The fourth EU summit this year on the migrant crisis concluded yesterday, with European leaders “welcoming” the terms of an action plan hammered out with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—terms that were only announced yesterday. The terms are much more generous to Turkey than expected: €3 billion in support (the European Commission initially was offering €500 million, and then upped the offer to €1 billion on October 5); the re-opening of around five chapters in Turkey’s EU accession negotiations; and visa liberalization giving Turkish citizens the ability to travel in the Schengen border-free area as soon as next year.
“Welcoming” is not agreeing to, of course. Most of the terms of any deal will have to be approved in national parliaments, where opposition could be stiff. French President Francois Hollande immediately began hedging about the prospects of visa liberalization, for example, and several EU diplomats expressed surprise at the €3 billion figure. One senior diplomat averred that the summit’s result was cosmetic, at best: “The purpose is to improve the mood on this very toxic issue. I’m not sure we’ll be able to give a positive answer, but we can’t afford a clear message of failure.”
EU leaders are clearly desperate to get some kind of deal with Turkey to stop the flow of refugees, and there is nothing wrong with that in itself. But the timing is questionable at best. By announcing and endorsing these very generous terms two weeks before critical Turkish elections, they are giving a big boost to a man whose ambitions threaten to make the Middle East crisis substantially worse. Pledges of billions in aid, and the optics of Europeans essentially begging Erdogan for help will strengthen his image as Turkey’s Strong Man, and give him credibility with nationalist voters.
It would have been smarter to wait a couple of weeks and see where Turkish voters wanted to take the country. As it is, Europeans managed to cobble together a Potemkin village of a united front on migration—at the price of potentially increasing its difficulties as the Middle East meltdown proceeds.