Red Line 'Nein' to Turkey’s E.U. Membership

German politicians are worried about E.U. leaders making too many concessions to Turkey in the refugee crisis. Many regard Ankara's demand for faster E.U. accession as unacceptable.
Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu at the summit on Tuesday.

Leading German politicians warned on Tuesday that Europe was on the verge of paying Turkey too much for its help in solving the refugee crisis and ruled out granting it full E.U. membership in the foreseeable future. Their reaction came as a clear "nein" to a key demand made by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at Monday’s summit.

“The European Union isn’t currently in a position to accept Turkey and Turkey isn’t ready to be accepted,” said German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the center-left Social Democrats.

At the summit, Mr. Davutoglu, well aware that Europe depends on Turkey to stop the refugee influx, demanded faster E.U. membership talks, quicker visa-free travel for Turks and a further €3 billion on top of the €3 billion agreed to so far to support Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The majority of migrants come to Europe via Turkey, which already is sheltering more than 2.7 million refugees from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Turkey’s demand for accelerated E.U. membership talks has met stiff resistance, especially among German conservatives who have consistently been opposed to the country joining the bloc.

E.U. leaders agreed in principle to Ankara's demands and welcomed Turkey’s offer to take back all migrants who cross into Europe from its soil. Under the proposal, which took the government heads by surprise on Monday, the E.U. would take in one Syrian refugee directly from Turkey for each one returned from Greece’s Aegean islands — a move designed to stop the illegal, hazardous migration of refugees to the E.U.

The 28 E.U. leaders ordered officials to thrash out details with a view to reaching a deal with Turkey at their next scheduled summit, on March 17-18.

"The Turkish proposal is a breakthrough, if it is implemented, to break the chain from getting into a boat to settling in Europe,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

But members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union party and their even more conservative Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, were decidely less enthusiastic.

The CDU had been hoping the summit would produce concrete results ahead of three important regional elections on Sunday in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt, where the party faces a possible backlash for Ms. Merkel’s open-door refugee policy.

Several politicians pointed out that the deal proposed by Turkey wouldn’t reduce the numbers of refugees coming to Europe and that the problem of how to distribute them among E.U. nations would remain.

Georg Nüsslein, a CSU lawmaker, said the proposed one-for-one refugee exchange with Turkey was “rather a change from illegal to legal migration, but presumably not a limit, which is the ultimate aim.”

Mr. Gabriel demanded that next week’s summit must reach a decision on the distribution of refugees among E.U. countries, which has been one of the main sticking points in the crisis. Eastern E.U. countries in particular are bitterly opposed to Ms. Merkel’s plan to distribute the number of refugees more evenly across Europe.

Turkey’s demand for accelerated E.U. membership talks has met stiff resistance, especially among German conservatives who have consistently been opposed to the country joining the bloc.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann of the CSU said Turkish E.U. membership was a “red line and that Turkey was “further than ever from fulfilling the entry criteria.”

Criticism of Turkey’s human rights record intensified last week when authorities seized control of the country's biggest newspaper, linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of plotting a coup.

The Italian government wanted respect for press freedom to be included in the final communique of Monday’s summit but it was dropped.

Diplomats said Ms. Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the rotating E.U. presidency, pressed hard for a deal on the Turkish plan on Monday but failed because central European states remained opposed to taking refugee quotas. In addition, Greece and Cyprus voiced conditions for Turkish E.U. accession talks.


Heike Anger is an editor for economics and politics. Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines. Frank Specht focuses on the German labor market and trade unions. Klaus Stratmann covers energy policy. To contact the authors: [email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected]