be a reward to Turkey
“Multiculturalism is dead,” German chancellor Angela Merkel declared on October 16, 2010, in a speech addressing her fellow Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party members.
Merkel’s comment had come amid a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment washing across Germany.
Five years later, on August 25, 2015, Merkel said migrants and refugees were welcome in Germany, noting, “I’ll put it simply: Germany is a strong country…we can do this.”
Her comment came amid a wave of refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, fleeing war zones like Syria.
Merkel’s popularity took an immediate hit at home and abroad. The “Merkel must go” movement took off within her party. She failed to convince her European counterparts to take in more refugees, and on the contrary, they closed their borders more tightly.
It appears Germany was not that strong, not in terms of economy but in terms of its humanitarian values.
And who came to the rescue of Merkel? Turkey and its leadership is known to be not her favorite. The migration deal signed with Turkey in 2016 eased the pressure not only on Merkel but also on Europe.
Just like the controversial “multiculti is dead,” and the “we can do it,” statement haunted Merkel, who after five years since the latter statement has to tackle the migration problem, as she is currently the term president of the EU.
Yet, the pandemic has further complicated the problem while the deal with Turkey is due to expire on the transfer of the 2nd three-billion-euro tranche of the financial assistance expected to be completed in a year or two.
No one in Europe with some common sense can claim the deal did not work in the continent’s favor. It stopped the flow of refugees from the Aegean, while promises to Turkey, such as visa liberalization for Turkish nationals or the reactivation of Ankara’s membership talks, were not kept due to various reasons in both Ankara and Brussels.
Currently, the deal needs to be revamped, based on a new form of give and take. Resuming membership talks or upgrading the customs union are not popular options since they are seen as rewarding the governance of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Resettlement of refugees in EU member countries could not be realized since 2016, it has now become even more difficult as countries are closing borders due to the COVID-19.
A better and equal burden-sharing of additional financing towards Turkey among EU countries is also challenging as the pandemic is having devastating effects on their economies.
Yet, the pandemic is also having detrimental effects on the Turkish economy, which was already under heavy strain. The presence of four million refugees of which 3.6 million are Syrian will pose a heavier burden as Turkey will be struggling with the negative economic effects of COVID-19, which is why there is urgency in revisiting the migration deal.
Europe should help Turkey (and itself, of course) not just by providing financial assistance but also by adopting policies that can improve not only the lives of refugees but also the host communities in Turkey.
The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), which Turkey and all EU member countries, except Hungary, have signed, offers an ideal framework already to facilitate and revamp the deal, argues Başak Yavcan and Kemal Kirişci.
“The EU could extend preferential trade arrangements for Turkey, especially for goods and sectors with high refugee participation and grant concessions that would enable Turkey to expand its agricultural exports to the EU tied to the formal employment of Syrians,” stated two academics on their Brookings Institute policy paper.
Turkey’s customs union with the EU does not cover agricultural goods. Exports of fresh fruits and vegetables, together with the agricultural portion of industrially-processed agricultural goods, are taxed and face regulatory restrictions, such as quotas, recall the two experts.
Both the agricultural sector and industrial sector processing agricultural goods suffer from labor supply shortages, which is often filled by Syrian workers.
“For the EU, this plan would reduce the likelihood of refugees’ secondary movements and the need to keep raising funds for humanitarian assistance as refugees become more independent, funds that will likely be in even shorter supply amid a severe global economic downturn,” academics wrote.
Granting preferential trade to Turkey might not look realistic amid the current crisis in the eastern Mediterranean where the EU feels obliged to show solidarity with Greece and Greek Cyprus. But the refugee problem is here to stay, and such a move will not be a reward to Turkey but a win-win-win for Turkey, the EU and the refugees.