EU to Turkey: No other ties than €3+3bn to upkeep refugees

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (first from right), Donald Tusk, President of the European Council (second from right), Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (second from left) and Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, at the EU-Turkey Leaders events in Varna, Bulgaria. Date: 26/03/2018. © European Union, 2018 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service.

The EU-Turkey Summit in the Black Sea city of Varna last Monday was a chance for the Brussels dignitaries to throw a long list of severe European grievances in the face of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council , went to the Bulgarian tourist resort to tell the TurkishSultan’ to refrain from aggression within and more importantly without his country’s borders.

Their host Boyko Metodiev Borisov, the Bulgarian Prime Minister, acted as a moderator in the heated at times discussions. Bulgarian sources revealed that there were moments of acute tension. The final result is that the EU will continue paying Turkey to upkeep refugees and immigrants on her soil. As things now stand there exist no other ties between the two sides other than this.

Strong words

Undoubtedly, the Varna Summit between the EU leaders and the Turkish President confirmed that the Christian European club has lost faith in Turkey. Juncker and Tusk didn’t chew their words. They told their interlocutor the EU cannot tolerate any more his internal despotism, with the unjustifiable persecution and incarceration of thousands of his political opponents and critical journalists.

The two Europeans were even more pugnacious in reference to the Turkish belligerence in Syria and more so in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea and the Greco-Turkish land borders in Thrace. In short, they told Erdogan he cannot threaten the external borders of the European Union.

Refugees and immigrants

The only issue where a kind of understanding emerged was the refugee problem. Turkey currently hosts a round number of 3 million Syrian refugees and the EU offers the financial means for their upkeep. Brussels is paying Turkey to avoid the summer 2015 events, when Ankara facilitated the passage of hundreds of thousands of refugees – mainly Syrians – from its Aegean coast to the Greek islands and then aspiring to reach Western Europe, mainly Germany. This last country was obliged to accept around one and a half million of immigrants and refugees, gravely distorting even her political structures, emboldening the right wing xenophobic groups.

Tusk said, “On migration and support for refugees, the EU and Turkey remain very close partners. I would like to express our appreciation for the impressive work Turkey has been doing and to sincerely thank Turkey and the Turkish people for hosting more than 3 million Syrian refugees these past years”. It was the turn of Juncker though to attack the Turkish side on their insatiable appetite for more European money, to theoretically sustain the refugees.

Accounting differences

On this subject, Juncker told Erdogan that the money the EU pays is “the tangible result of the European solidarity for the refugees in Turkey and rather not the solidarity of Turkey for the EU”. Juncker went even further and questioned the integrity of the Turkish side in reference to the handling of EU money the country has received. He said “Turks have a habit difficult to understand. The EU has honored its engagement to pay €3 billion in 2016 and 2017. On 14 March 2018 the Commission has also paid the first installment of the second package of another €3bn. Yet the Turks keep insisting that the EU has only handed them €1.8bn. On this point I have to remind them that in the EU we have strict accounting rules. The Turks should count also the €1.2bn paid by Brussels for 72 projects not directly controlled by the Ankara government, but greatly helping the refugees. So, Europe has honored in full its obligation for the first €3bn package for the maintenance of refugees”.

In short, Juncker directly questioned the good faith of the Turkish government. To be reminded, that in the autumn of 2015, Ankara had demanded €3+3bn and Brussels conceded, in order to host the refugees in Turkey. Otherwise, Turkey threatened to continue sending them to the Greek islands by the thousands.

It’s the EU’s external borders

Tusk engaged Erdogan on another and possibly more important issue; Turkey’s belligerent actions in Cyprus, the Aegean Sea and Thrace. In this last case it’s about the arrest and the detention by Turkey of two Greek army officers patrolling the Greco-Turkish borders. The President of the EU Council clarified “Good bilateral relations with EU Member States are also an important commitment within the accession process. We welcome positive progress … but still have serious concerns about inter alia recent Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea as well as the detention of EU citizens. The European Union stands united behind the Republic of Cyprus regarding its right to explore and exploit its natural resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone”.

It was also very interesting to watch Tusk, the representative of the 28 EU governments telling Erdogan, “We reconfirm our readiness to keep up the dialogue and consultations and to work together to overcome current difficulties with a view to unleashing the potential of our partnership. I remain fully committed to assisting in this process”. Not a word about Turkey being a candidate country for full EU membership.

Never a full member

For the EU, Turkey is definitely not any more a potential member state and the club plans to offer just a ‘partnership’. Only Erdogan remembered the full membership, by saying “excluding Turkey from EU enlargement would be a big mistake”. It seems the Europeans have quite a different opinion on that.

There is no doubt then, the EU is treating Turkey as an untrustworthy interlocutor, a political autocracy and a dangerous geopolitical factor in the wider region. Yet, Brussels needs Ankara to control the Syrian refugee waves and this is the only bond now connecting Turkey with the EU.

 

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