Turkey’s move likely to shift balances within EU

Turkey’s move likely to shift balances within EU

In a pre-emptive move to counter possible pressure from European Union leaders during meetings in Brussels on March 7, Turkey has raised its offers and demands regarding the plan to secure control over the migration from Syria (and elsewhere) into the EU, thus reactivating Ankara’s relations with the EU.

The original plan was initiated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her Oct. 18 visit to Istanbul to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Tayyip Erdoğan, which ended in a four-point action plan announced at a joint press conference. The plan suggested the following: 

1) A 3-billion euro fund to hold Europe-bound migrants in Turkey.

2) Visa-free travel for Turkish citizens within the Schengen states simultaneous with the implementation of a re-admission agreement between Turkey and the EU. 

3) Reactivation of Turkey’s EU membership negotiations by opening up six new chapters, including those blocked by the Greek Cypriots. 

4) Inviting the Turkish government back to EU summits as a candidate country.

What Davutoğlu suggested during long and extended meetings on March 6 and 7 was to share Syrian refugees between Turkey and the EU for settlement and to apply the readmission agreement without distinguishing between migrants’ countries of origin, in return for another 3 billion euros, (Davutoğlu said every penny was to be spent on migrants, not on Turkey, under the EU auspices), visa-free travel before the term presidency of the Netherlands ends in June, and the opening up of at least one of the remaining five accession chapters (one was opened under Luxembourg’s presidency in December).

That apparently caught EU leaders, or at least some of them, off guard. 

There wasn’t even unanimous agreement within the EU on Merkel’s original plan. Despite her realistic efforts, some EU countries declined any agreement with Turkey that could reactivate Ankara’s practically frozen membership process. Central and Eastern European members specifically did not want any migrants at all, especially Muslim ones, and also had no idea how to stop them anyway - apart from some marginal politicians who went as far as to say that troops could open fire on them. 

It is worth keeping in mind that President Erdoğan’s leaked words from a meeting with EU leaders, in which he mooted not stopping immigrants and instead waving them on to the EU if Turkey’s demands are not met, might have been a factor in the diplomatic jostling. Another important factor, in the meantime, could have been an agreement within NATO for naval patrols in the Aegean Sea under German command and with the participation of Turkish and Greek warships. That might be seen as an indication of the sincerity of the Turkish-Greek cooperation against illegal migration, as underlined by the hosting of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the Aegean city of İzmir by Turkish PM Davutoğlu on March 8, only a day after Brussels meetings.

What Turkey was suggesting regarding the sharing of immigrants, particularly those illegally using or having used the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, appears to have pleased not only Merkel but also European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council head Donald Tusk. Welcoming the new plan, Juncker said they needed time to fix certain details and admitted there was no consensus among EU leaders over an agreement with Turkey. Nevertheless, Davutoğlu has announced the new date for a meeting with the EU leadership as March 18.

If the EU leadership cannot convince all EU leaders, it could mean fiasco for the union, with unpredictable consequences not only regarding the flow of immigrants. But if it does – perhaps even by activating majority-decision mechanisms - that could mean a shift in the inner-balances of the EU, with possible consequences on the flexibility of its decision-making bodies in the future. Again, the consequences of this would not be limited to the refugee problem.