Germany’s Dodgy Deal With Turkey
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arranged a new deal with Turkey last week designed to finally fix the migrant crisis. On the face of it, the core part of the deal is very sensible: Any migrant who crosses from Turkey to Greece illegally—as the vast majority of current migrants do—will automatically be sent back to Turkey. In exchange for every migrant who is returned to Turkey, the European Union will take in a migrant from a refugee center in Turkey.
The trouble is, the deal is illegal.
Much of the blame lies with Europe’s human rights law. It is, quite frankly, stupid. It has long frustrated people in Britain that the nation cannot deport violent criminals and even terrorists because they have certain rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The EU currently tells migrants: Make the dangerous and illegal sea crossing to Greece, sell all you have and give it to criminal gangs to smuggle you across the border, and then we will take you in. Chancellor Merkel’s deal would say: Cross into Europe illegally, and we’ll send you back. Play by the rules and register as a refugee in Turkey, and we might take you in. To argue that the EU’s current policy is better, kinder or more moral than Merkel’s deal is ludicrous. But the current policy is more legal.
The EU directive that deals with asylum seekers says that the EU can only deny a refugee asylum and send him or her back if he or she came to the EU from a “safe third country.” The directive lists some very specific conditions a country must meet to qualify as a safe third country. Turkey does not meet those conditions. It fails because it sends refugees back to the country they came from, and it is not a full member of the Geneva Convention on refugees.
“It is pretty clear that, according to the EU’s own rules, Turkey cannot be deemed a safe third country,” wrote Duncan Robinson on his Financial Times blog. Thus Chancellor Merkel’s plan of sending refugees back to Turkey would be illegal.
“In short, the EU has two options: hope that Turkey introduces a functioning asylum system—or close its eyes, plug its ears, and nod the decision through,” he concluded. “The rules are clear, and there is little space for legal gymnastics”—a statement he helpfully followed up with the following informative clip:
That’s not to say the EU law is right. But ignoring the law, no matter how bad it is, is always concerning.
But it gets worse. In making this deal, the EU is cozying up to one of the most evil leaders of a major nation in the world. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the type of strongman that EU officials used to love to hate. He cracks down on free press and imprisons political opponents. His attack on the Kurds purely to gain a political edge has to be one of the most cynical ploys of modern times.
Just days before Merkel reached her deal, Turkish authorities shut down the nation’s biggest daily newspaper, Zaman, and arrested its journalists. On Monday last week, the government went on to shut down the Cihan news agency. Now, a handful of small media organizations is all that remains of Turkey’s free press.
In the past, Turkey would be risking sanctions for these acts. Instead, it brazenly dismantles its free press at virtually the same time it is negotiating with EU leaders. The EU is supporting these actions by continuing to work with Erdoğan. As part of the deal, Turkey wants another €3 billion (us$3.3 billion), and it wants its citizens to be able to travel to the EU without a visa by June.
The EU is not just working with this autocrat; it is propping him up. Last year, the EU produced a report highly critical of Erdoğan. Publication was suspiciously delayed until after Turkey’s elections on Nov. 1, 2015.
Back then, it looked highly suspicious, but the smoking gun was found last month. The minutes of a meeting between Erdoğan, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk were leaked. The three men were trying to negotiate a migrant deal with Turkey. Erdoğan wanted more money. After arguing for a while, Juncker said, “Please note that we postponed the progress report until after the Turkish elections, and we got criticized for this delay.” He admitted that EU leaders deliberately delayed the critical progress report until after the elections. He said, in essence, We helped you win the election, now we’d like some payback please.
The point is not to condemn doing deals with bad people. Sometimes that may be necessary. The United States and United Kingdom working with Joseph Stalin in World War ii is a classic example. But this isn’t the way the EU usually works. A year or two ago, these kinds of deals would be anathema to the EU. Just as with Europe’s approach to human rights, it’s the change that is significant, regardless of the right or wrong of the actions themselves.
Of course, that’s not to say that the EU has never acted hypocritically before. After all, this is an organization that constantly talks about making the world a better place, while at the same time its trade policies, which are right at the heart of the union, put farmers in some of the poorest parts of the world out of business. Hypocrisy is in its dna.
But it’s a very specific kind of hypocrisy. EU officials view their organization as morally superior to the rest of the world because of the human rights rules they follow. Following these rules may cause more harm than the policies of other nations like America or Australia, but that doesn’t matter to these officials—just the fact that they follow them makes them better.
What is happening now is different. This deal runs counter to the EU’s multicultural-, human-rights-loving identity.
And to make matters worse, the deal won’t work. The deal the EU hammered out with Turkey last year failed. The longer the migrant crisis goes on, the more concessions Turkey can extract. It has little incentive to make the crisis go away.
This time around, Europe may fail to live up to its side of the bargain. Merkel hammered out the deal with Turkey, but other European nations have not yet agreed. EU leaders had readied a completely different proposal for Turkey, but Merkel swooped in at the last minute with this much more ambitious deal. According to the Financial Times, Merkel, along with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, constructed this deal with Turkey behind the backs of their EU colleagues.
“Both Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, and Donald Tusk, European Council president, were almost entirely sidelined in the deal making on Sunday,” wrote think tank Open Europe. “Reports suggest that other EU diplomats were shocked to find that they had been cut out too.” Other EU nations may not take kindly to being bossed around by Germany once again, and this time, Merkel may be unable to force them to comply.
It will be incredibly hard to persuade all EU nations to sign up to the conditions Merkel has offered Turkey. EU leaders are under heavy pressure from anti-immigrant groups; voluntarily taking in migrants would be a recipe for electoral disaster. Giving visa-free travel to Turks is very unpopular too; leaders worry that it would dramatically increase the number of asylum seekers arriving in the EU from Turkey.
Even if Germany can get the rest of the EU on board, it may not be able to implement the deal. Other agreements to transfer migrants from one country to another have failed abysmally.
If, and when, this deal fails, what next?
“Postwar Europe was built to value collaboration and cooperation,” wrote Trumpet columnist Brad Macdonald as the migrant crisis began to build last year.
It was designed to be enlightened, multicultural and tolerant. It has positioned itself as the world’s moral authority: It abhors war; it defends the environment and human rights; it values international cooperation. …
Perhaps the greatest effect of the refugee crisis, together with Russia’s dramatic resurgence and Europe’s rolling financial problems, is the way it is causing Europe to shed this postwar veneer and return to its past. Being tolerant feels good, until hundreds of thousands of foreigners enter your nation and expect you to foot the bill. Being multicultural is wonderful, until Muslims waving Islamic State flags and eyeing your teenage daughter settle in your village. … Europe right now is a place where dreams are beginning to meet reality.
This is what we are seeing in Germany’s deal with Turkey: the first major signs of Europe rejecting that “postwar veneer.” When that fails, the situation will become even more desperate—pushing Europe to take even more desperate measures—moving further away from the left-wing, human-rights-loving, multicultural EU we see today.