Last Saturday we learned from his own lips that the President of the European Council Donald Tusk has “thick skin”. Of course, people who follow the political day-to-day of the Council already knew it. Tusk made this statement last Saturday from Turkey, a country where thick skin politicians are in abundance. The President of the Council confessed that when asked by a journalist, about the appalling reality of the Press freedom in Turkey. Very probably he had in mind, the “thick skin” of the rulers of that country, when criticized for their aggression against the critical Press.
Apart from the long years of the oppressive action of the Turkish government against the Press – tens of journalists are imprisoned, all of them intimidated and some are murdered – the rulers of Ankara have lately requisitioned newspapers and TV channels which oppose their totalitarian governance. Generally, imposed self censorship or other more effective methods of it, are now standard in the Turkish Press community.
Freedom of Press and the rights of refugees
In many ways, the situation in the Press was last week the most important issue raised during the visit of three European leaders in Turkey, despite the poor coverage in the Press. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk and the First Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans went to Turkey last Saturday.
In the face of it, they went there to examine the state of affairs in the refugees and immigrants camp in Gaziantep, a city of 1.5 million near the western Syrian borders. This EU financed camp is conveniently placed near Syria, in order to facilitate the willing or forced return of refugees to their home country.
‘Order’ reigns in the camp
Of course, the three European leaders found that everything was in order in the refugee camp. Tusk however was quite ‘impressed’ with the ‘order’ he found in the camp. Seemingly, he was the best placed of the three to undertake the flattering work to please the Turkish hosts. He said “…today Turkey is the best example for the whole world on how we should treat refugees. No one has the right to lecture Turkey what you should do.”
It’s an open secret that Turkey for a year now has been blackmailing the European Union by controlling the flows of refugees and immigrants in an effective way. The world has been watching hundreds of thousands of people crossing the narrow Turkish sea straights to the Greek islands. Thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Iranians and many Africans were until recently crossing every day the deathly waters of the Aegean. From the day that the EU agreed to pay €6 billion to Turkey in order to keep those unfortunate people in its soil, the flows have practically dried.
Turkey wants more
Turkey however, has found the opportunity to extort more from the EU. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the country’s Prime Minister didn’t hide his intentions. He has repeatedly stated that, if the EU doesn’t open its borders to Turkish citizens, the arrangement for the refugees will collapse. Evidently, he means that in such an eventuality, the free flow of refugees will resume. If this is not a straightforward blackmail, words have lost their meaning. Mind you there is already a settlement, that the EU and Turkey would conclude this June the final arrangements for the Turks to travel and stay for 90 days in the EU (Schengen Area), without needing the prior issuance of a visa.
In relation to that, Tusk stated last Saturday that “It also includes an accelerated roadmap for visa liberalisation. The way I see it, Turkey has made good progress ahead of decisions to be taken this summer, provided that Turkey meets all the agreed benchmarks”. Nevertheless, judging from the easiness that the EU decided to drop the visa requirement for the Ukrainians, the Turks also may soon start packing for Europe.
Opened for the Ukrainians
On 20 April an EU Press release stated: “The European Commission is today proposing to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to lift visa requirements for the citizens of Ukraine by transferring Ukraine to the list of countries whose citizens can travel without a visa to the Schengen area”. To be reminded that last December, the Commission confirmed Ukraine as having successfully met all benchmarks under the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.
Understandably, the same procedure will be followed for Turkey but this may take many months if not years. If Ukraine gains visa liberalization soon, Turkey wouldn’t accept any delays. However, both Germany and France are holding crucial elections in 2017, and the prospect of a visa waiver plan for Turkey, may become a very thorny issue in both cases.
Elections are a problem
Next year Germany is to hold legislative elections for the federal Parliament , the Bundestag, and France is to elect a new President of the Republic. This reality doesn’t stop Turkey from demanding visa liberalization soon, because the Ankara rulers have ‘sold’ to their own voters the agreement with the EU about the refugees in a package with visa liberalization.
Tusk doesn’t worry much
It is understandable then why only Tusk, a Polish politician, appeared so relaxed, about the abolition of visa for the Turks. As President of the EU Council, he doesn’t have to worry about elections. Merkel was interested almost exclusively about pushing the Syrian refugees even further way and, if possible, return them to their country. She plainly said that Germany wants the Syrians to be driven, or why not concentrated, in “safe zones” in their own country.
Back to Germany, last Sunday Merkel continued on this platform. Actually, last Sunday she elaborated her idea about those “safe zones”, in the joint Press conference with the American President Barack Obama. She explained that it doesn’t have to be classical safe zones, protected by foreign powers, but just areas where the refugees will be protected from…bombs.
What Merkel wants
Merkel went even further and in the Presence of Obama said that the Geneva peace talks between the warring sides in Syria, can secure such safe zones. In a way, this is a straight German demand for the Americans and the Russians to relieve Europe from the weight of the Syrian refugees. In short, Europe says to the butchers of Syria to continue slaughtering its population, but at the same time create a kind of a tiny no-war zone near the Turkish borders for displaced Syrians who have escaped death.
Our brave new world in Syria has succeeded in making plain what might the future of many other countries be, if the present power and economic structures continue setting the course of human kind.