The month of May was very contentious one for Euro-Turkey relations.
Following months of monetary and diplomatic appeasement of Erdogan, which culminated with a migration deal according to which Turkey would hold Syrian refugees within its borders instead of allowing them to continue onward to Central Europe, things promptly fell apart. As a reminder, less than a month ago, a high-ranking deputy for Turkey’s ruling AKP party, Burhan Kuzu (also a former adviser to President Erdogan) issued an explicit threat to Europe which was at that time discussing whether or not to grant Turkey visa-free travel within the continent. Specifically, he tweeted that "The European Parliament will discuss the report that will open Europe visa-free for Turkish citizens. If the wrong decision is taken, we will unleash the refugees!." Many read that as tacit blackmail.
Fast forward two weeks later, when we learned that the EU plan to extend visa-free travel privileges to Turkey as of July 1 would be delayed over worries Ankara won't meet the key conditions on time. As Deutsche Welle reported "Chancellor Angela Merkel is in no mood to budge" in what is the first actual indication of resistance by the German to the increasingly more whimsical demands by the Turkish president.
Erdogan quickly responded by escalating the threat level: "The current system falls short... the burden is shouldered only by certain countries, everyone should assume responsibility from now on," he said. "Needs increase every day but resources do not increase at the same pace. There are tendencies to avoid responsibility among the international community." He added that Turkey had spent $10 billion on hosting Syrian refugees, compared to $450 million from the rest of the international community.
As we concluded, the implication was straightforward: send even more money over and above the $3 billion promised previously.
And now that Erdogan's failure to pass visa-free travel will be criticized domestically with questions over his ability to govern without his former PM Ahmet Davutoglu, who was instrumental in getting the visa-waiver deal, the question is whether the infuriated Turkish leader will resort to making good on his threat, and once again send out countless refugees along the Balkan route whose end destination is well-known: the wealthy countries of Central Europe.
It all came to a head early today, when Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT Haber on Tuesday that Turkey would have to suspend its agreement with the European Union to stem the flow of migrants into the bloc if there is no deal to grant visa-free travel to Turks.
In other words, no visa-free travel - something both German and the EU are against as of this moment due to concerns it would permit terrorist to slip through Schengen's border - would mean Turkey floods Europe with hundreds of thousands of more refugees.
Furthermore Reuters reports that in a televized interview, Cavusoglu demand the German government must make clear its stance is not in line with a German parliament resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces a genocide. In doing so he is pushing Merkel to support a position that is against the will of the vast majority of the German people, and forcing her to take a stand: side with Turkey or be accept hundreds of thousands more refugees.
For now Turkey's blackmail remains purely verbal, although should Europe still refuse to grant Erdogan his demands, it is likely that a "test" release of refugees will follow in the coming weeks to prompt the desired response.