On February 3, the EU’s 28 member states agreed upon how exactly to finance a three billion euro migrant facility in Turkey. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country is currently holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, said:
“We are working continuously to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. The agreements between the EU and Turkey are a vital part of this. They aim at targeting human traffickers and launching projects which will help give those in and around the refugee camps the hope of a better future. Europe is following up on its decision to make 3 billion euro available for the Turkey Refugee Facility and we will continue to work hard with our Turkish partners to turn this into concrete results”
The new agreement with Turkey, as well as the opening of new chapters on Turkey’s EU membership bid, show an EU that is still too divided to solve its own problems. Over a million migrants entered the bloc in 2015 alone. The EU’s solution was to reach a deal to relocate some 160,000 of them. Just a few hundred have actually been relocated. Eastern European countries were in an uproar over the thought of welcoming migrants from war-torn countries. Meanwhile, other member states continue to blame Greece for being unable to single handedly stop hundreds of thousands of migrants entering the EU via its thousands of islands in the Aegean.
The EU has two major problems in this situation. The first is that it is once again failing to solve its own problems. The second is that it is giving into Turkish demands when the country has little chance of being admitted as a member state and while its democracy is being questioned, calling into question the credibility of the bloc’s enlargement policy.
This latest agreement with Turkey is yet another sign that the EU is incapable of working together to actually solve its own problems. The recent announcement that NATO will begin patrolling the waters between Greece and Turkey adds to the point. Instead of forcing its member states to agree on a solution to the problem and to allocate resources from all member states, the EU has simply paid Turkey to do the dirty work. While European countries bemoan the number of refugees that have arrived (over one million in 2015), Turkey already houses more than 2 million refugees from Syria, in a country that has a lower population than Germany.
Northern and Eastern European countries criticize Greece (not exactly overflowing with resources at the moment) for not being able to control the hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving on its thousands of islands in the Aegean. Meanwhile, they hardly lend a helping hand to Greece or collectively shore up the common border that Greece is meant to defend on its own. It is clear that such a crisis is too large for one country to handle, let alone a smaller country heavily in debt and dealing with an economic crisis simultaneously.
Instead of threatening to throw Greece out of the Schengen Area, the EU needs to come to the aid of Greece with a collective border police force to ensure its external borders are controlled. Throwing Greece out of the Schengen Area and doing nothing to help it will not solve the migrant crisis in any way. Outside of Schengen, Greece will continue to allow the migrants to pass on through its territory to Macedonia, where the migrants continue on their way to the EU. Although Balkan countries have recently announced stricter measures at their borders (only allowing in asylum seekers from certain war-torn countries), the flow of migrants is unlikely to stop in the short term. A simplistic and short-sighted solution will not help anyone.
As the EU struggles to work together coherently, it has given in to Turkish demands regarding the advancement of the country’s candidature to be a member state by opening more chapters. This deal comes after Turkey has recently made many questionable decisions regarding human rights in the country. In the southeast, several districts have been under a constant curfew since mid December 2015 with civilians being killed in clashes between the government and the PKK and various reports of human rights abuses. There have also been attacks on media outlets and arrests made of those calling for justice for the citizens of the southeast. With recent signs pointing to further anti-PKK operations (constant curfews) in more districts in the southeast, not to mention the recently heightened tensions with the Kurds in Syria, the situation does not appear to be improving in the short term.
In this context, Europe has given in to Turkish demands for more chapters to be opened in its application to join the EU. This is despite the chances of Turkey being admitted to the EU are slim to none – particularly due to lack of support by EU member states. This concession by the EU sends an awful message and even makes the enlargement process look like a farce. The door has been opened to allow the progression of a candidate in exchange for solving the EU’s own problems, even if the candidate has been going further away from the “values” that the EU claims it has.
The idea of Europe working together seems ever more like a farce when the EU is faced with difficult crises and situations that require leadership and collective action (not to mention sacrifices). In the current migrant crisis, Europe has not only failed to find a collective or unified response, it has also made a joke out of its enlargement policy.