The Uncertain Agreement

15. 3. 2017

Diplomatic cultures, like nations, may differ. Whereas it is generally accepted in Europe that a diplomatic agreement represents the end of a negotiating process, in some countries of the Middle East an agreement often marks the beginning of negotiations.

It is difficult not to think of this when it comes to the March 18 agreement between EU and Turkey on how to handle the migration crisis. According to the agreement, Turkey will take back all the „irregular“ migrants which passed through its territory on their way to Europe and replace them on a one-to-one basis with „regular“ refugees from the conflict in Syria. This process will go on until it hits a ceiling of 72 000 arrivals in Europe. It is difficult to find from the agreement what happens then. Presumably Europe will stop accepting refugees. But will Turkey continue to accept irregular migrants? It seems that this is where a new round of negotiations will start.

In exchange for signing the agreement Turkey will receive from EU 3 billion euros on top of the 3 billion it has already received, to cover its costs of handling the refugees. Europe, in exchange, will receive nothing to cover the costs of handling the irregular migrants. The question is what happens after Turkey spends the 3bn and runs up new costs. Will it continue to trade in humans with EU or ask for more money? We do not know.

As a conditio sine qua non for accepting the deal, Turkey demanded and is apparently getting visa-free travel in the Schengen zone for its citizens. This is a remarkable achievement. Ukrainians need visas to enter the EU, Turks will not. And speaking about the migration problem, how many of the close to 80 million Turks will choose to stay in Europe indefinitely? How many will be allowed to stay? That might have to be negotiated.

The visa waiver is very unusual in that it was apparently promised before Turkey met the criteria for its application. The standard procedure is exactly the opposite: only after a country has met all the criteria is a visa waiver offered. We still remember the long and thorny road to a visa waiver for Czech citizens entering the United States. Apparently, this poses not much of a problem for the European Commission, even if it claims the visa waiver is conditional. Yes it is, but in a different sense. As Prime Minister Davatoglu made clear, without the visa waiver Turkey might not keep its commitments under the agreement. What loose ends might be left untied after Turkey finds itself de facto in Schengen will apparently have to be negotiated.

The last element of the deal, the vague commitment by the EU to re-energize the accession process of Turkey to the EU is in fact the least problematic part of the agreement. EU will not be accepting Turkey any time soon and it is doubtful whether Turkey is that keen to join. But since it will already be a part of the Schengen area de facto, it might not make that much of a difference.

To conclude the deal, EU had to assume that Turkey is a „safe“ country under the international asylum legislation, adhering to all the human rights standards of a safe country, an extremely questionable proposition, particularly since a number of the migrants are members of the Syrian Kurdish minority, who are not exactly popular with the current Turkish government, which is waging an on and off war against the Turkish Kurds.

It is hard to make predictions, especially about the future. In this particular case, however, it is safe to assume that the EU-Turkey agreement will fail, as all open-ended agreements inevitably do. It is hard not to think that well-informed people in Brussels are aware of this. It might be understandable if this is a way to win crucial time for the EU to put in place its own effective measures to control migration. It might be fatal if it is not.

Michael Žantovský

Michael Žantovský is the Honorary Board Chairman of the Aspen Institute Central Europe.

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