ANKARA'S AWAY

Europe Still Believes in Turkish Deal

ARCHIV - Flüchtlinge kommen am 09.03.2016 in einem Schlauchboot aus der Türkei auf der griechischen Insel Lesbos in der Nähe der Hafenstadt Mitilini (Mytilini) an. Foto: Kay Nietfeld/dpa (zu dpa «Aktivisten wiegeln Flüchtlinge in Griechenland auf - neue Routen» vom 28.04.2016) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Europe still hopes to go ahead with the refugee deal, and doesn't have a plan B.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The refugee deal between the European Union and Turkey, seen as key to solving the migrant crisis, is looking shaky, with Turkish president Erdogan casting progress into doubt.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • On March 20, Turkey and the European Union agreed a deal to solve the refugee crisis, with Turkey accepting illegal migrants returned from Greece.
    • In return, the E.U. promised €6 billion in aid, the eventual introduction of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, and possible future E.U. membership for Turkey.
    • Now the E.U. is demanding reform of Turkish anti-terrorism laws. This is hard for Turkey, since the laws are the basis for current crackdowns on Kurdish activists and domestic media.
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The political situation in Turkey has many policymakers in the European Union deeply concerned about the long-term viability of the refugee deal agreed in March.

But neither Germany nor any of the other 27 members of the European Union are willing to discuss what might happen if the agreement fails.

“For us, there is no plan B,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is said to have remarked at a recent meeting, according to a source.

For Germany, which accepted more than 1 million refugees last year, the situation appears much the same.

Government spokesman Steffen Siebert avoided an assessment of the refuge agreement, saying only that the German government was focused on implementing the agreed measures. The European side, he said, would fulfill its obligations, “and we expect the same of our Turkish partners, of course.”

Turkey is crucial to solving the refugee crisis.

Under the March deal, the country agreed to back all migrants who cross into Greece from its soil, and that for each refugee returned from Greece, the European Union would take in one Syrian refugee directly from Turkey — a move designed to stop the illegal, hazardous migration of refugees across the Aegean Sea.

Also, the European Union promised to provide €6 billion ($6.8 billion) in aid to help accommodate refugees in Turkey, and to introduce visa-free travel to the European Union for Turkish citizens, in addition to accelerating E.U. accession talks.

“The European side will fulfill our obligations. And we expect the same of our Turkish partners, of course.”

Steffen Siebert, German government spokesman

But with the refugee deal, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have an ace in his hand, which he is using, among other things, to refuse reforms and lash out at critics – as far away as Germany.

In the latest incident of an ongoing dispute that has raised fears over press freedom in Germany, Mr. Erdogan  sought an injunction against Mathias Döpfner, the chief executive of the German media group Axel Springer.

The move on Monday by Mr. Erdogan’s German lawyer, Ralf Höcker, was triggered by an open letter Mr. Döpfner wrote in support of Jan Böhmerman, the German comedian who sparked a diplomatic scandal with an anti-Erdogan poem on German TV. Mr. Höcker had already won an injunction against German director Uwe Boll, who produced an anti-Erdogan video inspired by the TV comic’s poem.

But his attempt with Mr. Döpfner was promptly blocked by a regional court in Cologne, on the grounds of freedom of expression. Mr. Höcker said he will challenge the decision in the next higher court.

The Turkish president had demanded the comedian be prosecuted for insulting a foreign head of state, which, under an old law now being revised, is illegal and punishable by up to five years in prison. Chancellor Angela Merkel came under fierce criticism in German political circles, including her ruling coalition party, the Social Democrats, for giving the green light for Mr. Erdogan to pursue a criminal case against Mr. Böhermann.

Mr. Erdogan is known to be no fan of satire. Since he was elected president last August, he has pursued nearly 1,000 cases against people who have insulted him, according to the Turkish Justice Ministry.

More disturbingly, immediately after this week’s resignation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the president raised doubts over the future of the agreement about the refugees. “We’ll go our way, you go yours,” he said.

Mr. Erdogan is refusing any reform of Turkish anti-terror laws, which have recently been used to crack down on Turkey’s Kurdish population, as well as on many newspapers and media outlets. The European Union has made this reform a condition of the promised visa-free travel. Mr. Erdogan has said that without visa liberalization, Turkey will abandon the entire deal.

The Turkish president is reported to have repeatedly frustrated negotiations with the European Union. The talks were largely the responsibility of then-prime minister Mr. Davutoglu.

“Every time we sat down with Davutoglu, Erdogan would ruin things.”

High-ranking E.U. diplomat

“Every time we sat down with Davutoglu, Erdogan would ruin things,” a high-ranking E.U. diplomat involved in the negotiations told Handelsblatt. He thought Mr. Erdogan wanted to test how much the Europeans would put up with, he added.

Nonetheless, Mr. Juncker, the head of the E.U. Commission, said he was optimistic. “We have the word of the Turkish government, and we will continue to work with the Turkish government,” he told the Funke media group.

Resistance is also growing within the E.U. parliament to what are widely seen as over-generous concessions to Turkey.

Markus Feber, a member of the European parliament for the Christian Social Union, a right-wing Bavarian party which forms part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, warned against any over-hasty lifting of visa restrictions.

“I do not see why we have to rush this law through parliament at breakneck speed, before Turkey has done what it says it will do,” he said. As well as changes to its terrorism laws, the European Union has laid down four other preconditions for a reform in visa requirements for Turkish citizens.

 

Till Hoppe is Handelsblatt’s foreign policy correspondent in Berlin. Thomas Ludwig is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Brussels. To contact the authors: hoppe@handelsblatt.com and ludwig@handelsblatt.com.

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