Is it just visa-free travel that Erdogan demands from the EU to not break the migration deal?

From left to right: Mr Donald TUSK, President of the European Council; Mr Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN, Turkish President.
Location: Istanbul — TURKEY. Date: 04/03/2016. Source: EC — Audiovisual Service.
© European Union, 2016.

Last Monday Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, mentioned in the German newspaper Bild that Turkey is most likely to step out of the refugee deal signed with the EU last March unless the latter provides to the Turks visa-free travel to the bloc in October.

These comments come only a few days after the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeated to Germany’s RTL television Turkey’s strong position. It seems that all these warnings are going to be intensified till October in an attempt to convince the Old Continent that Turkey deserves something in return for halting the migrant flow to the EU.

However, the main practical issue of fulfilling the remaining five EU requirements in order to be granted visa-free travel still exists while Turkey reveals its unwillingness to materiaze any of them.

Turkish warnings

There has been a remarkable increase of Turkish statements demanding visa deliberations short after the failed coup attempt on July 15. Several governmental officials such as Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik and Mevlut Cavusoglu together with the president of Turkey have continuously warned the EU to grant them visa-free travel in order to not put a bitter end to the EU-Turkey refugee agreement.

Specifically, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already made three similar statements on the issue during this month. In his last one on August 12, Erdogan says: “The visa liberalization and readmission are very important. The process is currently ongoing. Unfortunately, Europe has failed to keep its promise on the issue. We want to take steps simultaneously. If (the visa waiver) happens, fine. If not, I’m sorry but we’ll stop the readmissions.”

Data protection and anti-terror laws

Turkey has not yet met its 72 requirements required to provide to the Turks with visa-free travel to the Schengen zone. The Commission Spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said last Tuesday that Turkey has not fulfilled five conditions regarding its data protection and anti-terror laws, which can deal with the plaguing terrorism menace more successfully.

The EU basically wants Turkey to modify its definition of terrorism in order to avoid potential crackdowns on journalists and to ensure fair trials and freedom of speech. Natasha Bertaudmentioned explicitly on the issue: “The reason we have this benchmark is because we want our partners and neighbors to fight terrorism effectively. What we are asking is that there is an element of proportionality introduced into the definition of terrorism currently under Turkish legislation”.

Is the EU ready to deal with Turkish threats?

The migration crisis has caused immense problems to Europe during 2015 putting the bloc’s unity and Schengen’s agreement at risk. The influx of migrants has been stemmed after the EU signed the one-to-one agreement with Turkey. But what if Turkey breaks the deal?

Europe does not seem to have any plan except for the one to keep on improving its relations with Turkey. The latter is understood also by the words of the German Finance Minister who said that it is crucial to continue cooperating with the Turkish President to secure his aid in coping with the refugee crisis. Wolfgang Schaeuble stressed out during an event at the northern German city of Rostock: “I absolutely don’t like what Erdogan is doing, but I don’t agree that … we should end cooperation with him. It is in our own interest to keep working together.”

On the other hand, Austria argues that the EU does not need Turkey to deal with the migration crisis but a “real Plan A”. The Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told last Monday Focus Online: “We must not give in to blackmail and therefore do not need a plan B. We at last need a proper plan A”. This proper plan A requires though a unification of all EU member states in order to tackle migration efficiently; a condition that has terribly failed to be implemented in the past.

Europe convenes to discuss its problems

Donald Tusk will meet all EU leaders to discuss about the handling and substance of the informal meeting of the 27 member states in Bratislava on September 16. The president of the European Council begins by having a working dinner today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel where both the EU-Turkey migration deal and Brexit are most likely to be on the main agenda.

All in all, there is not much time left for the EU if Turkey indeed quits the refugee agreement next October. Europe’s top priority now remains the migration crisis with the EU leaders to be asked to bring to the table practical solutions.

What Erdogan really wants

Politics are structured based on opportunities and events that come up but those events per se are rarely the main reason for any dispute. Instead the main reason is well pre-existing and describes the political goal of the politician. In the case of Erdogan in the post coup era he thinks he has to prove to the world how strong he is and how stable Turkey is by achieving something great. However, getting the Visa-free status from the EU while not doing anything about the preconditions set, is not just a great accomplishment but rather an impossible one.

In reality, Erdogan could not care less at this moment about whether his citizens get an extra stamp on their passport or not, when travelling to the EU. Demanding the impossible from the EU means that he seeks collision with the bloc, and he seeks it right now. His sultanate does not fit with any of the EU ideals anyway and it possibly never will. He aspires now Turkey to have a clearly separate road from the EU but at the same time the whole world to pay and invest on him for any issue where Turkey can capitalise its geopolitical advantage, e.g. the migration crisis, the fight against ISIS, you name it.

In the West, though, we do things a bit differently. The moment someone thinks he has too much power in an organisation or any construct, he is bound to be replaced immediately or he is badly sued and fined. Having said that, Erdogan is bound not to have it his way this time, the EU-Turkey deal will most likely come to a bitter end this autumn and the EU will have no option but to make a huge mistake, give the billions granted to Turkey to its natural biggest competitor, NATO and co.

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