Turkey–EU deal not just about Syrians

Turkey–EU deal not just about Syrians

Where do we stand on the Turkey–EU deal? Will it succeed or fail?

First of all, it is still work in progress. There is an understanding on the general framework and now both sides are working on the details to make it concrete.

“The success of the deal depends on to what degree we can manage our disappointments,” one Ankara-based European diplomat told me. “On our side, we need to manage the disappointment that the number of illegal crossings from Turkey may not decrease immediately to the levels we desired.”

Indeed, Europe’s most urgent priority is to see an immediate drop in the numbers. In particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel needs to see concrete results in order to face down mounting criticism at home and also to convince other EU members on the merits of the deal, facilitating their contribution.

“The Turks, on the other hand, need to manage their disappointment about the fact that 3 billion euros cannot come as a check in one day,” said the same diplomat.

European officials in the Turkish capital tell me that part of the money has already been unlocked and - despite initial resistance from Turkey – Ankara has started to come forward with projects catering for the needs of Syrian refugees, such as health and education infrastructure.

Part of the money will also be dedicated to improving controls over the Aegean. Facing many threats at the same time - from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – the Turkish authorities have told their European interlocutors that they cannot dedicate all their security apparatuses to stopping illegal migration. 

That is one of the reasons why Turkey has accepted NATO’s presence in the Aegean to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions. While four ships belonging to NATO countries are already deployed in the Aegean, work is continuing in the Alliance’s headquarters to finalize the details.

There is also progress in intensifying cooperation at the bilateral level. Turkey and Germany, for instance, have signed joint declarations of intent regarding cooperation on migration, border police, human smuggling and the fight against terrorism.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s European allies are pressuring Ankara to change its visa regime with certain countries. Many migrants who are nationals of countries other than Syria and Iraq have been benefiting from visa-free travel to Turkey and using the Aegean for illegal crossings to Europe, according to European officials. Most are believed to be economic migrants rather than refugees. Although they come from many different countries, Moroccans seem to be high on the agenda and were even discussed during Merkel’s last visit to Ankara.

Turkish officials tell me, however, that the number of Moroccans whose whereabouts are not known after they entered Turkey is negligible.

It seems that the fact that Moroccans were among the prime suspects over the New Year’s Eve harassment attacks in Cologne pushed Merkel to bring this issue to Ankara’s attention.

Benefitting from the visa-free visit of 80,000 Moroccans every year, Turkey will probably drag its feet. The number is tiny compared to the nearly 30 million overall tourist arrivals in Turkey, but in view of the sharp drop among European and Russian tourists, Ankara would not want to jeopardize the arrival of other tourists - however small the number.

Work is also underway on how the Turkish government and the EU will work together for the latter to take Syrian refugees from Turkey and settle them in different European countries. While the Turkish government insists that European countries’ burden-sharing should not be limited to financial assistance, its reluctance contributes to the EU’s proposal to establish hotspots in Turkey where officials from both sides decide on the “fate” of the refugees. No doubt, reaching an agreement on the specifics of the issue will prove challenging.

These are issues on the agenda in the short term. In the medium term, work will continue on the implementation of the readmission agreement and other criteria that Turkey will have to fulfil in order to secure visa-free travel to Europe for Turks.