Will Turkey abandon the refugee deal and risk losing a bonanza of money?


Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey (from left to right) © European Union , 2016 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Etienne Ansotte Date: 04/09/2016 Location: Hangzhou

Last week Turkey threatened Europe to reinstate capital punishment and to drop the EU-Turkey pact which was signed one year ago. The desperate need of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to gain more power has forced Turkish officials to release accusations to Europe and especially to the Netherlands, Germany and Brussels in view of the upcoming referendum in April 16.

However, the financial aid that Europe is providing to Turkey is not at all negligible and Erdogan must be very careful before unleashing thousands of refugees to Europe.

Turkish threats

Last Friday the Interior Minister of Turkey Suleyman Soylu mentioned that his country will dump the migration deal with the EU in retaliation of the fact that several EU countries are not letting Turkish officials carry out rallies and convince the Turkish people who live in Europe to vote “yes” in the constitutional referendum. More specifically, Suleyman Soylu said that: “If you want, we could open the way for 15,000 refugees that we don’t send each month and blow the mind.”

Furthermore, Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised last Saturday that he will reinstate capital punishment after April’s referendum. Particularly, the Turkish President stated: “I believe, God willing, that after the 16 April vote, parliament will do the necessary concerning your demands for capital punishment”. However, Erdogan had again threatened to reintroduce death penalty after the end of the failed coup of July 15.

EU’s response

The foreign minister of the largest economy in the EU though didn’t let these threats unanswered. Sigmar Gabriel characterised Erdogan’s comments as ridiculous and urged the EU not to respond to such provocative threats. In detail, the German Foreign Minister stated last Saturday in an interview with the German Der Spiegel: “He (Erdogan) needs an enemy for his election campaign: Turkey humiliated and the West arrogant. What has been said these last few weeks is so ludicrous and absurd that it is difficult to continue to listen to them.”

The EU-Turkey relations have been tensed after the Netherlands and Germany didn’t allow Turkish ministers from holding rallies in their counties in an attempt to persuade Turks to vote in favor of the referendum. If the result is “yes”, then Turkey will be changed from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency, giving Erdogan extreme power and control to appoint ministers, choose senior judges and dismiss parliament. Consequently, the Turkish president will do whatever is possible to secure a clear victory.

Commission believes in the pact

The President of the European Commission is confident that Turkey will not ditch the migration agreement with the EU and believes that most of the Turkish people living in the EU are not supporting the Turkish President. Specifically, Jean-Claude Juncker mentioned:  “Not all Turks are little Erdogans. I absolutely don’t have a problem with the millions Turks living in our part of Europe. They are well-integrated and contribute to prosperity. Turkey will not terminate this agreement, even if Erdogan has repeatedly threatened me with this.”

However, the Turkish Minister for EU affairs is not having the same view as the EC president. Omer Celik said that the migration deal is volatile as the EU has not been complying with the pre-agreed. Mr Celik said to Reuters on the issue that: “It has emerged that the EU has not kept its word. Turkey does not have any obligation to the other side concerning the implementation of this deal. Hence it can reassess it when it wants and in the way it wants. I think the time has come to review it.”

Turkey needs the EU money

The EU has committed to provide to Turkey, apart from visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and continuation of EU accession talks, financial aid of three billion euros to assist refugees and improve border controls. The latter was a very strong motive for Turkey, which has already received half of the aforementioned amount according to Jane Lewis, Ankara’s head of office for ECHO, the EU’s emergency aid department, to sign the migration agreement.

Refugees’ allocation in the Turkish society is vital and it can be achieved via access to education, health care and labor markets. Turkey though has to spend a great amount of money in order to implement it and one of the easiest ways is to use EU funds. Therefore, it is hard to imagine Turkey abandoning the refugee deal and risk losing all this financial supply.

Empty threats

All in all, it seems that Turkey is not willing to leave from the pact even if has threatened to do so several times in the past. It is most likely a political game that Erdogan is attempting to play with the EU in order to win more votes and become more familiar to its citizens showing that Europe is the “bad” partner which is not complying with the terms of the agreement.

Thus, it is easier for the Turkish President to request and negotiate for further financial support, visa liberations for its citizens and restart of EU accession talks. However, Europe does not seem to be falling for it and is holding a hard stance.

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