In response to a European Parliament decision Turkey threatens to unleash refugees on Europe
On Thursday the European Parliament (EP) voted 479 to 37 in favor of a recommendation to freeze negotiations over Turkey’s accession to the EU. As is to be expected, the Turkish government is not very pleased with this development.
Ömer Çelik, Turkish Minister of EU affairs and Turkey’s chief negotiator for the accession talks, responded (emphasis mine):1
“On a day like this, I would not want to make statements over the EP’s visionless decision. In reality, we regard this decision as void. … It is easy to talk like this in places where terror has not occurred. At a time when Turkey, which has a 1,295-kilometer border with Syria and Iraq, is involved in a heightened fight against terror, there are visionless and imprudent debates going on in Europe, instead of solidarity.”
Beyond considering the EP decision as “void”, senior Turkish leaders have also adopted a rather truculent stance, threatening, in a veiled, yet clear manner, to unleash a swarm of refugees into Europe unless EU accession talks are restarted. Prime Minister Benali Yıldırım was the first to make such threats (emphasis mine):2
“We are one of the elements that protects Europe. If refugees cross our borders, they will flood and inundate Europe, and Turkey prevents that from happening. … I acknowledge that the interruption of relations with Europe would harm Turkey, but the damage would be five to six times worse for Europe.”
Soon after President Erdoğan expressed his opinion on the matter, ripping into the EU:3 “You never treated humanity honestly and you did not look after people fairly. You did not pick up babies when they washed ashore on the Mediterranean. We are the ones who are feeding around 3.5 million refugees in this country. … You did not keep your promises.”
He then continued, reiterating his Prime Minister’s threat (emphasis mine):
“When 50,000 refugees turned up at the Kapıkule [Turkish/Bulgaria border crossing] you cried out and began to say ‘What will we do when Turkey opens the border gates?’ Look, if you go further, those border gates will be opened. You should know that. … Don’t forget, the West needs Turkey.”
Erdoğan has also expressed his defiance towards the EU, at what he perceives to be their unwarranted meddling in Turkish affairs. On the contentious issue of the state of emergency implemented following the July 15 attempted coup and still in effect, he stated maybe it “will be extended by three months and then maybe another three months… This is a decision for the government and the parliament. … Is the European Parliament in charge of this country or is the government in charge of this country? What’s it to you?… Know your place!”4 Erdoğan also views Europe’s treatment of Turkey as hypocritical arguing that the EP’s “decision is based on everything that is opposite of what they recommend us.”5
This is not the first time that Turkey has threatened the EU with migrants. A year ago following the agreement of the EU Turkey migrant deal, Erdoğan’s adviser Burham Kuzu admitted that Turkish negotiators told their EU counterparts “We’ll open our borders and unleash all the Syrian refugees on you.”6 It was also revealed via a leaked official document that while speaking with EU officials Juncker and Tusk, Erdoğan warned them “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses.”7 Turkey’s hard-nosed negotiations tactics proved fruitful as the EU agreed to pay Turkey $3 billion in exchange for attempting to curtail migrant flow to Europe via the Eastern Aegean region.
Thus far the migrant deal appears to be working. For April 2016 there was a month-over-month decline of 90% in the number of migrants arriving in Greece.8 However, migrant flows to Europe are still significant with the first 9 months of 2016 seeing over 300,000 migrants arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea (including via Italy).9 Yet compared to 2015 Europe has received a respite from the record migrant in flows which were already causing noticeable political and societal problems in European countries.
The question that now arises is whether the EU will give into Erdoğan’s latest attempts at blackmail through the migrant issue? With the relative success of the migrant deal in mind, there is little doubt that its collapse would be unfavorable to EU officials, who currently have enough problems with the surge of euroskeptic and nationalistic right-wing political groups throughout Europe. In addition the EU has already shown itself to be supinely susceptible to Turkey’s previous blackmail attempts.
Conversely, especially since the July 15 attempted coup and Erdoğan’s subsequent purge of the military and government, and his crackdown on journalists and the opposition HDP, EU officials, well some of them, have adopted a more critical tone towards Turkey. Maybe even the yuppies in Brussels are getting fed up with the antics of Erdoğan. Or maybe not as there is indication that some EU officials are already softening their stance towards Turkey.
For instance on Friday Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has stated (emphasis mine):10
“Turkey is a crucial ally, and this is not only because of the refugee crisis. Of course there is an obvious fact that Turkey has hosted more than three million refugees which Europe could not do. Therefore I demand Europe to refrain from giving lessons to Turkey on this matter. Turkey has done more than Europe, along with border countries of Jordan and Lebanon. Thus when talking about this issue, one should be modest.”
So a would sultan exhibiting tyrannical and menacing behavior should be treated modestly. And you wonder why I feel nothing but disdain towards Juncker and his ilk.
Notwithstanding Juncker’s conciliatory rhetoric, while we may be unsure of how the EU will respond, there is little doubt that if Europe remains uncooperative then Erdoğan is more than capable and willing to unleash hordes of migrants as retribution. It should be realized that Turkey appears to be increasing aggravated by their relationship with the EU, as it is being claimed that latter is attempting to undermine Turkey by supporting the PKK, PYD and FETÖ.11 As such, Turkey may be less inclined to pursue accession with Europe and may instead turn its gaze eastward, to China and Russia.
Ultimately, we will just have to wait and see how this geopolitical drama unfolds.