Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

The “Doubting Thomas” agreement

The pact between the EU and Turkey by someone has been called "historic" but it's just a way to take time according to motto of "if I do not see I do not think"

To define the agreement that the European Union and Turkey have just reached concerning the migrants issue, some recalled the mythology ("a Herculean achievement," according to Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker) and some mentioned the Gospel ("On this issue I apply the scheme of St. Thomas: until you see it, I do not believe it", according to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi). Until the last moment, the controversial agreement has hung in the balance. Even after the triumphal announcement of its implementation (which includes the return of all migrants arriving illegally in Greece), due to its complexity, this will be a tough challenge to handle.

But have no illusion: the other night the EU received a ‘kiss of death’ from Turkey or, if we want to put it in Vatican’s terminology, ‘a pact with the Devil’ was made. Not surprisingly, immediately after the announcement, an avalanche of caveats and artificial distinctions was triggered.

While Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish PM, speaks of a "historic day because this agreement proves that the EU has no future without Turkey, and Turkey has none without the EU," humanitarian organizations like "Amnesty International" or "Doctors Without Borders" raised their voice to call it "the deal of shame."

In its final form, the document specifies that "there will be no collective expulsions” and that all asylum applications will be "dealt with individually," with UNHCR cooperation, according to European standards, and under international law.

But everyone knows better than that: it’s simply a LIE!

The real catch is in this: who will be the first to denounce it!

Even the "mother" of this agreement, i.e. the German chancellor Angela Merkel, has chosen the prudent line stating that ”this is the sign that the EU can meet these challenges together, however, this is not the magic solution, but a pillar of a comprehensive strategy.”

On the other hand, the prevailing opinion is totally negative.

"Today on our European continent, the strait between European integration and nationalistic and ethnic automation, lives a painful moment for the humanitarian drama of our brothers who arrive at its borders, and ask to be welcomed," said the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

And the President of the Chamber, Laura Boldrini: "Today Europe is more fragile and less authoritative because it has broken through the negation of values, something we had never negotiated."

Before signing the pact, three Prime Ministers, Matteo Renzi (Italy), Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg) and Mariano Rajoy (Spain)) repeated several times their concerns, while the reactions of Hungary and the "Visegrad Group" are still pending.

So if you want to see beyond the political ads, more or less "historical", it can only be concluded that Europe offers a small window of opportunity for taking control, in the months that follow, of the wave of desperate people fleeing war and crossing the Aegean, with Ankara being anything but an easy ally.

In return, Ankara gets a triad of conditional promises which could now be sold to public opinion back home.  The reality, however, suggests something else: the agreement is just a bridge, the origin of which is well known, but whose final destination requires a lot of imagination and optimism.

Not long ago, a significant source, Gianpaolo Scarante, until recently Italian Ambassador in Ankara, called attention to the issue of trust between EU and Ankara: “I must say that a further postponement or the decision not to decide would be disastrous...”

The substance of decision that is eventually taken has great importance as well, because of the terms of the cartel's agreement with Turkey, which essentially concern the issue of visas and the resumption of accession negotiations. That gives a measure of how Europe is ready to pay cash to conceal its internal divisions and its lack of policy coherence.

That is the point that I think we should address. The agreement with Turkey is, at this time, generally presented as the script requires, as a  solution without alternatives. I am convinced, however, that there are alternatives and also the financial means for them to be implemented, because the promised three billion Euros, perhaps multiplied by two, is a very respectable figure.

Why, for example, did Europe, instead of getting lost in the rhetoric about the end of the internal borders, and lamenting the "death" of the Schengen agreement, not instead begin to concretely strengthen its external borders, starting with Greece, then Italy and finally the Balkans? That could be done with the common European personnel, border guards, or other structures charged with the application of uniform rules and practices.

Why did Europe fail to create real and practical legal access corridors to the Union, using, for example, its European External Action Service?  

Had that been done, we would not be in such an unacceptable negotiating position (of weakness) before Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President. On the contrary! We would, at least, have a minimum of negotiating assets on an “equal footing” with him.

The twenty-eight chapters were lifted. There was the anxiety of not ‘making it’ to the end, fear that the Turkish negotiations, launched with the blessing of Angela Merkel, might be interrupted at any moment, that the external strategy would fail, as it had failed internally,  collapsing into a lack of solidarity.

They were compelled to trust Sultan Erdogan, and he manipulated them up to a certain point. They could not afford a defeat, nor would an agreement at all costs be acceptable. The result is that beginning tomorrow Europe will send back all Syrians and illegals that arrive through the Greek islands.

In return, for every person sent back to Turkey, the EU will resettle another, waiting in Anatolian refugee camps.  The scope of the agreed upon resettlement, put at 72,000, is just too small a figure compared to the expected numbers. If it is exceeded, just cut the Gordian program.

So?

The agreement offers some hope. Not a certainty. And the same could be said of the results from the perspective of the Turks. But the deal is steeped in conditionalities. Dozens of criteria must be met to speed up visa liberalization by June. The second installment of the money, the additional three billion, will be paid in 2018. But, upon one small condition: if all commitments are fulfilled.

The opening of a chapter does not a summer make. It is not a blank check, either.

At the same time, for Turkey, it is only ‘half a bridge’. The other half still lies in the EU’s hands: Europe will closely monitor "freedom of expression" in the Sultanate of Erdogan. Erdogan’s recent behavior suggests he no longer fears censure from the EU. Almost 2,000 people have already been indicted under an article in Turkey’s criminal code that forbids making insulting remarks about the president. This includes a 17-year-old boy who was given a suspended sentence for accusing Erdogan of being ‘the thieving owner of an illegal palace’.

In another case, a journalist is facing 23 years in prison for making claims that state prosecutors have corruptly obtained discounted properties. The way things are going, EU member states may soon find themselves having to cope with a new tide of asylum seekers: Turkish journalists and political activists fleeing their country’s dictatorial government.

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