The EU-Turkey refugee plan benefits both sides

The EU-Turkey refugee plan benefits both sides

At the EU-Turkey summit on March 7, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu surprised the EU member states with a plan which would commit Turkey to readmit all migrants crossing onto Greece’s islands from its territory. Under the plan, for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU. Some member states opposed this plan because they are not willing to host additional refugees. However, if there is a clear message that no one crossing the Aegean Sea illegally will have the opportunity to remain in the EU, then it is highly probable that all but a very few will be discouraged from taking this risky route. As a consequence, the number of Syrian refugees currently in camps in Turkey who will be resettled in the EU is expected to be very low. In addition, the plan could also function even if some EU countries decide not to participate in this resettlement plan. Independently from this plan, the EU could, and should, show a commitment to resettling further refugees from Turkey. However, in order to address the concerns of the growing number of EU citizens who oppose significant numbers of immigrants in their countries, most refugees could be granted temporary residence permits, obliging them to return to Syria should a normal life in the country become possible again. Such a step could curb the success of anti-immigration parties across the EU. For instance, at a local council election in the central German region of Hesse, the anti-immigration party Alternative für Deutschland ranked third place. 

The plan is also beneficial for Turkey. Beyond the 6 billion euros of financial aid for the support of the refugees in Turkey (double the amount of what had been agreed to at another EU-Turkey summit in November 2015), Ankara is asking for the abolition of the EU visa duty on its citizens and a revival of the accession process. Some media in the EU have described these demands as too high a price to pay. However, the reality is that these demands merely reflect the current agenda. The EU and Turkey started a visa liberalization process in December 2013. It was agreed that once Turkey fulfilled the benchmarks of this visa liberalization roadmap, the EU would lift the visa duty for Turkish citizens. This process may now be considerably accelerated, but nevertheless, it is based on previous agreements.  

Similarly, the accession talks with the goal of full membership started in 2005. Therefore, a revival of the stagnating accession process represents a return to a commitment given more than a decade previously, rather than a complete change in direction in Turkey’s favor. Some argue that upgrading Turkey’s relationship with the EU is undeserved due to Ankara’s (increasing) deviation from the EU’s political values. However, from the EU viewpoint, the opening of new negotiation chapters will allow it renewed influence on Turkish domestic politics.

Another EU summit on March 17-18 will decide whether the plan suggested by Davutoğlu will be adopted. A deal would be beneficial for both sides, the EU and Turkey. In addition, many refugees could also improve their situation due to improved standards and rights in Turkey - and due a legal option to reach the EU.  

*Assoc. Prof. Dr. Alexander Bürgin is Jean Monnet chair and associate professor at the İzmir University of Economics.