Tsipras visits Turkey a chance not be missed

Tsipras visits Turkey a chance not be missed

If there was something that became obvious last week during the Malta Summit on Migration between the EU and African countries, it was that Europe is still in a deep policy dilemma over its migration problem. 

The difference of approach between Merkel’s “open door” policy and that of Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has caused confusion and serious re-thinking over fundamental principles of the EU, like the Schengen Agreement.  The Malta Summit arrived at one important conclusion, at least in principle: that migration is a shared responsibility of the countries of origin, transit and destination. But everybody knows that the real problem is an implementation policy. There was also an Action Plan in Valletta, agreed upon by the leaders, to “address the root causes of irregular migration, to reinforce the protection of migrants and asylum seekers, to fight migrant’s smuggling and trafficking, and to work more closely on return, readmission and reintegration.” 

The Greek delegation headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and accompanied by Minister for Immigration Yannis Mouzalas put forward Greece’s particular problems. They underlined that the continuous flow of refugees arriving on the Aegean islands mainly from the Turkish coast have strained Greece’s already poor infrastructure at a time of its own deep economic problems.  The Greek side described its current impossible situation, before the rest of their EU partners. A video film prepared by the Greeks showing how a Turkish patrol boat escorts migrants from Turkish territorial waters to Greek territorial waters, was screened during the interior ministers meeting.  

The Greeks believe that the migrant flows should stop at Turkey where the identification procedures for migrants should take place in organized “hot spots.” By the way, this is also what Chancellor Merkel suggested to President Erdoğan on her last visit to Turkey just before the elections of Nov. 1.

"The Western world is dealing with the worst migratory crisis since World War II and has to look into the impact but also into the reasons why these people decided to leave their homelands,” said Tsipras in Malta. 

In that respect, the visit by Prime Minister Tsipras to Turkey this week is crucial for Greece. Tsipras will attempt to come to an understanding with Ankara for a different common approach to manage the migrant crisis. Greek government officials have stated on many occasions that there can be no effective solution on the migrant crisis without an EU-Turkey agreement and in that respect they are looking forward to the outcome of the special EU-Turkey summit on Nov. 29. 

An important point rto be put forward during Tsipras’ visit is the illegal migrant trafficking network, as Turkey has been seen as not doing enough to curb it. And a second point is the requirement that the resettlement of refugees in European countries will be done in Turkey. Of course, a sticking point is the demand by Turkeyto revitalize its dialogue with the EU and to have a series of chapters opened. These chapters have been blocked by Cyprus demanding the lifting of the embargo on Cyprus-flagged ships and aircrafts wanting to enter Turkish harbors or airspace. But according to some information on Cypriot media, the EU is working currently on a formula that may satisfy the Cypriot side. 

Another sticking point is the refusal by the Greek side to accept a suggestion by the European Commission for Greek and Turkish “joint patrols” in the Aegean to control the illegal migration.  It seems that the Greek side would now agree instead to a formula of “coordinated actions” which would bypass any misunderstanding on the open issues on the Aegean.  In spite all, though, the Greek prime minister is coming to Turkey with an approach of “all diplomatic channels open” with Turkey as the region is at the center of a three-tier crisis (economic, humanitarian and destabilization) and bilateral cooperation is a must.