A genuine Turkish bazaar took place last Sunday in Brussels during the meeting of the EU heads of state or government with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The horse-trading was about what it will cost the EU to stem of the flow of immigrants who pass through Turkey on their way to Europe. Finally the price was set at €3 billion, for a round number of two million Syrian refugees to be accommodated or rather held, sheltered and fed in Turkey. However, nobody seemed happy with the outcome of the negotiations.
Davutoglu observed that the €3bn will go to the Syrian refugees not to Turkey and preferred to put the emphasis of the agreement to “a historic re-energizing of the Turkish EU accession talks “. Francois Hollande the French President had a completely different story to tell about the agreement with Turkey. While prematurely leaving the meeting, in relation to the Turkish EU accession talks he said “nothing has changed, there is no reason to accelerate or delay it”.
Hollande focuses on refugees
Hollande also emphasized the obligations of Ankara to close its borders with Syria and contribute to a viable political solution in this country. This was a direct hint that Turkey should stop rejecting the role the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can play in a post civil war arragnment. Undoubtedly, the French President was adamant that the subject of the EU-Turkey meeting was the refugee problem and its repercussions. Obviously France, especially after the downing of the Russian war airplane by the Turks, doesn’t want to be seen as discussing an upgrade of the EU-Turkish relations. Lately, Moscow is quite choleric about whatever is related to Turkey and Europe knows it has to respect that.
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, speaking at the Press conference after the meeting, was not as clear as Hollande vis-à-vis Turkey. When summarizing the results of the negotiations, Tusk said “with today’s decision both sides committed to step up the tempo of the accession talks with the view to make progress but the benchmarks and the standards will remain the same”. Understandably, Tusk had to be more placating than Hollande with Turkey, because there were other EU member states, like Britain pressing hard for an acceleration of the Turkish EU accession talks.
Others think differently
It’s interesting though to further analyze what Tusk exactly said and when he said it. His final words at the very end of the Press conference were “…but the benchmarks and the standards will remain the same”. In this way, he reminded Davutoglu that all the Brussels reserves in relation to the Turkish EU accession talks are always there. No need to remind the reader, that Brussels is quite irritated with the downing of the Russian plane and the latest arrests of two prominent Turkish journalists. The Europeans clearly detest the overall undemocratic or even autocratic way the country is ruled by President Recep Tayip Erdogan.
Despite being a constitutionally non partisan head of state, Erdogan regularly oversteps his lawful role and actually rules the country as a party leader, which he is not any more. His war against the Kurds and his strategy to silence all vocal opposition, using the country’s police and judiciary structures quite arbitrarily, makes him an awkward interlocutor to Europe. That’s why the EU leaders, probably at the exception of the British premier David Cameron, do not want to be seen as yielding to his demands.
A difficult equation
Given all that Tusk had a very difficult task in conciliating the diverging European positions vis-à-vis Turkey. He knew that Brussels needs Turkey to stop the immigrant flows before crossing the borders of Europe. That’s why he emphasized that “Our agreement sets out a clear plan for the timely re-establishment of order at our shared frontier”. In short, Tusk asked Turkey to stop directing the refugee flows to the Greek borders in the Aegean islands and added that Europe is ready to pay €3bn for that.
It remains to be seen if Turkey will deliver her part of the deal and arrest the flow of refugees and immigrants coming through its Syrian borders, keep those who finally reach her soil there, and prevent them from travelling to Europe. The €3bn is meant to cover the cost of offering shelter to Syrian refugees and turn the other immigrants back. For most of the EU countries this is the meaning of EU-Turkey agreement signed last Sunday. Tusk had an obligation, mainly towards France, to also confirm that and to this effect he noted that the meeting was about creating in Turkey “a new Syrian Refugee Facility of €3 billion” and “stem the migration flow that is coming to the EU via Turkey”.