EU-Turkey: Is refugee issue a new membership criterion?

The sudden interest of both parties in each other is entirely due to the refugee crisis.

    EU-Turkey: Is refugee issue a new membership criterion?
    There will be no winner in this new deal, only losers, and refugees will be the first, writes Aktar [EPA]

    On March 7, the European Union held yet another summit with Turkey on the topic of refugees flooding Europe. The meeting was a follow-up to the first summit of November 29, 2015, as well as countless bilateral and multilateral meetings on the same topic between Turkish, European and EU officials.

    Last autumn, Europeans reached the following hypothesis: Refugees and asylum-seekers of Syrian and other origin are entering the EU territory from Turkey. This large-scale human displacement - which proved to be unmanageable for EU countries - can only be prevented by Turkey. Everything should be done to make this goal happen.

    To this extent, the EU came up with a consolidated package. The Europeans agreed to give $3.3bn to Turkey and in return asked the Turks to take back and resettle refugees coming from Turkey, and prevent more refugees from entering the EU via Turkey. Additionally they pretended to revitalise Turkey's EU membership bid, and promised Turkish citizens visa-free travel within the Schengen area in the unspecified future.

    UN says EU-Turkey refugee deal would violate law

    The strategy, which has been in place since last autumn, has had the following results.

    Of $3.3bn promised, only $105m has been transferred to Turkey so far. According to UNHCR, only 7,500 Syrian refugees were resettled from Turkey to Western European countries in 2015. Now, Germany will try to magnify this operation together with a few other Western European states.

    To make it harder for Syrians and others to seek asylum in Turkey, the EU has tried to force Turkey to impose visa requirements for certain countries. However, there have been no tangible results. It should be noted that refugees do not care about visas - visas only make it harder for them to enter a country, but they always manage to get in.

    Turkey's EU accession

    Of the 33 chapters of the EU acquis - the accumulated legislation passed by the EU - which are negotiated for membership, a 15th chapter was opened following the November deal. Entitled Economic and Monetary Policy, this chapter concerns the euro system, in other words the common monetary system of which Turkey is not likely to be a part in the foreseeable future.

    By turning a blind eye to increased human rights violations in Turkey, the EU not only supports the regime, but clearly indicates that it isn't taking Turkey's membership into consideration in the foreseeable future.


    Regarding other chapters which are rumoured to be opened, there is fierce opposition, particularly from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partner Christian Social Union party. Yet, opening chapters is only part of the business. Turkey is sorely lagging behind in terms of harmonising its legislation with the EU acquis.

    Visa exemption was also discussed within the context of the refugee deal. There are 72 conditions that require compliance by Turkey. A second monitoring report into how far these conditions have been implemented was announced on March 4 in Brussels (PDF).

    Just like any text written in diplomatic language, the report welcomes the steps taken so far, but implies that there is a long road ahead before all the requirements are met. In other words, visa exemption is pie in the sky.

    Even if Turkey fulfils all 72 requirements, the prospect of Turkish citizens feeling persecution, millions of unemployed Turks, and of Turkish members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), would be enough for the EU to keep visas in place.

    At the end and despite all these "good intentions", 122,637 asylum seekers have crossed to Greece from Turkey in the first two months of 2016 with the ultimate aim of reaching Western Europe, according to UNHCR.

    Futile attempts

    So now, Europeans and Turks have gathered once again in Brussels to practically reaffirm the same issues on the basis of the same assumptions.

    The sudden interest of both parties in each other is entirely due to the refugee crisis. Hence, one should temper hopes for a warming of relations.

    A child tries to warm his hands, in front of the Germany flag in Idomeni, Greece. [AP]

    By turning a blind eye to increased human rights violations in Turkey, the EU not only supports the regime, but clearly indicates that it isn't taking Turkey's membership into consideration in the foreseeable future.

    For example when asked about recent domestic developments in Turkey, the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said bluntly: "We should not be referee when it comes to human rights."

    No negotiating country could overtly disregard the Copenhagen criteria - the set of guiding political and economic principles of the EU - but Ankara has been doing it for the past two years. To wit, there is no single mention of Turkey in the enlargement paragraph in the EU 18-month workplan for the period between January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017 (PDF).

    OPINION: The dark side of the EU-Turkey refugee deal

    Overall, EU member states have never liked the idea of a "member Turkey". Since 1999 when Turkey became an official EU candidate state, and in particular since 2005 when the membership negotiations started, the EU has openly or covertly shown its displeasure with Turkey.

    Today, through the refugee deal, the EU has an opportunity to sever this prospect. This is why its members are so grateful to Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime, which offers them the Turkish demise on a golden plate by disconnecting Turkey from all accepted norms, principles and standards the EU is built upon.

    Today and for the foreseeable future, Turkey is no more than a third party for the EU to deal with on project by project basis - as we see in this dubious refugee deal. Alas, there will be no winner in this new design, only losers, and refugees will be the first.

    Cengiz Aktar is senior scholar at Istanbul Policy Center. A former director at the United Nations, he is one of the leading advocates of Turkey's integration into the EU.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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