Turkey Flirting with the European Union

by Trent Broeckel

The deal meant to control the flow of refugees entering Europe between Turkey and the European Union went into effect on March 21. Essentially, the agreement dictates that all “irregular migrants”[1] reaching the shores of Greece from Turkey would be returned in exchange for the EU directly taking refugees from Turkey who have proper paperwork.[2]

Legislation that encourages tighter border control may be a step in the right direction for halting the Syrian Civil War and the growth of IS. Many of IS’s recruits cross over into Syria via Turkey’s eastern border. In an interview with a Syrian student recently arrived from the Middle East, I was told that the best solution to the complicated Syrian Civil War would be to completely lock down Turkey’s border with Syria.

European Union leaders recently praised Turkey for their handling of the irregular migrants. After visiting a migrant camp near Turkey’s border with Syria, EU council President Donald Tusk stated, “We have seen a sharp reduction of the illegal migration flows.” Tusk then praised Turkey’s government for their part in the refugee migration route.[3] Various human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, counter this acclaim. They argue that the EU-Turkey deal violates international law and also caution that Turkey is not a safe place for returning migrants, as there are very few routes for migrants to exiting from Turkey.

Another stipulation added by Turkey to the deal was the chance for all Turkish citizens to gain visa-free entry into Europe. The EU, in agreement, laid out 72 conditions for Turkey to reach before the visa-free entry would be granted with a May 4 deadline. Currently, Turkey has only satisfied 35 of those conditions. It appears that Turkey will not fulfill all 72 conditions before the deadline.[4]

Turkey’s Prime Minister, Melvut Cavusoglu, threatened to pull out of the migrant deal if the EU does not grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, of Luxembourg, countered by stating, “Turkey must fulfill all remaining conditions so that the Commission can adopt its proposal in the coming months. The criteria will not be watered down.”[5] These tense relations and negotiations do little to raise Turkey’s long-term chances of attaining admittance into the European Union.

Ever since 1963, Turkey has been trying to gain acceptance into the European Union. In 1999, they officially became an EU candidate. Already a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member, Turkey’s admittance to the EU would provide a noticeable boost to their struggling economy. They could benefit greatly from having access to the European trading bloc as well as more access to the International Monetary Fund.

As stated above, Turkey is a NATO nation, and has historically been a strong ally of the United States. Recent events have damaged those once friendly relations. In early April, Turkish President Erdogan vowed to not restart peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).[6] The PKK, which Turkey and many other nations recognize as a terrorist group, has once again found itself at war with the Turkish government following the collapse of the peace talks. The United States supports Kurdish militia groups in northern Syria in their fight against IS, yet Turkey views these Kurdish groups as enemies of their state.

The point right now is that Turkey is not in a good place. They face a multitude of terrorist security threats, worsened relations with the EU and NATO, and a refugee crisis that only seems to grow larger. Erdogan and his nation are walking a thin line in trying to please the European Union to gain their admittance. Some believe that President Erdogan is using the millions of refugees as a bargaining chip to force the EU’s hand and gain admittance into the organization.

Europe could sit back and let Erdogan and Turkey deal with their own problems, but that would not be wise. Turkey has long been the bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Though, currently, perhaps safety buffer is the more appropriate term. If Turkey fails to stop their security problems, then radical groups like IS could gain more prominence close to Europe.


[1] A note on terminology: The term migrant is used to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

[2] “Why the EU-Turkey Deal is Controversial,” The Economist (April 11, 2016). http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/04/economist-explains-5.

[3] “Migrant Crisis: EU-Turkey Deal is ‘Working,’” BBC News (April 24, 2016). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36121083.

[4] “Turkey meets less than half of visa-free EU travel terms as deadline approaches,” RT (April 21, 2016). https://www.rt.com/news/340539-turkey-visa-free-eu/.

[5] “EU: Turkey will not water down criteria for Turkish visas”, Al Jazeera (April 19, 2016). http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/04/eu-water-criteria-turkish-visas-160419104028218.html.

[6] “Erdogan slams European Union over Turkey criticism,” Al Jazeera (March 21, 2016). http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/03/erdogan-slams-european-union-turkey-criticism-160321132630047.html.

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