EU readies for eventual annulment of the Turkish agreement on immigrants-refugees

The Idomeni refugee camp at the border between northern Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. More than 10,000 migrants are stranded there for many months now, after the 'Balkan Corridor' was definitively closed. Date: 15/03/2016, Location: Idomeni,Greece, © European Union, 2016 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Sakis Mitrolidis.

The Idomeni refugee camp at the border between northern Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. More than 10,000 migrants are stranded there for many months now, after the ‘Balkan Corridor’ was definitively closed. Date: 15/03/2016, Location: Idomeni,Greece, © European Union, 2016 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Sakis Mitrolidis.

The highly possible collapse of the EU-Turkey agreement about the management of the refugee and immigrant flows in the Aegean Sea, has rang alarms in Brussels. Alexander Winterstein, the Deputy Chief Spokesperson of the European Commission denied the existence of a plan B, in case the Turks repudiate the pact which the just dismissed Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu concluded with the EU authorities in mid March. Winterstein added that “We have an agreement with the Turkish government and we have their word on that. We have regular contacts with them”.

However, only some hours later, Maja Kocijancic, the spokesperson for the European External Action Service, confirmed last Monday that the high level EU-Turkey meeting, with the participation of the Turkish ministers for Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, which was set for Friday, was cancelled. No later day was fixed for this important gathering. What is left then for the Europeans to count on, is just the ‘word’ of the briefly dismissed last Friday Davutoglu. No wonder why the rumors persist about the drafting of an EU plan B to regulate the refugee and immigrant flows from the Turkish shores to the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea.

Who is worried?

Unquestionably it is a fact that in Brussels and some other European capitals, a number of decision makers are quite anxious. The possibility of the resumption of last summer events with thousands of refugees and immigrants sailing every day from Turkey to the Greek islands constitutes a terrible nightmare for the Greek, the German and some other EU governments.

This newspaper reported last week what the Turkish President Erdogan, called ‘the Sultan’ by friends and foes, had said about the agreement with the EU. The European Sting article mentioned: “On top of briefly denouncing the entire agreement…he raised the stakes and said to the EU, in the old Turkish way, that “from now on we are going our way, you go yours””. To be reminded, Erdogan has repudiated a key Brussels prerequisite for the application of the agreement. The EU demands that Turkey should change, and actually greatly restrict the currently totally vague legal definition of ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorist supporter’.

Magistrates like government

The Turkish government and the magistrates regularly use this quite unclear legal definition of ‘terrorist’, against the political opponents of the President and the governing AK party. But how did this complexity come up? The Turkish side had managed to include as a basic condition for the application of the agreement, the visa-free travelling to Europe for Turkish citizens. But it would have been impossible for the European Parliament to pass it, while journalists and university professors in Turkey are accused as terrorists or traitors serving long imprisonment sentences for this.

Evidently, the EU-Turkey agreement is now caught in the impossibility of the two sides fulfilling those two key conditions. In view of this, Brussels sources say that the EU has a contingency plan in case Turkey finally repudiates the agreement. The same sources point out that according to the terms of the March agreement, the EU has earmarked €6 billion, which are meant to be handed over to Turkey for the cost of maintaining on her soil around 2.5 million Syrian refugees.

It’s about €6bn

If Turkey denounces the agreement, this money can be used to generously support Greece, to take care of some hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The idea is that if Turkey backs off from the agreement, the flows of the refugees and immigrants to the Greek islands will be greatly reduced in comparison to last year, because the ‘Balkan corridor’ leading to north Europe is now tightly closed. No immigrants and probably very few Syrian refugees will knowingly choose to get stuck in a camp somewhere in Greece.

The Athens government has already agreed to offer shelter to at least 50,000 refugees and immigrants, against a round sum of €400 million. This presents an indication, of what the cost may be for accommodating a few hundred thousand of desperate people in Greece, and obviously is much lower than what the Turks have asked.

This is obviously a strong argument for the EU, while still negotiating with the Turks, about the application or not of the agreement Davutoglu has concluded with Brussels.

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