Time for Plan B Europe Must Not Be Blackmailed by Turkey

After agreeing to help the European Union control the flow of migrants heading north, the Turkish government now feels empowered to use the deal as leverage. Europe must now find an alternative to its agreement with Ankara, lest it subject itself to blackmail.

Syrian refugee children in Turkey
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Syrian refugee children in Turkey

A SPIEGEL Editorial By


Complete dependence on someone makes you vulnerable to extortion. Back when the European Union sealed its refugee deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this year, some were concerned he would use the agreement as leverage. Now Turkey's government has done just that. The Turkish foreign minister has warned Ankara will terminate the deal if the European Union doesn't grant visa-free travel for Turkish citizens within months.

To be sure, there are good reasons to grant Turks a visa waiver. But right now, it's especially important that Europe insist Ankara first meet the criteria the EU has determined necessary for that waiver to happen. That includes a reform of Turkey's anti-terror laws, which the government has been using to imprison political opponents without due process. The EU must not let itself be blackmailed by Erdogan, whose autocratic tendencies became visible once again during the last few weeks.

Turkey is in a dangerous state of crisis after last month's failed coup. Europe -- correctly -- condemned the attempted takeover by parts of the army, and now it must work to ensure that Erdogan returns to the rule of law. Turkish democracy is endangered by the post-coup purge, which included the dismissals and arrests of tens of thousands of lawyers, judges, journalists and members of the military. At the same time, an anti-Western sentiment has taken root in Turkish politics and society. The government in Ankara wrongly accuses Europe and the United States of not condemning the coup strongly enough or of secretly having supported it. This type of thinking is what spawned the threat to scuttle the refugee deal.

It's uncertain whether Turkey will ultimately make good on its ultimatum. That wouldn't be a very wise move, even from a Turkish perspective. For one, Erdogan would lose his most important piece of supposed leverage. Turkey also depends on Europe for its economic development; the newly rediscovered friendship between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin offers no real alternative to the EU. But the Turkish president is an unpredictable actor and he doesn't always seem to act rationally.

Consequences Less Dramatic than Fears

If Turkey were to actually scrap the refugee deal, the consequences would likely be much less dramatic than many people fear. Sure, the flow of migrants to Europe would probably increase, but it's rather unlikely that tens of thousands of people would immediately start making their way to Europe. After all, it was the closure of the Balkan route -- not the deal with Turkey -- that was primarily responsible for staunching the flow of migrants heading north. Both measures together sent the message that the EU was no longer willing to accept uncontrolled migration to central Europe. More than anything, the refugee deal had symbolic power. To this day, Greece has not rejected a single Syrian who has applied for asylum. As of late July, only 468 people had been deported to Turkey. The announcement of the deal was sufficient -- it never had to truly come into force.

But no one can say what would happen if the agreement with Turkey were really terminated. For that reason, the EU must find its own alternative solution for dealing with refugees. Europe needs a Plan B without Erdogan, but two things must be considered: The kind of migration that we saw last year is not politically feasible in any European country, not even in Germany. Secondly, an equitable distribution of asylum-seekers across the entire EU in the future unfortunately seems unrealistic.

As long as things remain this way, there's only one option: The EU must use European funds to build refugee camps in Greece and Italy, where asylum applications can then be processed. This would, however, be a massive burden for the affected countries. At the same time, leaders of the EU member states need to create more opportunities for legal entry for asylum-seekers and compel at least some EU countries to accept refugees.

The worst-case scenario would be Greece turning into a bottleneck for refugees again. But it's more likely that many people will be deterred by the unattractiveness of crossing into Europe in the first place.

These are indeed depressing prospects, but the truth is that morally, it's not better to keep sending Ankara billions of euros in order to keep migrants in Turkey rather than accommodating them on European soil -- especially not when doing so puts you at the mercy of a man whose country could itself soon be the source of the next wave of political refugees.

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jfilardo@gmail.com 08/08/2016
1. rent a country
Europe should already have proposed incentives to a Balkan country to retain the refugees, providing assistance and resources. Kind of "Rent-a-country" program. For a poor country such as Albania it would be a very good deal!
khaganadh 08/08/2016
2. Plan B with Turkey
The only possible Plan B with Ankara is to pretend Plan A is Plan B like Angela Merkel has been dong for quite a while !Erdogan has EU exactly where he wants it choking on its leftist rhetoric over the refugees.
turnipseed 08/08/2016
3. The Turks
The Turks have been a deadly problem for Europeans since 1453. It is time to end their threat.
macca51 08/09/2016
4. The EU will follow orders from Turkey
So part of Der Spiegel's solution is to "compel at least some EU countries to accept refugees". In other words take away a basic right of any nation ... to determine who enters the country. And which EU countries are to be compelled? Slovenia? Bosnia? The Balkan countries upon which, according to Der Spiegel, the whole rickety refugee mess relies? So play hard ball with Turkey who immediately encourage the two million or so refugees they have to head for Europe, then compel Slovenia or some of the Balkan countries to start taking refugees wherein the Balkan route is reopened. Brilliant!! And what would be the attitude of the countries who are compelled to those that are not? No wonder the Brits wanted out of this whole, stinking EU mess.
kctaz 08/09/2016
5. Have you lost your sanity?
"To be sure, there are good reasons to grant Turks a visa waiver." When I read this, I had to check the date of the article. I was shocked to find that it was written on the 8th of August. Erdogan is working hard to turn Turkey into and Islamic, Fascist theocracy like Iran. He is killing Turkish citizens with abandon and destroying all human, press and judicial rights in Turkey. Turkey should be expelled from the EU, not allowed visa free travel. Or, are human rights something you just give lip service to and create obnoxious regulations for other nations to abide by but don't really mean to be taken seriously when confronted by a dictator who could not care less about them? What are you thinking? Also, your choice of the word "compel" in regards to forcing other nations to take refugees is what created the climate for the successful Brexit. Compulsion will destroy the EU if it is not already destroyed, as I suspect it is. Ms. Merkel created this mess when she unilaterally and without consultation with the EU or any member nations, let alone all of them, as she should have done before changing immigration policy for the entire EU. Now, having created this mess, you want to "compel" other states to share in the misery Germany has created? I do think you have lost your sanity and your minds. Germany wholly owns this crisis and She already has the blood of hundreds killed by jihadis throughout Europe on Her hands. "Compel" is a word you may want to think twice about due to current events and German history, my Der Spiegel.
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