Two weeks 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!."
What followed were ever louder accusations lobbed German Chancellor Angela Merkel by her own government that the woman dubbed by many as the most powerful person in Europe had engaged in a series of appeasing actions to placate the increasingly more despostic Turkish president, just to keep the millions of refugees currently held behind Turkey's borders in their place, and avoid a repeat of the social crisis that followed when tens of thousands of mid-east refugees would enter Germany every single day leading to a surge in the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-EU AfD party. Indeed, as we among others speculated, it appeared as if Turkey has unlimited leverage over both Merkel and Europe, and could demand virtually anything.
That may have changed today because as Deutsche Welle reports, an EU plan that would extend visa-free travel privileges to Turkey as of July 1 will be delayed over worries Ankara won't meet the key conditions on time. The German publication adds that "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.
As DW reminds us, Turkey has already agreed to take back refugees who have already used it as a transit country to enter Europe, in exchange for the visa-free deal, but the EU believes Ankara will not be able to implement reforms on freedom of the press and the judiciary by June 30.
Turkey's 75 million citizens would have the right to enter the Schengen zone for up to 90 days at a time with biometric passports from the end of June. However, this deal has now been delayed indefinitely, and will certainly force an increasingly more irrational, and now infuriated, Turkish president to retaliate or else it will be his turn to be perceived as weak.
The EU has a list of 72 requirements that Ankara needs to meet to obtain visa-free travel, with reform of anti-terror legislation another of the five remaining key steps, along with the protection of personal data. "The questions I had in this connection have not been fully cleared up," Merkel said.
Terrorists would be more likely to attack EU countries as a result of the deal to allow Turkish citizens to travel across the continent without visas, EU leaders said last week. "Foreign terrorists and organized criminals are 'expected' to seek Turkish passports to reach continental Europe 'as soon as' the visa waiver program comes into force," a European Commission report said.
That was not the only grievance voiced by Merkel. As we previewed last night when we reported that in his latest attempt to seize absolute power Turkey had stripped PMs of diplomatic immunity in a step that would certainly lead to the incarceration of Erdogan's political enemics, today Merkel met with Erdogan in Istanbul and said she had "made it very clear" that the move to strip about 25% of Turkish members of parliament (MPs) - many of whom are from the Kurdish minority - of their legal immunity as "a reason for deep concern."
World leaders and aid groups met at an unprecedented aid summit in Istanbul, headed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. At the event Erdogan stressed Turkey's contributions in hosting three million refugees from the Syria and Iraq conflicts.
"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.
The implication: 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 critized 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.