Controversial refugee deal with Ankara

Turkey has proposed taking back migrants from Greece in exchange for additional funds for supporting the refugees as well as accelerated EU membership negotiations. Paris and Vienna have spoken out against the deal. Will the EU go along with Ankara's plan?

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El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

No shameful agreement, please!

In the left-liberal daily El Periódico de Catalunya the mayors of Barcelona, Lampedusa and Lesbos - Ada Colau, Giuseppina Nicolini and Spyros Galinos - call on the EU states not to go along with the controversial refugee deal with Turkey:

“We call on you not to approve the agreement with Turkey, because it violates international laws and basic rights. Human lives cannot be traded like goods in exchange for economic and trade agreements. The right to asylum is a basic human right which should not be subject to haggling. ... Europe’s fundamental values are at stake and the decisions being taken now will shape the future of the EU. We therefore ask the states not to take any shameful decisions in our name, but instead to support these cities in their networking, so that the Mediterranean once again becomes a bridge to civilisation.”

Público (PT) /

EU membership for Turkey would be disastrous

Turkey is demanding accelerated EU membership talks in exchange for taking back refugees from the EU. If Turkey joined, the EU would face a whole different set of problems, the liberal daily Público observes:

“Those who advocate EU membership for Turkey in the hope that it will secure strategic advantages should have a good think about all the consequences this would entail. If Turkey were already part of the EU today we would have a far bigger problem with Syrian refugees in Europe than we do now. More than 2.7 million Syrians are currently in Turkey, all of whom would automatically already be in the European Union. One can only imagine what extending Europe's borders to a country confronting such a devastating conflict would mean for the Union.”

euinside (BG) /

EU has sold its soul to Orbán

The potential EU-Turkey deal will drive the wedge even deeper in the already divided Europe, blogger Adelina Marini critcises:

“The deal raises many moral and legal questions. … But the main problem is that it deepens the rift within the EU. We can't accuse Turkey of exploiting the weaknesses of the EU for its own interests if even the individual member states are pitching themselves against each other. The Turkey deal only became necessary in the first place because the EU sold its soul to Orbán. Now it's uncertain whether Turkey will be able to stop the flow of refugees. But what is certain is that the Orbánism that is dividing the EU more and more each day has won the upper hand in the EU - using the hypocritical pretext of direct democracy and sovereignty.”

Milliyet (TR) /

Injustices and trouble inevitable

Huge problems will arise if the EU agrees to take in a Syrian refugee directly from Turkey for every refugee that Ankara takes back from Greece, the conservative daily Milliyet is convinced:

“This arrangement will cause injustices and friction. Refugees who risked their lives and made their way to Europe in extremely difficult circumstances will be forced to return to Turkey. At the same time the same number of Syrians who are waiting in Turkey's camps will be able to come to Europe legally. Is this humane and fair treatment? What happens if those who are to be sent back resist? Or if those who are to be brought to Europe are forced to go to a country other than the one of their choice because of quotas?”

Salzburger Nachrichten (AT) /

Refugees as an instrument in geopolitics

Many political leaders in Europe's neighbouring states are using the refugee crisis to gain power, the Christian-liberal daily Salzburger Nachrichten points out:

“Libya's ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi was seen as a sponsor of terror who was trying to make a nuclear bomb. But the EU states still lifted the sanctions against the despot. Because Gaddafi used people as political weapons by promising to keep African refugees away from Europe. … This time it's Turkey that's supposed to stem the flood of refugees. Many people in the EU find this outrageous because the country doesn't seem to be a reliable partner. By setting up Turkey as border guard we are demonstrating the extent to which migration has become an instrument in geopolitics.”

Dnevnik (BG) /

Erdoğan wants to Islamise Europe

Erdoğan wants to Islamise Europe by securing visa-free travel for Turks, the daily Dnevnik believes:

“The expansion of the Muslim and above all the Turkish community in Europe is one of the long-term goals of the Islamic government in Ankara. The visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU is a very effective means to this end. … The visa-free travel that Turkey granted to the citizens of many Arab countries has essentially opened up its borders and led to Turkey becoming deeply integrated in the Middle East community. The opening of EU borders for Turks means nothing more and nothing less than turning Europe and the Middle East into a common area without borders. We can only guess at how many people from the region will move to Europe after this visa 'liberalisation'.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Merkel driven by domestic issues

The pressure in the run-up to state parliament elections in Germany has driven Chancellor Angela Merkel to make the EU reach a deal with Turkey, the centre-left daily De Volkskrant concludes:

“Last year a million refugees came to Germany, the atmosphere in the country is very tense, the states of the European Union are at odds with each other, right-wing populists are thriving and Merkel's position has become unstable. She faces the first test on Sunday, when 12.7 million voters in Baden Württemberg, Rhineland Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt go to the polls. … Her negotiations with Turkey are an example of realpolitik. She sees Turkey as indispensable for ending the refugee crisis. But this is a partner with a dubious reputation. … Normally Merkel would keep someone like Erdoğan at a distance. But she can't afford to do that now. She needs him, and he is exacting a high price.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Agreement far from a done deal

The announcements that a breakthrough has been reached at the EU-Turkey summit should be treated with caution, the centre-left daily Irish Times warns:

“The devil is in the detail and so many of the deal’s ingredients still face resolute opposition from member states, and probably the courts ... A number of EU states - notably in central and eastern Europe - are refusing to accept mandatory quotas for resettling refugees in their countries, the German-led coalition of those willing to do so is looking distinctly thin. France is already foot-dragging on Turkish work visas and Merkel was muttering about Turkish membership not being on the agenda. ... More crucially the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has questioned the legality of a central part of the agreement - the sending back of refugees en masse to Turkey would contravene their right to protection under international law. ... The deal is far from done.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Erdoğan profits from West's mistakes

The West's willingness to make concessions to Turkey is the result of its failures in Syria, the liberal business daily Il Sole 24 Ore comments:

“The complicit behaviour of Europe and the US can be explained by the fact that they have suffered one of their worst defeats in the Middle East: Bashar al-Assad has remained in power, the biggest foreign policy mistake of recent years. … It was European states like France that counted on Assad's downfall and closed their eyes to Erdoğan's authoritarianism. The Turkish president is certainly no saint. But he has a lot to tell when it comes to Europe's leaders, who can hardly pretend to be all shocked now.”

Naftemporiki (GR) /

Turkey not a reliable partner

It is absurd to try and negotiate a solution to the refugee crisis with Turkey and to treat it as a safe third country, writes the conservative business daily Naftemporiki:

“And all the more so since the country bears responsibility for the situation in Syria through its direct (the bomb attacks against the Kurds) and indirect intervention in the war (backing for the Islamic State). And quite apart from that the deployment of Nato ships to ensure that a coordinated state like Turkey does its work and combats the human trafficking business that has been booming there for years wouldn't be necessary. … Many refugees still live in deplorable conditions in Turkey. Some have been deported to Syria while the security forces were shooting at Syrians who were trying to cross the border. … The EU summit confirms the existence of a very divided Europe that is pursuing a policy of 'give and take' rather than seeking a joint solution in the refugee crisis.”

T24 (TR) /

EU not interested in human rights

The EU's deal with Turkey for tackling the refugee crisis is a disgrace, writes the liberal online paper T24:

“All Europe - and Germany in particular - wants to get rid of the refugees, and there is just one branch it can hang on to for help - Turkey. In this wedding atmosphere Europe is willing to say yes to anything, whether it's the state of liberties and human rights in Turkey or its authoritarian regime. With the statement 'We have no alternative despite everything' the EU has even admitted this openly. It's enough if Turkey agrees to keep the refugees; then it can do whatever it likes within its own borders - the EU won't write up annual reports nor hold Turkey to account, and even if it does take note of something, it will keep it for next spring. This ignorance is very convenient for our leadership.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Keep a close eye on Ankara

After reaching a deal with Turkey the EU must not shirk its responsibilities but must keep track of what Turkey does with the money it receives, the conservative daily El Mundo warns:

“The EU must clearly define Turkey's obligations regarding the refugees and ensure that Ankara uses the promised money to meet the basic needs of the refugees and to actively combat the trafficking rings that are operating with impunity on its territory. Even if the Balkan route were closed down today, no doubt the unscrupulous human traffickers would simply look for alternative routes in order to continue their lucrative operations. Since the deal includes visa-free travel to Europe for Turks and the resumption of the EU membership negotiations, Brussels must force the government in Ankara to introduce reforms that strengthen democracy in the country.”

Expressen (SE) /

Finally putting an end to the traffickers' operations

For the daily Expressen a deal with Turkey would be a step in the right direction:

“The EU must not forget with whom it is dealing here. So it's reassuring that so many EU leaders condemned the Turkish regime's takeover of the largest opposition paper Zaman. But the negotiations point in the right direction. … One can disagree over the details but the general direction is welcome news. There must be an end to the illegal and chaotic refugee smuggling in the EU. It is causing mass deaths in the Mediterranean and benefiting the criminal syndicates. Moreover the EU's very existence is at stake here. No one - and certainly not the poor of this world - can benefit from an EU that is falling apart and growing weaker and weaker and thus becoming a homeland for mass nationalism.”

Mediapart (FR) /

Viségrad Group pushing through its agenda

Europe is shifting increasingly to the right in the refugee crisis, the centre-left online paper Mediapart laments:

“The failure of the European governments is above all so striking in that it stands in stark contrast to the mobilisation of the people of Europe, tens of thousands of whom have continually provided the migrants with aid, protection and charity. ... Rather than heeding this surge of solidarity, most leaders have opted for a closed-border policy, while the selfish and retrograde attitude of the Visegrád Group (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic), hitherto in the minority in Brussels, has continued to gain ground. ... Central Europe now seems to be imposing its own agenda, each time along the same lines: when a party in power strongly criticises the refugees, it is overtaken on the right in the next elections. That was the case in October in Poland with the return to power of the ultra-conservative right, and it was the case on the weekend in Slovakia with the far right's entry into parliament.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Deals are in Europe's interest

Reaching agreements with Turkey is crucial despite the government's latest crackdown on critical media, the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung believes:

“Turkey is a 'key country' not because it has a spotless record on human rights, but simply because of its geographical location (and its geopolitical importance). ... Of course that doesn't mean we must let ourselves be blackmailed by the Turkish leadership, which is doing its best to sweep everything under the carpet of realpolitik. ... The EU has considerable leverage here. Whether or not Turkey will become an EU member, by contrast, is still written in the stars - and in the hands of President Erdoğan, who is systematically distancing himself from the EU's fundamental values. Nobody is ignoring this. But the accusation that negotiating on refugee policy with Erdoğan is tantamount to betraying our own values has nothing to do with reality - or with Europe's best interests.”

La Stampa (IT) /

EU has no other choice

The EU was able to save face at the summit, the liberal daily La Stampa writes with relief:

“In the name of solidarity the leaders have displayed cohesion despite adverse circumstances. This is not solidarity with migrants and refugees but solidarity among the countries of arrival, transit and the destination countries, between Greece and Turkey, between Macedonia and Greece. … Moreover Brussels paid a political price yesterday because it received [Turkish Prime Minister] Ahmet Davutoğlu with open arms despite the closure of one of Turkey's biggest dailies. The human rights issues that have paralysed relations between the EU and Ankara for years were forgotten. Realpolitik, but not just that. With almost one refugee per inhabitant Jordan and Lebanon can only smile bitterly over Europe's lack of resolve. But the flood of refugees has triggered a nervous crisis in Europe and the EU needs to put things right.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Europe eating out of dictator Erdoğan's hand

The EU is allowing itself to be bullied by Erdoğan, the liberal daily De Standaard rails:

“Europe is powerless and divided, and has allowed itself to become a plaything of the autocratic regime in Turkey. A political bloc of 28 countries with a total of half a billion inhabitants, the world's biggest economic player, is shamefully eating out of dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's hand. … Can this divided Europe still draw the line somewhere? Or is it just following along with the events? How much longer will its leaders put up with being insulted and made to look like fools? The fact that the Turkish government dared to take over the biggest opposition paper just two days before a crucial summit with European leaders really takes the biscuit. … Europe will collapse if Turkey doesn't get it out of the mess it's in. That's the cool calculation here.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Manage refugee crisis decently

The liberal daily Dagens Nyheter is appalled to see the EU making a deal with the Turkish government, which is so harsh against its critics:

“France's Foreign Affairs Minister called the situation regarding Zaman newspaper unacceptable but others formulated it differently and Germany was very reticent. Harsh words could decrease [President] Erdoğan's will to cooperate. ... The EU must deal with the refugee crisis, but in a decent manner. European collaboration requires solidarity. And that solidarity should be based on the uncompromising protection of freedom of expression.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Turkey cleverly exploiting EU's weaknesses

Ankara has launched a clever offensive in its decade-long dispute with the EU, the liberal daily Jutarnji list stresses:

“The relations between the Union and Turkey aren't exactly 100 percent honest. The EU is mainly to blame. On the one hand it pretends to be negotiating with Turkey about EU membership but on the other leading EU politicians keep stressing that Turkey will never be part of the Union. … Now Turkey quite clearly has the upper hand and is skilfully turning the refugee situation to its own advantage. Several EU leaders realised last night that dealing with Turkey is like haggling at a bazaar, and that their position is very weak! An EU response requires the consensus of all 28 heads of state and government, which seems virtually impossible when it comes to the refugee crisis, money, visa exemptions for Turkey or the opening of a new chapter in the EU membership negotiations.”

The Times (GB) /

Closure of Balkan route would send a key signal

It is extremely unfortunate that the Balkan route has not been declared closed, the conservative daily The Times believes:

“To say that the west Balkan route is closed sends an essential deterrent signal to would-be migrants. It is also a statement of fact. ... If those in Turkish camps thinking of making the journey think twice, that is the whole point. To suggest to them that either the Aegean or the Balkan sections of the route to Europe remain open would be a cruel deception. ... It has taken Europe nearly a year to grasp collectively that an unconditional welcome is the worst possible response to the Syrian refugee crisis. When Mrs Merkel yielded to a charitable impulse and opened her borders, the crisis intensified.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

No one wants to help Greece

The EU summit is meant to send the signal that no more refugees will be able to reach Central Europe via the Balkan route, the liberal conservative daily Corriere della Sera writes, pointing to the most prominent victim of this policy:

“The Balkan route is now closed, the final statement which has already been drawn up declares. … The summit will also reiterate that Nato will continue to take action against the people smugglers in the Aegean. And no doubt it will also add that the EU will stand by Greece and do everything it can to help the country. But the facts speak a different language. The government in Athens hasn't yet managed to reach an agreement with its EU creditors and the IMF on the drastic pension cuts they are demanding, and the country will face national bankruptcy once again in July. … In the meantime it could be flooded by a wave of refugees. The plan to exclude Greece clearly hasn't been taken off the agenda yet.”

Népszabadság (HU) /

Woo Ankara with concessions

The EU has no choice but to make concessions to Turkey if it wants to bring the refugee crisis under control, the centre-left daily Népszabadság writes:

“At the summit on Monday the EU must make serious concessions to Turkey. If it wants to stop the refugees from moving westward, the first thing it must do is announce its intention of providing far more financial support to Ankara than it has done so far. Crisis-ridden Erdoğan urgently needs a few successes under his belt, and fast. If he received more support he would be more willing to cooperate. So a new phase in the EU accession negotiations with Turkey must be inaugurated. ... A further nod in Ankara's direction would be to allow Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the EU.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Turkey must observe the rule of law

The EU must make no concessions to Turkey at the joint summit on refugees, the liberal business daily Handelsblatt demands:

“Both things, the refugee issue and the rule of law, are connected. Davutoğlu himself created this connection when he said ahead of the summit that not just the refugees but also his country's EU prospects must be talked about at the summit. … What Davutoğlu and Erdoğan don't seem to understand is that Turkey can only move closer to the EU if Ankara observes and implements the Copenhagen criteria agreed by the EU for candidate countries in 1993. Those criteria include freedom of expression and the separation of powers. On these issues the EU must not make compromises for Ankara, no matter how big the pressure in the refugee crisis.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Summit will bring at least some progress

A "typical European solution" is what the centre-left daily Der Standard believes the summit will bring. In other words, not a major plan but a step-by-tiny-step approach to the problem:

“Donald Tusk's trek across the Balkans and Athens to Ankara is a first sign of what is to come: the blockades on the Balkan route are to be dismantled and the Aegean will become the big obstacle. Economic migrants will be deported to Turkey, refugees will be kept in Greece with EU money and then sent to other EU states bit by bit. The special summit could see the launch of a packet of measures in which at least a few states declare their willingness to start resettling refugees on a small scale. Those who don't want to could be given the option of 'buying' their way out of the scheme by contributing to an EU fund. The disadvantage of such a package for reducing the flood of migrants: it's no real substitute for a genuine European refugee policy.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Europe running around in circles

In the run-up to the refugee summit the Dutch government has proposed a plan to bring 400 refugees to the EU from Turkey per day via an airlift. Although the idea is worth thinking about it is not the solution, the centre-right daily De Volkskrant stresses:

“The fact that a new plan is once again being put forward highlights how quickly things go downhill for Europe as soon as the principle of 'every man for himself' comes into play. ... The European leaders give the impression that [the fence in Macedonia] isn't all that much of a problem: those who don't enter Macedonia won't reach Western Europe either. In principle the Macedonians are doing exactly what much of European public opinion wants them to do. At the same time the view is spreading in the capitals that such fences cannot be a structural solution - for one thing because Greece can't simply be left in the lurch. That means that Brussels is once more turning to the task that has awaited it for months: getting Turkey to effectively patrol its coast.”

Star (TR) /

EU has too little to offer Turkey

The refugee deal sought between the EU and Turkey is neither workable nor humane, the pro-government daily Star believes:

“Refugees are to be selected in the camps in Turkey and brought to Europe. Like at a modern slave market, those who seem useful will be chosen, no doubt small groups of men. But of course it must be pointed out that not all European countries approve of this proposal. What's more, such help would merely be a drop in the ocean - and it's not even certain that it will be put into practice. ... If Turkey is laden with additional burdens it must be clear what it will receive in exchange. As long as the EU's aid remains no more than a promise, rather than narrowing the gap between Turkey and the EU will only widen.”

Lietuvos žinios (LT) /

Grexit was a far less dangerous scenario

The EU's response to the Greek crisis was far more vigorous and resolute than its response to the refugee crisis, political scientist Saulius Spurga comments incredulously in the daily Lietuvos žinios:

“The EU is a rich region with the biggest economy in the world. It must use all the resources at its disposal to stabilise the situation and protect itself. After Greece got into financial difficulties in 2010, hundreds of billions of euros of Greek debt were waived and it was given more than 300 billion euros in loans. Yet the worst scenario back then was Greece's potential bankruptcy and its withdrawal from the Eurozone. Even if that scenario had become reality we would have long since forgotten that crisis today. The refugee crisis is causing much more trouble and poses a far greater threat. But for some reason it is only receiving a fraction of the attention that crisis-stricken Greece got back then.”

Sydsvenskan (SE) /

Europe's growing disgrace

The liberal daily Sydsvenskan doubts the summit will produce positive results:

“The hope is that next week's EU summit in Brussels with representatives from all EU states and Turkey will secure a deal. The plan is to seduce Turkey with the prospect of resuming the negotiations on EU membership. Germany and the Netherlands are trying to persuade member states to take in refugees from Turkey. Sadly there is little hope that the EU leaders will be able to decide on a sustainable plan for managing the crisis at this summit. As long as the member states fail to agree on a more equal distribution of the asylum seekers only temporary solutions involving refugee camps and closed borders will rule the day. Not just the tide of refugees but also Europe's disgrace is growing ever larger.”

Sme (SK) /

EU hypocritical vis-à-vis Ankara

The criticism of Ankara just before the EU-Turkey suit is out of place, the liberal daily Sme believes:

“Pointing fingers at Turkey and saying it still isn't doing enough to combat the people smugglers is hypocritical in a situation in which ten states are refusing to contribute to the three billion euros for Ankara that Angela Merkel promised. … Like Atlas, Merkel bears the weight of Schengen on her shoulders. She hasn't closed the border, and despite Seehofer's threats from Munich to refer the issue to the Constitutional Court and to break the coalition she is appealing desperately to the member states to fulfil their obligation to save Schengen. It is very late. But perhaps this hope will die last.”

Slate (FR) /

Refugee crisis presents opportunities too

US political journalist Christian Caryl points to the opportunities the refugee crisis offers for the EU in the online magazine Slate:

“Brussels ... has the capacity to address [the refugee problem]. In fact, the challenge posed by refugees could actually serve as a positive impetus for Europe to catch up on some long-neglected homework: bolstering controls on its external borders, deepening political integration, and taking serious moves toward common foreign and security policies. If successfully handled - to the satisfaction of voters - those steps could breathe new life into the European idea and even spur growth; refugees and migrants could help compensate for the graying of European societies and for stalling entrepreneurship.”

More opinions

Cyprus Mail (CY) / 09 March 2016
  Cyprus has no chance of blocking deal with Turkey
Salzburger Nachrichten (AT) / 08 March 2016
  Persuade Ankara to make reforms in membership talks (in German)
Der Tagesspiegel (DE) / 02 March 2016
  EU states must take in refugees or provide financial aid (in German)