The consequences of the Turkey-EU refugee deal

The consequences of the Turkey-EU refugee deal

The framework deal agreed to between the Turkish government and the European Union on March 18 in Brussels might have dramatic consequences, not only for European politics but also Middle Eastern politics.

According to the deal, Turkey and Greece will immediately start working together to stop illegal immigration into Europe via the Aegean Sea, one of the main illegal immigration routes. Turkey has agreed to readmit illegal migrants leaving its shores to Greece after March 20, as of the beginning of April, in coordination with the United Nations. Immigrants from Syria will stay in Turkey and the rest will be sent to their own countries, again in coordination with the U.N. The cost of the operation will be covered by the EU, which will provide a budget of 6 billion euros (by the end of 2018) for facilities in Turkey for the Syrian refugees.

As part of the deal, Turkish citizens will be granted visa-free travel within Schengen member countries, and another negotiation chapter (on financial and budgetary provisions, not under Greek Cypriot veto) will be opened by the end of June.

The agreement has demonstrated there is a new set of balances within the EU, where a new set of legal conditions have been improvised - like the status of refugees - when necessary.

It also means a comeback for Turkey in European politics, after a distancing of five years since the beginning of the Arab Spring. This agreement itself doesn’t mean the EU is ready to take Turkey in as a member, but it is clearly a reactivation of previously practically frozen relations. Despite criticism from a number of European leaders - including French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who actually orchestrated this whole process - that the agreement would provide no “discount” for the situation of rights and freedoms in Turkey, the locomotive countries were not able to overcome the Greek Cypriot veto over the opening of two chapters on the judiciary and freedoms.

But the move is likely to have an impact on the political situation in the Middle East, especially the crisis in Syria. Following the cease-fire agreement in Geneva sponsored by the U.S. and Russia, the Turkey-EU deal provided the second solid step towards healing the wounds of the ongoing Syrian civil war. Now, for the first time, a step has been taken about the future of Syrian immigrants if and when the civil war ever ends.

The first initiative about such an agreement was taken by Merkel during her visit to Istanbul on Oct. 18, 2015, when she met Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Tayyip Erdoğan. Davutoğlu expanded the agreement to a wider perspective during a meeting on March 7 in Brussels, which was taken as the basis of yesterday’s agreement.

Last week, a ranking Turkish source had told the Hürriyet Daily News that if an agreement was reached with the EU and an implementation agreement with Greece was signed then the illegal immigration chain into Europe via the Aegean Sea could be “broken in a week, at most 10 days.”