EU and Turkey reach deal on refugee action plan with Ankara carving out substantial concessions

EU and Turkey reach deal on refugee action plan with Ankara carving out substantial concessions
By bne IntelliNews October 16, 2015

EU leaders offered Turkey the prospect of earlier visa liberation, opening up new chapters in accession talks and financial aid in return for Ankara’s help stemming the flow of refugees to Europe.

The deal has come as a gift for the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a time when Turkey faces one of its biggest political crisis in years and has plunged into deeper turmoil after the bomb attacks in Ankara ahead of a snap poll in November in which Erdogan’s AKP hopes to recover a majority in parliament it lost in the June elections for the first time since coming to power in 2002.

The AKP and Erdogan may well exploit the EU deal to boost support in the elections which according to recent surveys would produce a yet another hung parliament.

Turkey's accession talks with the Block have been stalled amid concerns over Ankara human rights record. EU officials have been criticising Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, but government critics now will see the latest deal as a sign that Brussels is ready to set aside its criticism of the president and the AKP government just for the sake of securing Ankara’s cooperation in the face of the refugee crisis.

The Financial Times reported earlier this week that publication of a report on Turkey’s EU membership — expected to be critical of democratic shortcomings- will be pushed to after the November election.

Refugees from Syria and other countries use Turkey as a springboard to illegally cross into Europe which desperately needs Turkey’s cooperation to stop the influx. It is reported that nearly 600,000 migrants have reached the EU by sea so far this year. Turkey itself hosts around 2mn refugees, fleeing from the civil war in Syria.

Successful implementation will contribute to accelerating the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap towards all participating Member States and the full implementation of the readmission agreement, said the European Council in a statement released after the summit on October 15, adding that progress will be assessed in Spring 2016.

“The EU and its Member States stand ready to increase cooperation with Turkey and step up their political and financial engagement substantially within the established framework. The accession process needs to be re-energized with a view to achieving progress in the negotiations in accordance with the negotiating framework and the relevant Council conclusion,” said the statement.

Turkey had also demanded €3bn in aid, well above the EU’s initial offer of €500mn. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, however, said that the sum to be granted to Turkey would have to be negotiated over the coming days.

An agreement with Turkey makes sense only if it effectively contains the flow of refugees, commented European Council President Donald Tusk following the EU summit on October 15.

Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who backs the EU-Turkey refugee deal, will travel to Turkey at the weekend in a political gesture just two weeks before the Turkish elections. As bneIntelliews reported last week Merkel is still against Turkey’s EU membership, but she stressed Turkey’s key role in solving Europe’s growing refugee problem.

Merkel will meet with Erdogan and PM Ahmet Davutoglu for talks on the joint battle against terrorism, the situation in Syria and managing the refugee crisis.