Merkel had it her way with the refugees & immigrants but can Greece and Turkey deliver?

Alexis Tsipras, Greek Prime Minister (on the left) and Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor walk together in the room where the EU heads of state or government met Ahmet Davutoğlu, Prime Minister of Turkey, for the working session to agree the terms of the EU-Turkey cooperation. The two leaders have almost the same pensive gaze and mood. Merkel probably ponders if she can trust the Greek to fulfill the obligations he has undertaken and Tsipras seems skeptical about the abilities of his country’s government agencies to deliver. Brussels, Friday 18 March 2016. (EU Audiovisual Services).

Alexis Tsipras, Greek Prime Minister (on the left) and Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor walk together in the room where the EU heads of state or government met Ahmet Davutoğlu, Prime Minister of Turkey, for the working session to agree the terms of the EU-Turkey cooperation. The two leaders have almost the same tired and pensive gaze and aspect.  Brussels, Friday 18 March 2016. (EU Audiovisual Services).

Early in the morning of 7th March, ahead of the first meeting in the series of the latest traumatic gatherings of the 28 EU leaders with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, this newspaper argued that the EU had to prove on that day it could remain in one piece. This didn’t happen then. Last Friday though, Europe and Turkey, after another convention of that kind, said they concluded a deal to solve the deadlock and save the cohesion of the EU.

The target is of course to solve the impasse caused by the refugee and immigrant flows which until this date ran freely from the Aegean shores of Turkey to the Greek islands. Then, through the Balkan corridor, the refugees and immigrants had been pouring freely into central Europe and more so to Germany. Last month though, this corridor is now closed and thousands of refugees are stuck in Greece. Last Friday the 28 and Davutoglu said they found a solution. Let’s see if this is true.

Is it legal and doable?

Unfortunately, the solution found will neither be a collectively shared nor a painless one. It’s not shared, because it doesn’t bind all EU members. A number of them will keep their borders closed. Some of them will also opt out from the obligation to accept significant numbers of refugees on their soil. Neither is the deal a straightforward one regarding the implementation particulars. Even Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor who was the driving force behind last Friday’s agreement said, “I have no illusions that what we agreed today will be accompanied by further setbacks. There are big legal challenges that we must now overcome.”

What is it exactly?

In general terms Last Friday’s deal between the EU and Turkey contains the following terms or rather targets:
*All the irregular migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who as from yesterday Sunday 20 March sail illegally from Turkey’s Aegean shores, cross the sea and land on the Greeks islands will be returned to Turkey. Such returns will start from 4 April but those who are already in Greece will remain there. All those tens or even hundreds of thousands of people will be officially dealt with individually and all relevant decisions will be personalized.

*Concerning the Syrians to be turned back to Turkey from Greece, the EU is obliged under the deal to directly accept from Turkey an equal number of Syrians for resettlement in the Union, on a one to one basis. Participation of the EU member states in this resettlement arrangement is not compulsory.

*Turkey will be urgently receiving the initial €3 billion Brussels have promised some weeks ago and another €3bn up to 2018.

*Talks will start immediately so as, in the face of it, from this June, all Turkish citizens wishing to go to the EU will be travelling without a visa. However, there is a ‘catch 22’ in this term, because Turkey should first fulfill a long list of 72 criteria.

*Last but not least, the procedure of EU membership talks with Turkey should be speeded up, ‘ma not troppo’. Only Chapter 33 of the ‘book’ of full membership, referring to state budget policy, will be opened for negotiations. All the other five important chapters that Turkey asked to be unlocked will remain blocked by Cyprus.

Turkey eyes only the money

In total, the agreement contains some very difficult to implement terms and a lot of money for Turkey. As for the demands for visa free travels to the EU for all Turks, and the speed up of full membership negotiations, it seems that Ankara had listed these demands purely in exchange for cash. The 72 prerequisites for visa free traveling and the opening of just one chapter of the book of full membership mean that Turkey will remain in reality as distant from Europe as is now the case. And this, despite what Davutoglu said last Friday that “Today we realized that Turkey and EU have the same destiny, the same challenges and the same future.” The Turks are famous for being very liberal with words but stingy with deeds.

Better than no agreement

In any case, the agreement is better, compared to no…agreement. As noted above, the implementation will be a herculean task mainly for the famously unorganized and ineffective Greek public services. For one thing, the deal demands individual assessment of the position of all and every refugee or immigrant before being sent back to Turkey from the Greek islands.

A conservative estimate about the labor force needed for such an operation is around 4000 made up of competent police and government agents. Understandably, a number of EU member states and Brussels will support Greece financially and with experienced operatives in this task. However, the whole thing will be organized by the Greeks, a not at all promising reality.

Mind you, that this system was supposed to be in place as from yesterday Sunday 20 March. From that date onwards all arrivals must be thoroughly assessed individually. The returns to Turkey will start after a few days, on 4 April. On this last date, the resettlement of Syrian refugees directly to Europe from Turkey are also expected to begin. This means that the Turkish police and other government agencies should create another equally effective and massive mechanism to individually deal with every case of irregular refugee or immigrant.

Which Syrians will gain Europe?

To be reminded, that for every Syrian the Greeks will be delivering to Turks, the EU will receive an equal number of them. At that point there is a very dark spot, regarding which Syrians will be eligible for that and how they are to be chosen in order to be relocated directly from Turkey to the promised land of the willing EU countries. A lot of obscure factors may intervene in this affair.

Frictions may arise also from the prospect of the much needed close cooperation between the Greek and the Turkish government services. The two countries for decades do not have the best relations, due to grave differences regarding the Aegean Sea borders and their air space. Turkey has raised claims on a number of uninhabited Aegean islands.

Add to that the Cyprus problem and the two nations may at any moment find themselves on the brink of a serious conflict. Not to count the fact that the solution of the Cyprus problem has been directly implicated in the realization of Friday’s agreement. Nicosia vetoed a number of important Turkish demands.

Remaining afloat

All in all, the agreement struck last Friday in Brussels between the EU and Turkey seems to be just a ‘road map’ to where the two sides want to go. The detailed operational procedures are to be developed on the spot and this may create insurmountable problems. Unquestionably, the success or failure of the entire thing will be decided in the narrow sea waters between the Turkish shores and the Greek islands. Remaining afloat in these rough seas is not an easy task. A lot of unfortunate refugees and immigrants have learned that the hard way by going under.

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