Re­newed EU, Turkey ten­sions: Tough times ahead

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

IT was only go­ing to be a mat­ter of time be­fore the deal be­tween the EU and Turkey aimed at putting an end to per­ilous refugee jour­neys across the Aegean sea was put to the test, both in its ef­fec­tive­ness in stem­ming the flow and in its po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences. As to the first, the num­bers have spec­tac­u­larly come down since the agree­ment was made in March, which can only be a good thing. But the po­lit­i­cal and le­gal dif­fi­cul­ties of the ar­range­ment have been ex­posed even as the num­bers fall. The re­newed ten­sions be­tween Brus­sels and Ankara are quite se­ri­ous. The EU’s un­easi­ness with what it has ne­go­ti­ated with the Turk­ish govern­ment is ev­i­dent, as is Turk­ish ir­ri­ta­tion. How each side man­ages those ten­sions will de­ter­mine a great deal, but the un­der­ly­ing dif­fi­culty is that Euro­peans have lim­ited sway over Turkey’s lead­er­ship be­cause they are in a state of de­pen­dence on Turk­ish pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doðan.

Re­cent events sug­gest the deal is quite frag­ile. Jean-Claude Juncker, the pres­i­dent of the EU com­mis­sion, has made it plain agree­ment would be void if Turkey does not re­scind its anti-ter­ror law. Can­celling that leg­is­la­tion is one of con­di­tions Turkey has to meet for visa-free travel to be granted to its cit­i­zens within Euro­pean Schen­gen zone. Free travel is one of the key in­cen­tives of­fered to Turkey in ex­change for tak­ing back both mi­grants who do not qual­ify for asy­lum in Europe and Syr­i­ans who find them­selves blocked in Greece. Last week, an­other po­ten­tial stum­bling block ap­peared when EU took ex­cep­tion to a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment be­ing pushed through Turk­ish par­lia­ment un­der which MPs would be stripped of their im­mu­nity to pros­e­cu­tion, a move likely to lead to oust­ing of Kur­dish law­mak­ers. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel said on Sun­day that she would raise the is­sue when she meets Pres­i­dent Er­doðan on Mon­day. An­other came when a Greek court ruled that send­ing back mi­grants to Turkey vi­o­lated fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples con­tained in 1951 refugee con­ven­tion be­cause that coun­try can­not be con­sid­ered safe. This came af­ter hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions had crit­i­cised Turkey for block­ing refugees at­tempt­ing to en­ter coun­try from Syria, even open­ing fire on them. Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties deny hav­ing a pol­icy of push­ing Syr­i­ans back, and it is un­clear whether Turk­ish bor­der guards fired know­ingly at refugees or whether they acted for se­cu­rity rea­sons in a re­gion where ISIS has tried to gain a foothold.

Not the least of the prob­lems is that Mr Er­doðan has been con­cen­trat­ing more power into his hands since the res­ig­na­tion of prime min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­toðlu. Mr Davu­toðlu’s re­place­ment, Bi­nali Yýldýrým, is a long-time Er­doðan loy­al­ist who many be­lieve will help push through con­sti­tu­tional changes aimed at cre­at­ing an all-pow­er­ful pres­i­den­tial sys­tem. All this is hap­pen­ing in the run-up to a large in­ter­na­tional gath­er­ing this week in Turkey, the first ever World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit, spear­headed by the UN. The think­ing be­hind the EU-Turkey deal was that it was needed not only to al­le­vi­ate a des­per­ate hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion, but to re­duce pop­ulist and xeno­pho­bic re­ac­tions through­out Europe. Time was of the essence. With the warm weather ap­proach­ing, the refugee flow was threat­en­ing to take on even larger dimensions than in 2015, when more than a mil­lion peo­ple ar­rived in Europe. Time was also short po­lit­i­cally, with im­por­tant votes due in sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries, in­clud­ing the Bri­tish ref­er­en­dum. But the Brexit camp’s use of the Turk­ish is­sue has been men­da­cious. The deal does not prom­ise EU ac­ces­sion for Turkey, it only re­ac­ti­vates ne­go­ti­a­tions that have been go­ing on for over a decade. Nor would visa-free travel for Turks mean that huge num­bers would start set­tling in Europe. It ap­pears un­likely Turkey will meet the end-of-June dead­line for all con­di­tions to be filled for visa-free travel. The hope among Euro­pean of­fi­cials is that Er­doðan will nev­er­the­less avoid can­celling the deal, be­cause of po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit he has drawn from it so far. Both sides, in spite of their ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ences, need this ar­range­ment to con­tinue. A rep­e­ti­tion of last year’s tragedies does not bear think­ing about. — The Guardian

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