“We’re going our way, you go yours,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Europe this weekend. Ostensibly, the comment was just about Turkey’s broad anti-terror laws, which Europe had demanded be reformed in return for visa-free travel, a subsidiary condition of the broader EU-Turkey refugee deal hammered out by recently-deposed PM Ahmet Davutoglu. But the EU fears that it might reflect the fate of the refugee pact as a whole—so they’re starting to make contingency plans. Politico.eu reports:
As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has hinted in recent days he may just let the whole arrangement collapse, a step that could again send refugees streaming across the Aegean, Europe has quietly begun preparing a Plan B.
The EU’s contingency plan, described by senior diplomats, envisions turning Greece into what European leaders from Angela Merkel on down have vowed to avoid: a giant refugee camp.[..]
Under the blueprint, first reported Monday by Germany’s Bild, Greek islands would serve not just as reception centers for the refugees, but as semi-permanent refugee camps, much like those that have been built near the Syrian border in Jordan and Lebanon.
The EU has yet to make any concrete preparations and appears to be pursuing the idea, at least in part, to show Erdoğan that it has other options, however unattractive they may be.
The impulse to get out from under Erdogan’s thumb is a good one; it has been clear for months that the Turkish would-be strongman thinks he can dictate terms to Europe. But this isn’t much of a Plan B.
Complicating things even further is the Greek debt crisis, which continues to roll on; in a worst-case scenario, Greece could wind up broke, full of refugees, and de facto cut out of the euro and Schengen. This would be a disaster for Athens, but pretty bad as well for the future of the European project as a whole. The intersection of the refugee and monetary crises may well be why Germany hinted on Monday that it was open to some sort of debt forgiveness, presented in other, less-politically-charged terms, of course.
But even with Athens seeing some monetary relief in return, it would be hard to persuade the Greeks to turn their country into a giant, open-air refugee camp. Ultimately, if Europe wants to get out from under Erdogan’s thumb, it must grasp the nettle it has shied away from for four years: it must have a Syria strategy. Only by going upstream, to the source of the refugees, can Berlin, Brussels, and the rest credibly stare Erdogan down. And as difficult and thorny as developing and implementing one would be, until Europe does so, it will continue to be caught in binds just like this one.