Ever since a shocked Europe rushed to sign a "refugee" deal with Turkey's Erdogan in March of this year, according to which it would pay the Turkish ruler €6 billion and offered Turks visa-free travel across the customs union just to contain the 2 million Syrian refugees inside its borders and prevent another mass migration exodus toward Germany, Erdogan knew he has the upper hand in all future negotiations with Europe.
This was confirmed yesterday when Turkey announced it would not fulfill its part of the refugee deal with the EU if the bloc does not lift its visa requirements for Turkish citizens by October, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told a German daily.
Turkey’s fulfillment of its commitments under the refugee deal with the EU “depends on the lifting of visa requirements for our citizens that is also a subject of the agreement,” Cavusoglu said during an exclusive interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The minister also stressed that the Turkish government is waiting for a “specific deadline” to be set for the lifting of visa requirements. “It can be early or mid-October but we wait for an exact date,” he said.
Diplomatically, Cavusoglu emphasized that his words are “not a threat,” but added that “if there is no visa abolition, we will be forced to abandon the agreement struck on March 18 concerning taking back [refugees].”
So yes, it was a threat, if only one which reacts to Europe's realization that it had made a bargain with the devil, and was trying to pull out however while hoping Turkey would keep its end of the bargain. Turkey, however, has refused, and now the 2 month countdown to October and another refugee flood may have begun.
Cavusoglu also said that the deal is working only because Turkey is taking “very serious measures” to stop the refugee inflow, particularly in fighting people smugglers. Under the agreement signed in March, Brussels pledged to pay Turkey €6 billion, grant visa-free travel to Turkish nationals, and speed up EU accession talks with Ankara. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take back all illegal migrants and refugees that reach Greece via Turkey, while allowing a certain number of asylum seekers to travel to the EU legally.
The deal came into force on March 20. The visa-free pass was initially to be introduced by July, however, Europe came up with a loophole according to which Turkey had failed to comply with all of the EU’s 72 criteria for lifting the visa requirement, including relaxing its stringent anti-terror legislation, which has become a sticking point in negotiations. The situation was further complicated, as RT adds, by the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, as many EU officials and politicians have voiced concern over the Turkish government’s crackdown on fundamental rights. Some have stressed that the foiled rebellion must not be used as a “carte blanche for arbitrariness.”
New concerns emerged after the possible reintroduction of the death penalty in Turkey, which caused particular concern in Europe. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini has warned that no country with capital punishment can become an EU member, and German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that bringing back the death penalty would lead to an “immediate suspension of accession talks.”
In the meantime, the refugee leaks may have already started. On Sunday Greece complained about an increasing influx of refugees from Turkey, stressing that the number of new arrivals had grown significantly following the foiled coup. Some people in Greece have even compared the present situation to that which had existed before the deal with Turkey was struck.
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Fast forward to today when Germany's vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel responded to Turkey's latest ultimatum, saying It depends on Ankara whether Turks enjoy visa-free travel to Europe, adding that it was the right decision to ban a live broadcast by the Turkish president to a rally in Cologne on the weekend. “It is up to Turkey if there is or there isn't visa liberalization,” Reuters quoted German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel as saying while on an official visit to northern Germany.
“Germany and Europe should under no circumstances be blackmailed,” Gabriel added.
The vice chancellor also welcomed the move by Germany’s highest court to block a livestream address by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to a rally of Turkish nationals in Germany’s Cologne on Sunday.
Needless to say Germany is playing a dangerous game here as Erdogan knows he has little to lose if he breaches the terms of the March deal, which he can claim was already violated by Europe and thus boost his populist image even more. After all, once Germany is flooded with another million in potential radical jihadists, it will come crawling to Ankara, begging to redo the deal, only this time the terms will be that much higher. Then again, perhaps Germany and the "European democracies" should have though of all this before they agreed to deal with Erdogan who is now well on his way to becoming the undisputed authoritarian leader of the Turkish nation, which continues to undergo historic purges of all of Erdogan's political opponents.