In defense of the EU-Turkey agreement

In defense of the EU-Turkey agreement

Angelo Santagostino
The EU-Turkey Brussels agreement on Nov. 29 has produced much more discontent than satisfaction in Turkey. Pundits and commentators have used strongly negative expressions ranging from a hypocritical and miserable European mentality according to which “nobody should take refuge in our pretty countries,” to others who more moderately feared a possible German tendency to select refugees, focusing on Christians and the more educated ones. A distinguished politician argued that the agreement was destined to turn Turkey into a concentration camp. 

By the way, it has to be said that in the EU countries the agreement has roused sharp critics by the far-right Eurosceptic and Europhobes on the ground that it is a kind of surrender to the demands/threats of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey: Pay or we will fill you with Syrian refugees. 

There is a more positive and constructive way to look at the agreement. Firstly, it is necessary to stress a clear separation between the readmission agreement and the visa lifting program on one side and the three-billion-euro facility on the other. In a few days the second anniversary of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement will take place. Signed on Dec. 16, 2013, by then-EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström and then-Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Güler, it was ratified on June 26, 2014, by the Turkish parliament. Its main objective was to establish procedures for the “rapid and orderly readmission, by each side, of the persons having entered or residing on the territory of the other side in an irregular manner.” In parallel with the implementation of this agreement, the EU-Turkey visa liberalization dialogue was launched. Since then, little or no progress has been made. For this very reason part of the Nov. 29 agreement read: “Both sides agree that the EU-Turkey readmission agreement will become fully applicable from June 2016 in order […] to complete the visa liberalization process.” Visa liberalization and the readmission agreement are thus the two sides of a coin minted in 2013. It is under the readmission agreement provisions that Turkey is committed to halting the irregular flow of migrants from its territory to the EU. Its conception precedes the refugee crisis.   

The three-billion-euro facility aims to manage this. It is an alternative to the walls, barriers and closed borders which are threatening one of the most relevant outcomes of European integration: The free circulation of people. The EU is committed to supporting Turkey’s efforts for the more than two million Syrians refugees in its territory. In return Turkey will change its laws in order to allow the Syrians to work regularly, as in Europe. Definitely it is a way to improve their lives. 

Actually, it is the lack of jobs which makes the lives of Syrians in Turkey hard and pushes them to the EU. Not only are jobs lacking but also education. More than half of the refugees are school-aged children, but only 14 percent have access to education. The facility also aims to address this problem. The recent proposal by Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş that Turkey was open to building new cities on its land and in safe zones in Syria has to be seen in the light of maintaining refugees near their homeland. This does not mean that Europe will become the fortress (much feared) that has never been. It means that the flow of refugees will have to be disciplined, according to principles that still have to be negotiated, with security as the main one. We thus come to the most incumbent problem. Terrorism comes from the sea; a bitter and scaring consideration. The investigations after the Paris massacre put forward the need to strengthen the security apparatus in that particular area stretching from the Balkans to Greece, a boiling crossroads, in earlier times used by smugglers, arms merchants and traffickers of humanity, and a corridor that leads to the Middle East through Turkey. 

Uncontrolled immigration and the fears accompanying it have devastating effects on minds. The sweeping victory of the Front Nationale in France’s regional elections measured the degree of how minds are affected by this fever. There is still time to avoid xenophobia being injected into political measures. The Nov. 29 agreement is a piece in this direction. 

*Angelo Santagostino is the Jean Monnet Chair ad personam of European Economic Integration at Yıldırım Beyazıt University.