Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

Turkey, marriage of convenience

Turkey and the EU have the relationship of an old couple, where the love is long gone, yet they somehow remain together.

A few days ago we witnessed how this unfortunate relationship works: from now on; the focus should be on Angela Merkel and RecepTayyip Erdogan and how well aligned they are, and what they might be able to do to help solve the crisis.

The crisis we are talking about is, of course, that of the refugees, the largest migration that has struck Europe since the Second World War. The EU house is in flames, and at the same time, Ankara expects elections to be held in an increasingly difficult geopolitical situation. The crisis is more complex than at the end of the “First Cold War”.  In the midst of a multi-dimensional intervention of a great power neighbor like Russia, who is engaged in a confrontation in the North, in the Ukraine, and simultaneously intervening in the South, in Syria, against ISIL infiltrators.

A few days ago the German Chancellor traveled to Turkey for what perhaps was the most important visit of her career after the one that helped put together the Minsk agreement.  Ankara offers the greatest opportunity, and perhaps the last, of stopping the flow of migrants before everything starts falling apart.

To conclude such an agreement - as we will soon see - is not easy and involves a significant investment of money in many spheres, including the political. But for the moment, let’s have a look at how the migrant phenomenon is unfolding.

No one can say exactly how many refugees have reached Europe in the last three months, although the estimate of about 800,000 seems realistic. Unfortunately, the media’s schizophrenia and the ignorance of governments have ensured that this drama is redirected toward other, secondary issues, that are less important by far by comparison.

Today it is less spoken about, but in Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia, the daily inflow of refugees is growing exponentially, to which every state reacts in its way. One is building new walls; others are deploying armies at the border while still others are conscripting retired police officers. On the other hand, weather conditions have worsened. Rain and cold are present daily and have accordingly slowed down the building of shelters. Macedonia warns that there is another incoming wave of people who will try to go to Europe before the doors close; they are estimated at approximately 100,000.

 The reasons for the massive movement of this mass desperate humanity remains the same: the Syrian situation is starting to look promising, but it requires a lot of time, Libya is still mired in disarray, the Eritrean regime continues to rule with fierce determination, Somalia remains a great stinking quagmire, and in the rest of North Africa the economic situation is pitiful.

 Either an agreement is reached as soon as possible, or the EU will collapse, overwhelmed by the advancing forces of the extreme right - as we saw in Poland but yesterday - and the collapse of the ideals upon which it was built will follow.

Germany and Turkey today share the ability to bring the migration crisis under control, but for this, we need a serious agreement that not all European nations will readily accept, and in which Turkey has the final say.

The levels of mutual trust have been low for years, but agreement remains the only solution. Thus far, Brussels has pretended to offer something to Ankara. Turkey has agreed to make further efforts to stop the departures, but neither side was serious. Perhaps Angela Merkel’s visit was able to change things because, after all, the new "Iron Lady" now has to fight for her political survival (even in her party).

Some European leaders like Viktor Orban already accuse her of "moral imperialism", Poland is to follow Orban’s lead, and so are other Central European Countries. However, any agreement between Turkey and the EU requires a commitment that nobody knows whether or not will bear fruit. And now, even in Merkel’s CDU party, Wolfgang Schaeuble starts attacking here.

Until now, so-called European diplomacy stood out mainly in two areas: remaining subservient to the US and in grasping facts only after a time lag. However, in this particular case, it was able to count on a strong argument: money.

Someone in Brussels must have thought that to overcome the resistance of the Turks it would be enough to increase the offer, so from early October (when in Brussels the Union presented a "plan of action" that provoked Prime Minister Davutoglu to say: "This is an insult to our intelligence ") the billions of euros proposed to Ankara to keep a lid on the refugees have increased from 1 to 3, with promises of further adjustments.

When Merkel arrived in Turkey suggesting that the European Union could also find some "additional funds," she found herself in front of a wall: the promise to "expedite visa facilitation" is not enough, Erdogan wants visa liberalization by next year, similar to what has already happened in the Western Balkans and Moldova. The Turkish president wants to reopen the negotiations that have been dragging on for almost twenty years. He aims at a real treaty that establishes firm commitments going beyond the short-term period. That poses a real, historical challenge to European diplomacy, something that so far has not been shown to exist.

 If it ever comes to that, then it will create a huge number of problems. The Aegean Sea, for example, marks the border between Turkey and Greece but has no international waters. Hence, you can’t apply the “Australian solution,” according to which the boats of migrants are, in fact, intercepted in international waters and sent back to the countries of origin. In this puzzle – or irony of history – the role of little Greece, which just last summer was treated abusively by Germany in front of the entire world because of the debt, will be essential... But, after all, these details could be solved, complicated as they are. The stakes in the real game are much higher.

Germany and Turkey, after all, are the two countries that, until now, have borne more than the combined weight shouldered by others concerning the migrants - and once again they are the unhappy couple.  From this point of view, to reach a similar agreement would require an international conference, with many actors and many conflicting interests present. Meanwhile, the wave of migration continues to flow...

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