Global Independent Analytics
Alessandra Benignetti
Alessandra Benignetti

Location: Italy

Specialization: Foreign politics, Immigration, Human rights.

Merkel-Erdogan alliance on refugees does not convince the EU

Moreover, this coalition will definitely grant the Turkish “Sultan” more power for his geopolitical ambition

“Erdogan is not the solution to the problem, but a part of it,” noted an Italian journalist commenting on the meeting between the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, on February 8.

The reference was obviously to the “dark side” of the Turkish establishment: from the accusation of its involvement in the illegal oil traffic with ISIS to the military actions against the Kurds in the south-eastern region of Turkey to the repression of basic human rights such as freedom of expression and press. Let's just say that Erdogan’s policy does not exactly march in lock-step with the fundamental European values. But the European Union, or better said Angela Merkel, now desperately needs the help of Turkey to cope with the increasing flow of refugees from Syria and to counterbalance the outcome of a possible victory of the Damascus-Moscow-Teheran alliance in Syria. We can sum up the behavior of the German chancellor with the title that the weekly newspaper Der Spiegel dedicates to the meeting between Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “She doesn’t like him, but she needs him.”

The refugee issue, in fact, is now threatening the stability and the most important achievements of the European integration process, such as the freedom of circulation in the Schengen area. And it is also threatening the popularity of the German Chancellor: in 2017, in fact, Germany will face legislative elections, and the immigration policy will be one of the main topics in the electoral campaign. So, after the initial “welcoming attitude” toward refugees coming into Europe, now Merkel needs to contain the inflows of Syrian migrants that will increase in the coming months due to the major counter-offensive launched by the Russian air force and the Syrian government to free Aleppo province from jihadist groups. This is one of the reasons why Merkel counts on Erdogan to cope with the refugee issue, and after meeting the Turkish president three times since the beginning of the year, she decided to give away 3 billion euro from the European treasury to help Turkey to deal with the Syrian refugees on its territory and to contain the flow to Europe.

Turkey is now hosting 2.5 million Syrians on its territory, and this is one of the most serious consequences of the Syrian crisis in Turkey’s domestic policies. For that reason now Turkey is trying to turn the refugee issue into a profitable business and into a diplomatic weapon for the Turkish ambition to become part of the European Union.    

According to the documents leaked to the euro2day.gr website, Erdogan would not be happy with “only” 3 billion euros from Bruxelles to fix the refugee issue, and some analysts have stated that probably at the next European meeting on February 18-19, the Turkish government will put forward further requests such as a contribution of five billion euros instead of three, and the introduction of a visa-free regime in the Schengen area beginning in the second part of 2016 that will allow almost 80 million Turks to enter the EU without any control. In this way the European borders will be technically extended up to Syria and Iraq, that is to say to the border of countries in the grip of war, instability and ISIS, with all the implications that this carries.

Many European countries are therefore skeptical about the potential role of Turkey as a European ally to face the refugee crisis. On February 15, the representatives of the four countries of the Visegrad group, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, expressed their disagreement with Merkel’s commitment to deal with the refugee crisis with the help of Turkey. The Visegrad group also stated on Monday that the results of the EU-Turkey action plan are “not satisfactory” and, therefore, Europe needs to start thinking of “alternative plans.” Of course, the European Union’s divisions on this issue bring advantages to Turkey.

Further criticism of the German strategy comes from large sectors of the society and political scene of the EU. Merkel’s ally in the refugees crisis, in fact, does not exactly embody the fundamental principles of the EU, and more than one scandal erupted over the last few months involving Turkey’s management of the refugee crisis.

As part of the internal offensive against the Kurds affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the south-eastern region of the country, the government continues killing hundreds of civilians. The Turkish establishment has also become famous for its repression of the opposition and the lack of respect for freedom of expression. So, when Merkel visited Davutoglu, the first page of the opposition daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, featured a thorny question next to the pictures of the German chancellor: “Do you know that our journalists are in prison?” The question clearly referred to the former director of the newspaper, Can Dundar, imprisoned for having published evidence of the transit of weapons and ammunition into Syria over the Turkish border, with the connivance of the Turkish government. Many other journalists and members of civil society are now in prison for criticizing the Turkish president in newspapers or the social media.

Last, but not least, Erdogan’s establishment was charged with being involved in the ISIS illegal oil trade and of connivance with this terrorist organization.  So, to what extent could pragmatism be used justify this unusual and problematic partnership? And, above all, will Europe benefit from it? As things stand, it seems that it will not.

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