With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg and negotiating what many think will be a meaningful rapprochement, the migrant deal between Turkey and the European Union increasingly looks set to go off the rails.
For the past few days, Austrian officials had been making noises about not letting Turkey’s EU accession bid proceed. Then yesterday, Vienna’s boy-faced Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz made the most open threat. Reuters:
“I have a seat and a vote in the (EU) foreign ministers’ council. There the question is whether new negotiation chapters will be opened with Turkey, and I am against it,” Kurz said in an interview with Austrian daily Kurier, threatening to block the unanimous agreement required by the council.
His skepticism was echoed by German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel earlier this week, who said that Turkey could not expect to become an EU member in the foreseeable future, which he specified to mean the next 10 to 20 years.
With that kind of hot language flying around, Turkey’s response was predictable, to say the least. The Financial Times:
The EU’s demand that Turkey must overhaul its terror laws in return for visa-free travel is “impossible” in the aftermath of last month’s attempted coup, the country’s EU minister has warned. […]
Mr Celik said Turkey had survived “a coup attempt by a terrorist organisation”, adding: “We have the PKK, Daesh [Isis] and other groups launching attacks so it would not be intelligent to make an amendment in the terrorism law at this point.”
Turkey’s EU minister stressed that Turkey might be open to negotiating further on overhauling its terror laws at some future date, once the coup attempt and its attendant instabilities were further in the past. But that seems unlikely to happen, given how tense the mood remains.
The truth of the matter is, however, that the deal itself may be superfluous. The FT again:
One EU diplomat based in Ankara said it was not clear that the collapse of the agreement would even make a difference. “It is not the Turks who are stopping the refugees. It is the fact that the Balkan route is closed — and that the processing in Greece is taking so long,” said the source.
That rings true, and is something we’ve argued in the past: The migrant problem is best dealt with from the supply side, so to speak. If people get wind that a path to asylum in Europe is no longer open, they simply won’t attempt that passage any more.
“Americans will always do the right thing—after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives,” Winston Churchill is supposed to have said. The same could apply to the Europeans here. Starting from a set of idealistic premises—Angela Merkel’s compassionate but suicidal open doors gambit—the EU’s migrant policy has culminated in this spectacularly unwieldy deal with Turkey, a deal that everyone knew was destined to fail. In the meantime, after a series of uncoordinated and messy beggar-thy-neighbor border closing all across the Balkan corridor, finally the Europeans have found something that ‘works’.
This sidesteps the issue of morality completely, of course. From where we’re sitting, Europe should take refugees in, especially since the EU has done so little to prevent the civil war in Syria from spiraling out of control in the first place. But the only way to make that work at all is to first reassure your citizens that the process is controlled. As Tom Switzer wrote last September in the Spectator in defense of Australia’s own policies: “By being tough on illegal migration, my country has cut out people-smuggling—and preserved public support for resettlement of refugees.” It’s the only way.