Turkish-Greek tension might endanger EU migrant deal

Turkish-Greek tension might endanger EU migrant deal

The decision of the Supreme Court of Greece on Jan. 26 that rejected Turkey’s demand of the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers, who escaped to Greece on July 16, 2016 right after participating in the foiled coup attempt, will most likely start a new era of tension between Ankara and Athens. 

Turkey has taken two important steps right after the court’s verdict was announced. First, the Justice Ministry sent a second extradition request to Greece regarding the soldiers and second, the Foreign Ministry urged Greece that Turkey’s reaction will be very harsh and will include all fields of bilateral relationship, including the Readmission Agreement, to be cancelled. 

So, on the one hand, Ankara will continue to force Athens to find a way to reverse this judicial peril by renewing its demand, and on the other hand it is trying to show that its political consequences will be dire for Greece.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Jan. 27 that Ankara would take the “necessary steps, including possible annulment of the bilateral readmission agreement,” in response to the Greek court’s decision.

There are a number of reasons why Ankara feels so much anger about this verdict. The first is because these soldiers are not ordinary people seeking political asylum in a third-party country. They are seriously being accused of taking part in the country’s bloodiest coup attempt and of escaping to Greece in their military uniforms with a military helicopter. So, the Greek judicial move is interpreted that they are being protected by a neighboring NATO partner. 

Secondly, as Çavuşoğlu puts it, this decision is considered to be a politically driven one and not purely a judicial one.  “We have given all necessary evidence and documents to Greece. Therefore, this is a political decision and not judicial. With this verdict, Greece has now turned into a country protecting and supporting coup plotters and terrorists,” he said. 

Turkey’s reaction to the Greek court’s decision should be evaluated within this context; rejecting the extradition demand of eight fugitive troops who have taken part in the coup attempt that targeted to overthrow the Turkish government would receive the harshest reaction, and in current circumstances that would be canceling the bilateral readmission agreement with Greece. 

It should be noted that this agreement constitutes the legal backbone of the migrant deal between Turkey and the European Union that was brokered on March 18, 2016 that aimed to stem the flow of irregular migrants from Turkey to Greek islands. The deal says that for every Syrian migrant sent back to Turkey from Greek islands, one Syrian already in Turkey will be resettled in the EU. 

Given the fact that Turkey and the EU could not accomplish the Readmission Agreement (an in return visa liberalization for Turkish nationals) due to differences over the definition of terrorism, the cancellation of the Turkey-Greece agreement will make the implementation of the migrant deal impossible as the Greek government will no longer be able to send back Syrian refugees to Turkey. 

In the event of a new refugee inflow into Greek islands, the Greek government will find itself in a highly difficult position as no European countries will rush to its help, as proven in 2015 and early 2016. This also shows the fragility of the implementation of the migrant deal with the EU in the absence of a full-fledge Readmission Agreement between Ankara and Brussels.  

This fresh tension between Turkey and Greece will obviously make German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey on Feb. 2 much more important. Merkel’s number one agenda was already the migrant deal, but this new development will surely introduce a new and difficult dimension to it.