Is Turkey’s European history coming to an end?
The accusation by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey that Germany perseveres in “Nazi practices,” after a Turkish minister was forbidden from campaigning in Germany, is the latest instance in the perennially tense bilateral relation between Turkey and Europe. The incident also happens to take place one year after the European Union struck a landmark refugee deal with Ankara. With hindsight, the pact may come to be regarded as the endpoint of Turkey’s European history: the moment when Ankara’s political relations with Europe reached their final evolution.
Throughout this past year, the deal has suffered condemnation and setbacks. Its stated goal was to stop the flow of hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants and asylum seekers that until early 2016 had crossed the Aegean Sea to reach Europe along the so-called Balkan route. As Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, unambiguously put it six months after the accord’s inception: “We need to confirm – politically and in practice – that the Western Balkan route of irregular migration is closed for good.” Human rights organizations have questioned the pact on the ground that it provides for the return of refugees to a country, Turkey, where they may not be safe, and thus be in breach of the Geneva Conventions. The deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey under Erdogan, especially in light of the ruthless crackdown that followed the attempted coup in July 2016, has similarly raised questions about the Faustian character of Europe’s choices.
That perception is heightened by the ancillary parts of the deal. Europe agreed to disburse to Turkey € 6 billion for the returning refugees and it promised to advance negotiations for visa-free travel of Turkish citizens to Europe. The EU had always been weary of conceding on this demand, in fear that visa-free travel would lead the European labor market to be flooded by young Turks looking for a job. The chilling irony of pairing that concession as part of a deal which concomitantly blocs the arrival of thousands of desperate individuals looking for safety can be hardly missed. A flurry of European proposals have since been tabled, taking the EU-Turkey pact as a blueprint for future deals with sub-Saharan countries and Libya.
The power balance in the bilateral relation has dramatically shifted as a result of this accord. With the prospect of a full Turkish EU membership receding, visa-free travel to Europe is the highest prize in Ankara’s eyes, and Europe’s most valuable bargaining chip. Keenly aware of the high stakes, the Turkish leadership has displayed a heavy dose of brinkmanship. Week in and week out, Erdogan threatens to renege the deal if Europe doesn’t deliver on its visa promises. The strategy is reminiscent of the stunts that the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya performed a decade ago, when he was party of a similar migrant deal to the one Turkey has obtained now.
SOURCE: Fabrizio Tassinari
The Huffington Post