Monday

23rd Sep 2019

Turkey raises price on EU refugee deal

  • Syrian refugees in Germany, which expects up to 1 million asylum claims this year (Photo: iom.int)

Turkish negotiators are asking the EU to pay €3 billion a year in bilateral aid in return for cooperation on slowing the flow of refugees, according to a senior EU diplomat familar with the talks.

“First, we offered €1 billion [in aid]. Then we offered €3 billion. Now the Turks have put a figure of €3 billion per year on the table in return for their agreement on the Action Plan”, the contact said, referring to a European Commission blueprint on joint refugee control measures, published on 16 October.

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  • Erdogan (l) with Juncker, who said no use to 'harp on' about rights (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

A second EU source noted that visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU has become a red line for Ankara in the ongoing talks.

“They’re insisting on this, even though it’s very unpopular in some EU capitals”, the source said.

For its part, the Commission has also delayed, until after Turkey’s parlimentary elections on 1 November, its annual progress report on Turkey’s compliance with EU norms.

Four EU contacts said the publication, which normally takes place in October, is now expected on 5 November instead.

“I’d say the 5 November date for the enlargement package is 85 percent certain. But it could still change”, one of the contacts noted.

Leaked report

The Reuters news agency, on Wednesday (October 28), published excerpts from a leaked draft of the text.

It said the draft predates a visit to Ankara, on 18 October, by German chancellor Angela Merkel and that the critical language may be toned down in the final document.

The draft text accuses Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of cracking down on press freedom and judicial independence.

It refers to adoption by Ankara over the past year “of key legislation in the area of the rule of law, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly that ran against European standards”.

It adds that the situation on judicial independence “has been backsliding since 2014.”

"The independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers have been considerably undermined and judges and prosecutors have been under strong political pressure”.

The crackdown continued on Wednesday, when police and firemen stormed the studios of two Erdogan-critical broadcasters - Bugun TV and Kanalturk.

The operation came after a judge in Ankara, on Monday, ruled that the Koza Ipek group, which owns the TV channels, should be taken over by a government panel because it's linked to the “Gulen terrorist organisation”, referring to Fethullah Gulen, an anti-Erdogan religious leader based in the US.

The New York-based NGO, Human Rights Watch, said the events amount to an attempt to “muzzle critical media” and demonstrate “deep contempt for human rights”.

EU silence

EU institutions, in the context of the refugee talks, at first declined to criticise Ankara’s actions.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, told MEPs on Tuesday: “We can harp on about that but where is that going to take us in our discussions with Turkey?”.

His spokesman, Alexander Winterstein, said: “We don’t comment on these internal developments”.

He later claimed the Turkey rights report was “not postponed”, but said the Commission is waiting for “the right moment” to publish the text.

Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for the EU foreign service, on Wednesday, did voice criticism on Bugun TV and Kanalturk.

She said the crackdown is “a cause of concern … worrying”.

But internal EU sources say the mood in Brussels is to be as lenient as possible.

“We’re dressing the Christmas tree with presents”, one contact said.

“It’s not that Erdogan asked the Commission to keep silent. It’s self-censorship: The EU institutions, along with some EU capitals, are competing with each other on who can give the most to Ankara and who can do the most to solve the refugee crisis”.

Referring to Turkey’s €3 billion a year demand, the contact said Erdogan is operating a “protection racket”.

“It’s a classic protection racket. First you give €1 billion and they say it’s not enough. Then €3 billion and they come back and say: ‘Now you have to pay more’.”

“They’re in a position where they can open or close the sluice gates [on refugee arrivals] to put pressure on the EU for extra concessions”.

Another EU contact noted the leniency is linked to the gravity of the crisis.

“Just listen to EU leaders’ recent remarks. Listen to Merkel. They’re saying the euro crisis was nothing compared to this. The scale of the refugee arrivals poses an existential threat to the EU”.

Third elections?

The new Turkish elections come after Erodgan’s AKP party failed to secure a majority in a previous vote in June due to gains by the reformist and pro-Kurdish HDP party.

Opinion polls indicate that if the 1 November vote is free and fair, the AKP will fail again, however.

“We may see a third election before the process ends”, the senior EU diplomat said.

Turkey is currently hosting almost 2 million Syrian refugees.

But it is letting some 10,000 of them a day go past border guards on the Aegean coast and on its land borders with EU states en route, via Greece and the Western Balkans, to Austria and Germany.

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