After surviving a coup attempt, Turkey’s President Erdogan isn’t feeling any more charitable toward his neighbors. The EU Observer reports:
Speaking to German ARD television on Monday (25 July), Erdogan said the EU had promised €3 billion in aid to help improve living conditions of the some 3 million Syrian refugee it hosts.
“Ask them [the EU]. Did you pay? But Turkey still hosts 3 million people. What would Europe do if we let these people go to Europe?”, he said.
“The [European] governments are not honest”, he added.
Erdogan estimated that Turkey has spent some $12 billion (€10.9 billion) to help refugees since the start of the five-year civil war in Syria.
This is a demand Erdogan has made before, using it to play the demagogue in May. At the time he expounded on his demands: the real insult, he explained, was that the money wasn’t being paid directly to the Turkish government. Rather, as the EU pointed out, it was paying it, as agreed, through aid organizations. “It should be noted,” we wrote at the time,” that Mr. Erdogan and his immediate family members have credibly been accused of corruption, though the accusers have a nasty habit of winding up in jail shortly thereafter.”
Now, the stakes are much higher. Europe is reeling from a summer where the terrorist attacks just don’t seem to end, and a re-opening of the refugee/migrant floodgates from Turkey could push its politics over the edge. Erdogan is trying—and so far, succeeding—to use Turkey’s abortive coup to remake the state in his own image. An infusion of hard cash always helps with such efforts, as does a display of strength.
The Turkish president therefore seems to be playing hardball. But the Europeans are trying in turn to make it clear that they have limits: as Erdogan publicly mulls bringing back the death penalty, Brussels has declared that that would permanently preclude Turkey from entrance to the EU.
For what it’s worth, both sides insist they will maintain the refugee deal:
The European Commission’s chief spokesperson last week said that the visa and migrant deals with Turkey remained unchanged despite the developments.
Erdogan also said Ankara would keep its end of the bargain.
“I want to say one thing quite clearly: On the refugee issue, we will stand behind our promises,” he told ARD.
Sweet words, but given Erdogan’s others, there is an unmistakable if implicit threat. He’s re-starting a game of chicken, with even higher stakes than before.