Can the EU and Turkey Resolve Their Migration Standoff?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Brussels on Monday, March 9 for a one-day working visit. He is expected to meet European Council President Charles Michel to discuss the growing tensions between Turkey and the EU following the Ankara’s decision to open its borders to Greece. This decision sparked violent clashes between migrants and security forces in the area. Many hope that both sides can resolve their differences and reach a solution aimed at resolving their migration standoff.
Erdogan’s Justification for Letting Migrants into Europe
The Turkish President claims that his nation could no longer take in more refugees and requested that Brussels take more responsibility for the mass numbers of people fleeing conflict in Syria. He also demanded that the EU revise its migration deal with Ankara that was signed in 2016, arguing that Turkey needs more EU money to deal with the large number of arrivals.
It is unlikely that Ankara and Brussels will agree a solution that can end the migration crisis that is crippling the Greek-Turkish border. When migrants entered Europe in 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted an open-door policy to refugees. According to Politico, in 2015 Germany set a migration record, with 2.14 million people arriving in the country that year.
The Migrant Crisis and Rise of National Populism
Furthermore, the IOM and UNHCR both estimated that 1,005,504 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe from January 1 to December 21, 2015, three to four times more than in 2014.
The result since then has been widespread political backlash against the EU’s elites, starting with Brexit in 2016 and then the European elections last year, which witnessed the rise of nationalist parties in France and Italy. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally recorded a strong 23.5 percent of the French vote, finishing first. Matteo Salvini’s League party won more than 33 percent of the vote in Italy.
As Merkel prepares to stand down as Chancellor of Germany, the AfD surged to second place in an election in the German state of Thuringia last October, achieving a 24 percent vote share. They beat the Chancellor’s CDU party.
EU: We are Tired of Erdogan’s ‘Blackmailing Politics’
The rise of populism in Europe has no doubt triggered a strong response from Brussels in the midst of what they call Erdogan’s “blackmailing politics.” They have supported Athens’ tough stance in protecting the bloc’s borders, and said it would not tolerate illegal crossings.
The European Commissioner for the Budget, Johannes Hahn, also told the German newspaper Welt that financial aid to Turkey would be significantly lower than it has been in the past four years. They also want to focus on providing humanitarian aid to Idlib.
Although the ceasefire between Turkey and Russia last Thursday should help prevent refugees from fleeing Syria in the short-term, the rise of nationalism and the ongoing border crisis proves that the EU needs to resolve its own migration policy if it hopes to survive as a bloc.
This is why French President Emmanual Macron is right to argue that EU countries should opt to remain within the Schengen area if they choose to. Both the Polish and Hungarian governments have rejected calls in the past to take in their fair share of migrants and opting out of Schengen will allow nations to enact stricter border controls.
Macron also wants a common asylum policy and a common border force. Whether these aims are achievable is yet to be seen, but the rise in populism last year also signaled a rejection of further EU integration. He will experience some headaches if he hopes to achieve his goals.
Either way, the EU needs to address its internal borders policy if it hopes to survive as an entity, but in the short-term, they have much to lose if they surrender to Erdogan’s threats. Accepting limitless numbers of refugees is electorally unpopular. Therefore, both Ankara and Brussels are unlikely to achieve a long-term solution to the Greek-Turkish border crisis.