The EU and Turkey struck a deal on November 30 to limit the flow of migrants to Europe. Ankara has been promised €3bn and political concessions in return, including restarting stalled accession talks, and potential liberalisation of the EU visa regime.
The deal will boost President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s image domestically at a time when he is pushing for an executive presidential system, while it underlines Turkey’s strategic importance for Europe. The agreement between Brussels and Ankara comes shortly after Turkey shot down a Russian plane for violating its airspace near the Syrian border.
Some critics argue that the EU is compromising with Turkey on human rights and fundamental freedoms just for the sake of controlling the flow of refugees. Just days before the summit, two prominent journalists were arrested on charges of assisting terrorists, espionage and treason. In May, Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief the central-left newspaper Cumhuriyet and Erdem Gul, its Ankara representative, published video images that purportedly showed Turkey’s intelligence service was helping send weapons and ammunitions to Syria. Erdogan had vowed to punish the journalists.
Also, two days before the summit, Tahir Elci, the president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association and a prominent rights activist was shot dead in Diyarbakir, in a sign that violence in Turkey’s southeastern provinces between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is escalating.
The EU and Turkey agreed to implement a joint action plan to bring order to migratory flows and help to stem irregular migration. This is expected to include measures to send some failed asylum seekers back to Turkey, and resettling some refugees currently in Turkey in the the EU.
“Turkey and the EU discussed the importance of overcoming the common challenges ahead and they agreed that the accession process needs to be re-energised”, said the statement released after the summit held on November 30. There will be an intergovernmental conference on December for the opening of chapter 17 (on economic and monetary policy) in the accession negotations. Turkey and the EU will also have twice-yearly summits from now on.
The EU pledged to lift visa requirements for Turkish citizens in the Schengen zone by October 2016 if Ankara fulfil a number of the requirements, including one regarding the EU-Turkey readmission agreement.
Finally, the EU is committed to provide an initial €3bn to Ankara. Turkey is the major transit point for refugees trying to enter Europe and is currently hosting more than 2.2mn Syrian refugees. The need for and nature of this funding will be reviewed in the light of the developing situation, said the statement. Turkey has also agreed to offers some work rights to its Syrian refugees.
The EU and Turkey also agreed that a high level economic dialogue mechanism, which will contribute to further enhancement of economic relations and create a business platform to bring business circles together, will be launched in the first quarter of 2016. Brussels and Ankara also decided to enhance energy cooperation.
“Turkey and the EU are determined to advance together the widespread spectrum of their actual agenda to ensure that this fresh impetus yields concrete results,” said the statement.