Refugee Crisis Turkey Doesn't Hold the Answer

The European Union hopes Turkey holds the key to helping it deal with the refugee crisis, but the author argues that giving the Turkish government more money will not stop people trying to reach Europe.
Turkey’s actions under its authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are a cause of major concern.

Now Turkey wants an extra few billion euros for its cooperation. Is that reasonable, or is it overdoing things?

There was already speculation at the recent European Union Summit Conference that Turkey would be asking for €3 billion ($3.3.billion) annually – initially for a period of five years - so a total of €15 billion. And the sum being demanded now will surely not be the last installment. Because Turkey has become an essential player in the European bid to solve the acute refugee crisis.

Indeed, Turkey’s proposals to take back illegal migrants could well be a breakthrough on the path to an overall European solution to the crisis. But, in the mid-term, they could also prove to be a useful instrument for political blackmail.

Because it is a fault in the structure of European-Turkish discussions to link practical cooperation in the context of the migration crisis and political questions like the easing of visas or even E.U. entry. That can only incite political greed.

A government that took critical journalists out of circulation shortly before the meeting with the European Union, thus insulting its European partners, can also be expected in the future to try and humiliate its partners. Turkey’s actions under its authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, can only be anticipated to a certain extent.

Anyone who believes that the Europeans could delegate the migration problem with the help of €3 billion, €4 billion or perhaps even €10 billion is being unrealistic. The attraction of the European continent will remain for a while yet. And that is why the crisis has to be tackled at its roots, namely in the countries of its origin on the other side of the Mediterranean. To prevent people from trying their luck in Europe, they need perspectives in their homeland apart from peace, such as jobs, health care and civic liberties. And this is where the European Union will need new ideas in the coming years.

The Europeans shouldn’t make the mistake of falling for Mr. Erdogan’s tactics aimed at speeding up E.U. entry for Turkey.

Turkey currently has 2.7 million refugees from Syria inside its borders. These will not return to their homeland voluntarily until the war is over and reconstruction begins. But time will pass before all that happens – too much time unfortunately. That Ankara wants to be paid for this – something the international community has partly brought on itself by looking the other way for too long – is not surprising. Europe can pick up these checks: It has to.

But the Europeans shouldn’t make the mistake of falling for Mr. Erdogan’s tactics aimed at speeding up E.U. entry for Turkey. It would be a cheap move for him to try and maneuvre E.U. entry discussions out of the one-way street, where they find themselves after 10 years of negotiation. While a certain influence can be brought to bear to the negotiations with Turkey in terms of civic rights, an independent justice system and press freedom, Europe’s citizens cannot escape from the impression that politicians are playing down the problems of Turkish membership of the European Union.

Indeed, the whole debate – with or without refugee crisis – is neither open nor honest. Yes, the country is, apart from migration problems, an immensely important partner of the European Union. That is both geo-strategically and economically the case, and as a NATO ally in terms of security policy, too. But that is no reason for Turkey to become a full member of the European Union.

The European family is already in chaos. As a result of various kinds of problems and increasing numbers of new, unilateral initiatives, it is hardly possible to manage; the refugee crisis is proof of this. The new arrival of a country with a population of 75 million people of Muslim faith would shift the balance of the European Union to an extent that its functionality would be threatened.

Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, emphasized in Brussels that he wants a new era of relations with the European Union. Play-acting honesty can be no part of that. It has to lead to a new dynamic and a real dialogue - one that eventually brings about an exit scenario from negotiations with Turkey about full E.U. membership.

However, cooperation based on trust, which both sides are striving for in terms of refugee policy, can only start with the development of innovative ideas about how an exceptional partnership could be structured to benefit both sides. If it did, the German Chancellor would have a clear answer to the question of whether she was still opposed to Turkey’s E.U. membership as she was in the past, and the answer is yes.

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