With the war in Syria still raging on, fears of a new migrant surge remain in the hotspot of EU/Turkey relations. A non-binding vote by the European parliament to freeze Turkey’s EU membership talks has prompted the Turkish leader to threaten Brussels with a new migrant flood into Europe.
The EU and Turkey have a long history of complicated relations. Turkey has applied for formal EU membership in 1987. Today, almost thirty years after, Turkey’s accession negotiations are still at an early stage. Turkey’s prospects of EU membership have significantly worsened after a recent breakdown of relations between Brussels and Ankara.
The failed coup to oust Erdogan in July this year has led to a massive regime crackdown on its opponents in the army, security structures and the civil sector. The EU has expressed its concerns over the state of human rights in Turkey, while the Erdogan regime has brushed off all criticism, adopting a sharp rhetoric towards Brussels.
Turkey’s Key Position on the Migrant Route
The period of poor relations between the EU and Turkey has been exacerbated by the ongoing migrant crisis. Turkey’s is playing an important role in the migrant crisis, as the main transit country on the migrant route to Western Europe. Thousands of refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East use Turkey as their starting point to enter EU countries.
Erdogan’s regime has used the migrant crisis to put an increasing pressure on EU countries, already having troubles to cope with thousands of migrants entering the Eurozone area.
In the midst of the ongoing tensions, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement in March this year, by which Turkey was obliged to receive back thousands of illegal migrants crossing to Greece, while the EU agreed to speed-up the process of Turkey’s EU accession, allocate funds to help Turkey cope with the increasing number of migrants and lift visa restrictions for Turkish citizens travelling to Schengen area.
A Fragile Deal
The EU/Turkey agreement has been put to the test more than once. Following the failed coup in July, political situation in Turkey has remained extremely volatile. The migrant deal with Turkey remains extremely important to the EU, especially Germany, a country that has received the largest number of migrants from the Middle East.
Reacting to the non-binding vote in the European parliament calling for EU ministers to freeze talks on Turkey joining the EU, Mr. Erdogan said,
“If you go any further, these border gates will be opened. Neither I nor my people will be affected by these empty threats.Do not forget, the west needs Turkey.”
Although the vote in has a very symbolic meaning, Turkey has made it very clear that it could abandon its agreement with the EU.
Speaking a day after the EU parliament passed a non-binding resolution, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to EU-Turkey migrant deal,
The refugee deal with Turkey, I think, this agreement is in the mutual interest of both sides.
Merkel has also stated that there is no alternative plan in case the deal should fall apart,
I have no plan B… it’s difficult but I’m working hard to make sure that this plan is being implemented.
If a lasting agreement is not reached, the EU might lose Turkey as a partner. Mr. Erdogan, a politician with a track of bold Geo-political decisions, will not hesitate to search for the alternatives.