Melanie McDonagh

The EU is sucking up to Turkey to help reduce migration - but it could seriously backfire

The EU is sucking up to Turkey to help reduce migration - but it could seriously backfire
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You might have thought, mightn’t you, that a million arrivals in a year to a single European country, Germany – well, more than 800,000 and counting – would be enough to be going on with, wouldn’t you? After that, you wouldn’t actually be going out of your way to solicit more incomers into Europe in the long term, even if you were going to be sensible about the influx and were admitting refugees on a purely temporary basis until they could safely return home? But that’s not how the EU works.

Turkey at present hosts about two million refugees, mostly from Syria.  EU governments would obviously prefer them not all to come here. So as part of the EU’s courtship of the authoritarian Turkish president Recep Erdogan, the presidents of the European Commission, the council and the parliament have been urging the president to name his price when it comes to Turkey’s willingness to keep its Syrian migrants inside its borders rather than allowing them to make for Europe. And Mr Erdogan, who is nothing if not keen on his cashflow, has made no bones of his price: €2 -3 billion, thank you, according to one diplomat quoted in the FT today.

If it were simply a matter of bunging this corrupt and authoritarian Islamist as much money as will keep him happy in order to discourage refugees from leaving, then I suppose we could live with it. After all, even without formal camps, two million refugees are a formidable burden on the Turkish state in all sorts of ways; we should find those numbers difficult to handle.

But have the EU bigwigs, not to mention Angela Merkel, who’ll be dining with the president shortly, even thought about what the effect of them begging to him might be? Have they not even registered how this special relationship might appear during the Turkish elections in a fortnight’s time, and how it might be very helpful for Erdogan during the campaign? But just in case the message hadn’t properly registered that there are no lengths we won’t go to in order to suck up to the president, the EU will not be publishing the Commission’s report on Turkey’s iffy human rights record today, when it was due to appear; it’ll be held until after the election. It would be funny if it weren’t so shaming.

But the other concessions the EU is making should worry us more. First, it appears to be willing to accede to the Turkish demand for visa free travel by Turkish citizens within the Schengen zone. This shouldn’t be a problem if all those who enter then leave - but they don’t necessarily. (Kosovo, for good measure, has been promised the same concession, next year. Would the last to leave turn out the lights?)  Secondly, the Turkish government has intimated that it would like talks about its joining the EU to be revived.

Just in case you needed reminding:

  1. Turkey is already a candidate nation for EU membership;
  2. Membership would give its population, just shy of 76 million, the right to live and work anywhere in the EU;
  3. Britain is an enthusiastic supporter of Turkish accession. David Cameron repeated last year that he still wanted Turkey to join. 'The EU without Turkey is not stronger, but weaker,' he declared.
  4. So, in the short term, Europe can look forward to an unlimited number of Turks arriving shortly courtesy of its visa free travel arrangements. And if the accession talks work out, there’s the potential of millions more arriving to live and work perfectly legally. And yes I do know about Turkey’s historic standing as a great power and its strategic importance straddling east and west and its extraordinary imperial culture, etc etc. I still worry about unlimited numbers of its citizens making for the west. You thought the migrant situation tough already? It may get worse.

    P.S. Only three per cent of the Turkish land mass is actually on the European side of the Bosphorus; the rest is in Asia. Just saying.