Tur­key’s Er­do­gan faces tough EU talks

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY BRYAN MCMANUS

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan meets EU lead­ers Mon­day but they will find it hard to bridge gaps on the mi­grant cri­sis and the Syr­ian war that has pro­duced so many of the refugees they must both deal with, an­a­lysts say.

Rus­sian air strikes in Syria have upped the ante in a con­flict which has desta­bi­lized a re­gion in which Ankara plays a piv­otal role, with Tur­key tak­ing around 2 mil­lion refugees from Syria.

Er­do­gan faces crunch elec­tions on Nov. 1 and an­a­lysts say he will want some solid signs of progress to take home with­out giv­ing ground in his im­pla­ca­ble cam­paign against Kur­dish rebels. For the Euro­pean Union, the fo­cus will be on get­ting Tur­key to do more to halt the flow of mi­grants mak­ing the dan­ger­ous cross­ing to Greece, with more than 500,000 hav­ing made it to Europe’s shores this year.

Against this com­plex back­drop, an­a­lysts say Er­do­gan and his hosts, EU Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk and Euro­pean Com­mis­sion head Jean-Claude Juncker, will be look­ing to strike a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween two sides who have lit­tle op­tion but to work to­gether.

“In this mas­sive ex­o­dus, driven by the Syr­ian con­flict and now added to by the Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion which makes peo­ple feel things can only get worse, Tur­key and the EU are in the same boat,” said Marc Pierini of the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brus­sels.

‘Some­thing new and spe­cial’

Mon­day’s talks will be yet another at­tempt to “re­set” ties be­tween Brus­sels and a leader it has re­peat­edly crit­i­cized for hu­man rights is­sues.

Harsh words have been spo­ken re­cently, with Er­do­gan ac­cus­ing the EU of turn­ing the Mediter­ranean into a “ceme­tery” af­ter global out­rage erupted over pic­tures of Ay­lan Kurdi, a drowned Syr­ian Kur­dish tod­dler whose body was washed up on a Turk­ish beach.

The Turk­ish leader took a softer tone this week, telling par­lia­ment he wanted to open a “new page” and say­ing Ankara still wanted to join the Euro­pean Union de­spite Brus­sels ef­fec­tively clos­ing the doors to all new­com­ers un­til 2020.

One an­swer to the mi­grant cri­sis is more aid for Tur­key, and EU lead­ers agreed at an emer­gency mi­grant sum­mit last week to of­fer just that to Ankara as well as other coun­tries in the re­gion. But the EU be­lieves Ankara could do more to tackle what it says is some 30,000 peo­ple smug­glers in Tur­key.

It also wants to set up “hotspots” for reg­is­ter­ing asy­lum seek­ers on Turk­ish soil, but Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu re­cently ruled that out. How­ever Er­do­gan, who last vis­ited Brus­sels in 2014, is look­ing for new ways of tack­ling the prob­lem.

“Er­do­gan wants some new agree­ment on as­sis­tance for the refugees, some­thing new and spe­cial, not some­thing com­ing out of ex­ist­ing aid for Tur­key,” said Ian Lesser, di­rec­tor of the Ger­man Mar­shall Fund think tank in Brus­sels.

‘Safe zone’ and Kur­dish Is­sue

The Turk­ish pres­i­dent in par­tic­u­lar pushed hard dur­ing a re­cent visit by Tusk on plans for a “safe zone” for civil­ians in north­ern Syria.

In Brus­sels the sus­pi­cion is that this is less about peo­ple flee­ing for their lives and more about Tur­key’s po­lit­i­cal strat­egy in the re­gion — par­tic­u­larly its cam­paign against the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK).

While the EU deems the PKK a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, it was dis­ap­pointed to see Er­do­gan fo­cus his at­ten­tion on the Kurds rather than the Is­lamic State group, de­spite say­ing he would launch air strikes on both af­ter a bloody bomb at­tack near the Syr­ian bor­der in July. That tor­pe­doed a 2013 truce be­tween Tur­key and the Kurds that the EU would like to see re­stored.

“He is go­ing to have some ex­plain­ing to do on this,” said Lesser of the Ger­man Mar­shall Fund.

“Tur­key is once again look­ing for sup­port but the EU and the United States are dis­mayed by how the fight against IS has turned into a fight against the PKK.”

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