Saturday

20th Apr 2019

Opinion

Ending the migrant deal with Turkey may save the EU

  • Bunting with the EU and Turkish flags. (Photo: dschenck)

It has been one year since Turkey and the European Union signed a migrant deal on Syrian refugees.

The controversial agreement has been effective in reducing the flow of Syrian and other refugees through Turkey, who aim to reach Europe.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

However, this particular deal has come at an incredibly huge political price for the EU and its member states, notably Germany.

From the agreement's inception, Turkey has been trying to use it as a card to exert political pressure against the EU, and has more than once threatened to call it off if it did not get visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in return.

However, this goes beyond the visa-free aspect.

Harsh rhetoric

In fact, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, feeling in a strong position, has been engaging in increasingly harsh rhetoric towards the EU and its member states.

In contrast, the EU and national officials from its member states have largely refrained from engaging in a verbal confrontation with Erdogan.

While European leaders do their utmost to save the migrant deal, the European public has increasingly come to perceive the deal as a lost case.

It is the inability of the EU institutions and European leaders to develop a workable alternative that has aggravated the public and has reduced the chances of the re-election of the current ruling governments.

In Germany and France, where elections will be held soon, far-right anti-EU parties have emerged - posing a serious threat to the political establishment.

With strong anti-EU agendas, the success of these parties is tied to the very future of the European Union.

Dutch elections

However, the Dutch election has brought some light into these gloomy prospects. For a long time prior to the Dutch elections this week, polls showed a tight race between Geert Wilders' far right (PVV) and the Liberal party (VVD) of the incumbent Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte.

Many observers in and outside Europe thought that Wilders had a serious chance of winning the elections. But, with less than a week before the elections, an unprecedented diplomatic row emerged between Turkey and the Netherlands - proving to be a game-changer in favour of Rutte.

What is interesting is that PM Rutte and his party, VVD, were strong supporters of the EU-Turkey migrant deal.

If they had lost the election, this particular point would have been one of the main reasons for it. But Rutte calculated that confronting Turkey would lift his party’s popularity at the expense of Wilders' party, who had demanded even more drastic measures against Turkey.

When Erdogan went as far as to accuse the Dutch of the mass murder of 8000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995, Rutte gave a strong but measured response. In doing so, Rutte showed that he could be tough, but - unlike Wilders - he can stay in control. This proved to be the right strategy.

The populist finals

Rutte referred to the Dutch elections as a "quarter-final" face-off against the “wrong populists’’, thus considering the upcoming elections in France and Germany as semi-final and final confrontations, respectively.

One of the strong cards in the hands of anti-EU movements across Europe has been the migrant crisis and the EU’s inability to develop an alternative plan to the deal with Turkey. The harsh rhetoric of president Erdogan and other Turkish officials has only added to the frustrations.

Rutte’s win shows that by standing up to Erdogan’s bullying, the establishment has a strong card to play against the populists, at least in the short-term.

Following the Dutch elections, internal party pressures in France and Germany will likely lead to calls to follow Rutte’s example.

However, one may argue that Rutte’s position was different, since the migrant deal was not directly at stake. Moreover, one may expect confrontations with Germany or France to be of a much larger magnitude.

Turkish confrontation

In spite of these points, French and German establishment parties may find at least two strong reasons to risk such confrontations with Turkey.

First of all, in light of the widespread public displeasure in Europe over Erdogan’s rhetoric, any diplomatic row and subsequent steps by Turkey to end the migrant deal will be easily defendable.

Secondly, should Turkey decide to end the deal, the EU has established physical barriers and has put mechanisms in place that would prevent another mass flow of refugees similar to that of 2015.

With the Dutch elections still fresh in mind, establishment parties in France and Germany may very well be tempted to copy the example of Rutte’s and, in doing so, may win the battle against the anti-EU parties.

If they manage to play their cards right - the end of the migrant deal may very well be the saviour of the European Union.

Zana Kurda is a researcher at the Institute for European Studies, Free University of Brussels.

Turkey-EU relations plumb new depths

Turkey’s EU quarrel escalated on all fronts over the weekend, amid fresh “Nazi” and “terrorism” jibes. “Not all Turks are little Erdogans,” Juncker said.

EU relieved by Dutch centre-right win

EU leaders breathe sigh of relief in phone calls and tweets after Dutch centre-right comes ahead of anti-EU party in "quarterfinal" elections.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us