Turkey and the EU came back to the negotiating table on Thursday and Friday in Brussels in the latest installment of a long-running attempt to hammer out a deal that will help stem the flow of refugees into Europe.
Germany, Sweden, Austria, and a number of other countries are quite literally breaking under the pressure and everyone involved fears things could get far worse as winter turns to spring and the Balkan route thaws.
While the ceasefire and the hope of a political settlement to Syria’s five-year-old conflict may help, there are still scores of jihadist elements operating in the country and those who are inclined to be realistic know there’s no hope of anyone wanting to go back to there anytime soon.
Of course Turkey is the key corridor through which the asylum seekers pass on their way to Greece. Europe is keen on figuring out a way to work with Ankara to ameliorate the current situation in which scores of migrants have found themselves stuck in Idomeni as they desperately try to cross the Macedonian border and make their way north.
(migrants in Idomeni at the Greek border with Macedonia: NY Times)
The conditions Turkey requires for striking a deal have changed over time, but two things have been relatively constant: 1) money, 2) accelerated EU membership.
On Friday, EU leaders agreed upon a proposal to present to Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu. Generally speaking, it looks a lot like a proposal that took shape earlier this month. Here’s a summary from The New York Times:
- Sending Migrants Back to Turkey From Greece
- All migrants who travel to Greece from Turkey using irregular means after an agreement is reached will be returned to Turkey, in what the agreement calls “a temporary and extraordinary measure, which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order.”
- A One-for-One Swap of Syrians
- For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the European Union will directly resettle another Syrian from Turkey, with priority given to Syrians who have not previously entered, or tried to enter, the European Union, up to a total of 72,000.
- If that number is reached — as it almost certainly will be — a new round of negotiations will be held.
- Stricter Controls of Turkey’s Borders
- Turkey will take “all necessary measures” to prevent migrants from opening new sea or land routes to the European Union from Turkey in a measure aimed at assuaging concerns in Bulgaria that migrants will stream into the country.
- Concessions for Turkey
- The European Union will speed up the disbursement of the €3 billion it pledged in November, and provide another €3 billion by the end of 2018, once Turkey meets its commitments.
- The European Union will waive most visa requirements for Turkish citizens by the end of June, provided that Turkey meets certain requirements.
According to an official familiar with the talks who spoke to WSJ, "Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu signed off on the agreement and all 28 European Union leaders were expected to endorse it in the coming hours."
The 1-for-1 swap (i.e. if you take a boat to Greece you get sent back, but if you don't you might be able to get in from Turkey) is meant to end people smuggling, but of course it won't. If you've read anything about Turkey lately you know that it's hardly safe and we're reasonably sure that accommodations will hardly be comfortable. The provision will also do nothing to assuage the likes of Viktor Orban in Hungary and Frauke Petry in Germany.
It's also entirely unclear how this will work from an administrative perspective.
"Practical and legal complications remain, as Greece would have to deploy thousands of staff on the islands to give every migrant the chance to file for asylum, organize interviews, set up decent housing conditions and organize returns to Turkey to make sure the program is in compliance with international refugee law," WSJ goes on to note, adding that "some EU leaders had worried about the start date of the agreement, saying it could create a renewed surge of migrants crossing into Greece in a bid to beat the cutoff date."
Make no mistake, what this will amount to is a free €3 billion (and possibly €6 billion) for Turkey, because there's simply no way that something as amorphous as this "deal" has any hope of stemming a people flow of that size.
Oh, and we forgot to mention, Turkey's EU membership bid will be hastened despite a Cypriot objection which means that Erdogan's autocracy will soon not only be a NATO member, but also part of the EU, which we assume will given Erdogan even more cover to carry out genocide against the Kurds.
And Brussels does all of this knowing full well it won't work. On that note, we close with a quote from Francois Hollande, who, after the Paris attacks, is perhaps a bit less sanguine than Merkel about the situation:
“Let’s not think that tomorrow, just because we have a deal with Turkey, we solved the refugee problem.”