The ongoing process of escalation of relations between the Republic of Turkey and the EU due to the migration crisis at the Turkish-Greek border is unlikely to change the search for mutually acceptable solutions across the spectrum of the 2016 Agreement. Turkish President RT Erdogan does not intend to back down as a chained complex of internal and foreign policy contradictions. In RT Erdogan’s logic, Turkey’s border with the EU will be opened to refugees until official Brussels fulfills all obligations under the 2016 agreement. It is about simplifying the visa regime for Turkish citizens, updating the Customs Union (CU) and transferring the full amount of promised financial assistance to the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Ankara official estimates that the EU has not actually paid the 6 billion euros promised to keep Syrian refugees in Turkey. The EU does not give the Turkish government any money, but works with UN humanitarian agencies and NGOs, through which it contracts for humanitarian aid, infrastructure and other projects. In other words, it is a transparent procedure, which is somehow unacceptable to the Turkish side. However, RT Erdogan said on March 9, 2020 that he had rejected the EU proposal to provide an additional EUR 1 billion under an agreement signed with Turkey to help support the approximately 4 million refugees currently accepted by the country.
In addition, according to the latest data from the Turkish Interior Ministry, the border with Greece and Bulgaria has already been crossed by 142 illegal immigrants. According to Europeans, the vast majority of refugees come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa, not Syrians.
It is obvious that the EU and Turkey have different views on the 2016 agreement. Thus, the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, noted that the parties have different views on this problem. In their turn, EU foreign ministers in a statement following an extraordinary meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Zagreb on March 06, 2020, called on Turkey to fully comply with its obligations under the 2016 EU migration agreement and stressed the inadmissibility of using migrants as a political tool pressure.
The official Ankara, in turn, called the official Brussels position «hypocritical». Among other things, it was noted that in Syrian Idlib, the offensive of the troops of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its allies, including the Russian Federation (RF), «caused untold human suffering and provoked the worst humanitarian crisis since the beginning of the conflict.» In other words, the EU also considers official Moscow guilty of the migration crisis. Bashar al-Assad’s attack on the armed adversaries of the President of the SAR in Idlib province, led by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, led to a migration crisis.
The limit is exhausted
RT Erdogan’s key task is to confirm Turkey’s status as a major partner of the EU and to achieve maximum concessions on the part of the EU in strengthening Turkish air defense against the backdrop of Russian domination in the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR), as well as assisting Brussels in creating the so-called. security zones in the north of the SAR.
The EU is interested in maintaining the terms of the refugee agreement with Turkey, for a basic reason: official Brussels intends to preserve the EU’s right to provide asylum to refugees in its present form. After all, a basic European rule is that the repatriation of refugees and the prohibition of crossing the EU’s external border are only possible if an agreement is reached with a neighboring country. In the absence of such an agreement, the right to asylum threatens to become a right to immigration in a period characterized by significant increases in migration and organized crime in the form of business by gangs of illegal carriers.
By the way, the Turkish side does not allow migrants and refugees to reach the Aegean Sea, which would allow them to sail to the coast of Greece with the help of carriers.
However, the warming of Ankara-EU relations will not take place in the context of Turkey’s European integration. The fact is that neither Ankara nor official Brussels are ready for the accession of official Ankara to the EU. For example, the EU has now fully exhausted its potential for enlargement. For example, the negative consequences of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession to the EU have not been fully resolved to this day. In addition, Britain’s exit from the EU is increasingly exposing structural problems within the European Union. Moreover, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Luxembourg and France are considered to be the most active political opponents of Turkey’s EU accession. The population of European countries with a significant Muslim community — Germany, France and Austria — is also the most negative about Turkey’s EU membership, which is taken into account by the official authorities of these countries. Against this backdrop, there is a change in the national and regional priorities of official Ankara, which seeks leadership in the Muslim world, while extending systemic influence to Europe.
Therefore, official Brussels seeks to slow down Turkey’s regional aspirations, including the transformation of the Turkish side into a key energy hub for Europe. Last but not least, official Berlin is seeking to implement a project to build the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, which should, according to the German side, strengthen Germany’s position in the EU energy market.
In the further negotiation process for Turkey’s accession to the EU, two mutually exclusive tendencies will be observed: first, the «freezing» of the active phase; second, maintaining Turkish-European relations at an acceptable level for the two sides, neutralizing the irreversible deterioration of EU-Ankara relations.
The fact is that Turkey’s strategic importance to the EU is its geopolitical location, allowing official Ankara to play an important role in regions such as the Middle and Middle East, the Black Sea region, as well as the Arab world. Turkey is a member of the CoE, NATO, OECD, the GXNUMX, and the OIC. In addition, RT Erdogan demonstrates the political will and desire to participate in all key geopolitical events and integration processes on the Eurasian continent. It is clear that in its logic Brussels intends to take advantage of Turkey’s military and political capabilities, both to ensure EU security, to diversify transit and supply energy to Europe, and to resolve conflicts, diplomatic mediation, which will allow the EU to strengthen its geostrategic positions and authority.
Official Ankara, for its part, is not interested in abandoning Turkey’s EU accession talks, which will result in huge economic losses with all the negative political consequences for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. The warming of relations between Turkey and the EU is in line with the national and regional interests of official Ankara. In particular, according to official statistics, at least 70% of investments in Turkey come from EU Member States, first of all, from Germany. About half of Turkey’s trade — 50% of exports and 40% of imports — is Turkey’s official relations with the EU.
Turkey is the only country that is not a member of the EU with it in the Customs Union. Turkey can export around 15 items to the EU. The fact is that Turkey joined the EU Customs Union in 2005, and today official Brussels is Turkey’s largest trading partner (the EU accounts for 40% of the country’s total trade).
However, the Customs Union (CU) does not cover Turkey’s agriculture, services and public procurement. According to Turkish experts, the extension of the EU vehicle with the EU will allow to increase the export of agricultural products by 95% and the export of services by 430%. In other words, the new agreement should accelerate Turkey’s economic growth rate. Thus, according to research, by 2030 the above agreement would bring Turkey’s GDP further up by 2%, overall export growth expected at 24,5% and imports at 23%.
By the way, it is the official Ankara that seeks to revise the terms of the EU’s TC, according to which Turkey must open its markets to third countries that conclude a free trade agreement with the EU. At the same time, Turkish goods will not be able to enter duty-free markets of third countries, since Turkey is not a member of the EU. Also, the new EU-Turkey Customs Union agreement should take into account the official Ankara requirement that countries that have concluded a free trade agreement with the EU be granted access to the Turkish market without any tariffs, but Turkey does not receive the same himself.
It is obvious that official Ankara will not be able to replace the European market even in the medium term, which will strongly affect the macroeconomic indicators of the Turkish economy.
Turkey’s «European integration» and a point of no return
Earlier, official Brussels confirmed that Western Balkan states: Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo have a chance to join the EU. And as stated, this will be the last enlargement of the EU in the foreseeable future.
Europeans believe that Turkey has no place among EU members while maintaining the country’s current political course. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said that the rule of law in Turkey as a whole is moving in the wrong direction. At the same time, Merkel praised Turkey’s refugee policy, noting that official Ankara was «making great efforts» in this area.
It is unlikely that official Brussels will expand the Customs Union with Turkey. The EU links the Cyprus issue with Turkey’s accession to the EU. The fact is that, despite the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Treaty, the official Ankara refuses to open its ports, airports and airspace to Greek Cyprus. And official Brussels, on the one hand, requires the official Ankara to comply with the provisions of the Additional Protocol, and on the other, until the final resolution of this issue has suspended the opening of eight chapters of the agreement concerning the vehicle: free movement of goods (Ch. 8); the right to establish and freedom to provide services (Chapter 3); financial services (Chapter 9); agriculture and rural development (Chapter 11); fishing (ch. 13); transport (see 14); TC and external communications (Chapter 29). Therefore, for today, the official Ankara has managed to open only the 30th of the 16st chapter of the agreement.
The unification of Cyprus is in the interests of the EU. If the EU were to succeed in reunification of Cyprus, then official Brussels could control the military and political situation in the Mediterranean region. But official Ankara, in the context of the talks on Cyprus, «unexpectedly» demanded for the EU that 35 Turkish troops remain in Cyprus, which does not meet the long-term priorities of the EU and NATO. It is obvious that the official Ankara will not withdraw its military contingent from its strategically important island. Officials in Turkey do not recognize Cyprus as a separate state. Turkey’s accession to the EU under President RT Erdogan will not happen. In particular, official Brussels actually linked the solution of the Cyprus issue to Turkey’s EU membership, since the Cyprus issue touches on the military-strategic aspect of the EU.
In addition, official Brussels, on the one hand, supports the Turkish authorities’ struggle against terrorism and, on the other, believes that this fight should be conducted in the framework of respect for human rights and freedoms and international law.
In other words, the only possibility for Turkey’s accession to the EU is either a radical change in the above position of official Ankara or the abolition of this condition when Turkey joins the EU. While in the opinion of the supporters of the continuation of the negotiation process on the accession of Poland and several countries of Eastern Europe, the negotiations between the EU and Turkey should be continued, because it is a platform for addressing many issues, including compliance with official Ankara European standards on human rights, the judiciary and democracy.
According to Western European countries, the situation looks banal: official Ankara has changed both European values and the principles on which NATO builds. It is obvious that the frozen talks between official Brussels and official Ankara on Turkey’s accession to the EU will not be resuscitated with all the ensuing consequences.
For the EU, the key issue in European-Turkish relations remains the issue of softening domestic politics in Turkey, where, for example, members of the Kurdish community are being prosecuted under the law on combating terrorism.
However, official Ankara will not agree to cancel the results of the referendum on constitutional reforms, which strengthened the presidential power and opened the way for RT Erdogan to remain president of Turkey for a long time. This is exactly the point of no return in relations between the EU and Turkey. Moreover, official Ankara is unlikely to turn away from the previously identified foreign and domestic priorities, which do not envisage Turkey’s EU membership at all costs.
Opinion polls show that in Turkey and in many EU countries, people no longer want to «integrate» more closely.
In other words, official Brussels will adhere to the refugee agreement signed with Turkey. However, official Brussels in the future will resume the negotiation process with official Ankara on Turkey’s accession to the EU only on one condition — RT Erdogan and the ruling AKP must abandon Turkey’s current domestic and foreign policy course, which seems unlikely. After all, the EU requires Turkey to align its anti-terrorism legislation with European norms and narrow its definition of terrorism. In addition, official Brussels believes that Turkey’s official authorities, on the pretext of combating terrorism, deprive Kurdish deputies of their integrity and persecute pro-Western opposition figures, journalists, and the Kurdish ethnic minority.
Turkey’s inability to join the EU against the backdrop of the country’s transformation into a Eurasian energy hub leads to the loss of official Ankara’s interest in the «European project». However, the formation of a new foreign policy doctrine is undergoing a serious domestic transformation in Turkey itself, which is marked by an increase in Islamist sentiment in the country.
In particular, the active support by the Turkish authorities of Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem, against the backdrop of current US-Turkish and Turkish-European relations, seeks, on the one hand, to expose the United States and Israel in the eyes of the EU in an extremely unfavorable light for them. In parallel, gain broad support in the Islamic world, especially among Arabs historically wary of official Ankara. At the same time, the role of the official Ankara to restore its position in the eyes of the US, EU and NATO as their main ally and partner in the Middle and Middle East plays its role.
Regarding the economic relations between Turkey and the EU, official Ankara will demonstrate the consideration of interests of official Brussels on diversification of transit and supply of energy resources. After all, official Ankara is encouraged by the fact that the Turkish Stream and the Southern Gas Corridor projects are intended for oil and natural gas supplies to Europe. And the deterioration of relations with the EU is not in the interests of the ruling AKP, led by TR Erdogan and, accordingly, the business circles of the republic.
Frontex European Frontier Service states as a matter of fact the cessation of the mass influx of refugees, etc. The «Balkan route» through Turkey. According to Frontex, the vast majority of illegals today comes not from Turkey but from Libya. Basically, the «Libyan route» is used by refugees from West Africa and the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Senegal, The Gambia, Ivory Coast and Niger). Moreover, at the request of Greece, Frontex has decided on an urgent border intervention — in the coming days up to 1500 agency officers with their equipment should arrive (already partially arriving). In other words, the EU’s exit from the pressure of illegal migrants from the Middle and Middle East region counteracts the threat of a possible official Ankara withdrawal from the EU refugee agreement.
Even if Turkey comes out of a migrant agreement signed with the EU in 2016, it is unlikely that refugee flows will threaten Europe into unmanageable chaos. Cessation of ceasefire is now in place in the Syrian province of Idlib. Neither the Turkish nor the Syrian units or the Russian Air Force do not carry out combat missions and do not fire artillery. The resumption of the Turkish military operation «Spring Shield» in Idlib province, as a forced measure to contain B.Al-Assad’s forces, could destabilize the migration situation in Europe.
Russian interest in the migration crisis
In Moscow, it was probably expected that official Ankara would use the migration resource in its difficult relations with the EU. After all, the migration crisis is leading not only to a deterioration of macroeconomic stability and a decline in public security against the background of the European coronavirus, but also to a geopolitical weakening of the EU.
This factor obviously meets the geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation. Moscow seeks to resolve the Syrian crisis without EU involvement. Vladimir Putin, among other things, refused to visit Ankara on March 5 this year, where the 4-sided meeting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the presidents of France, the Russian Federation and Turkey, was originally planned.
The Kremlin has been working on win-win situational arrangements for Syria — in 2-way (with Turkey) or 3-way (Turkey and Iran) formats. Moscow and Damascus, these agreements are strictly implemented to their advantage. And all the negative consequences of a migration crisis in the EU lie in this logic. The Kremlin will systematically seek EU recognition of B. al-Assad’s regime. The migration crisis for the EU was not over. Its escalation for a time, if not stopped, must be minimized by unprecedented quarantine measures in connection with the pandemic of the coronavirus. The Russian-Turkish treaty has so far established a ceasefire on the existing line of contact between the forces of the Al-Assad regime and the Syrian armed opposition in Idlib province. The problem is that the agreement does not involve divorcing the parties and creating demilitarized zones. The line of contact has not yet been agreed and marked on the ground.
Очевидно, что это перемирие в провинции Идлиб долго не продлится. Военные приготовления обоих лагерей продолжаются…
Rauf Rajabov, Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan