The European Union and Turkey have reached an agreement to stem the flow of migrants after intensive talks in Brussels on March 18.
All illegal migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece will be returned starting March 20. Turkey will win more financial aid and faster EU membership talks.
This looks like a good deal for Turkey and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, since apparently most of Ankara’s demands have been met. This can potentially increase the popularity of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government at home. This is especially important for Erdogan who is seeking to change the country’s constitution to establish an all-powerful presidency.
At an EU-Turkey summit held earlier this month, Ankara demanded fast-track membership talks, an easing of visa rules for Turkish citizens by June and some €6bn until 2018 to help Europe ease the migrant crisis. In return, Ankara pledged to take more asylum seekers and keep them inside Turkey.
In a statement released after the summit held on March 18, the EU and Turkey reconfirmed their commitment to re-energise the accession process. Brussels and Ankara decided to open Chapter 33 (financial and budgetary provisions) during the current Dutch presidency of the EU. Preparatory work for the opening of other chapters will continue at an accelerated pace.
EU leaders also pledged to further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated €3bn and to mobilise an additional €3bn up to the end of 2018.
For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.
According to the statement, the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016, provided that all benchmarks have been met. Turkey must fulfil a total of 72 requirements.
The EU reiterated that it expects Turkey to respect the highest standards when it comes to democracy, rule of law, respect of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.
But critics in Turkey and across Europe have accused EU leaders of turning a blind eye to concerns about the growing authoritarianism in Turkey, a country with a poor human rights record.
It is a potentially big positive for Turkey, said Tim Ash from Nomura International in an emailed comment on March 18. “€6bn is not small change in the Turkish context (close to 1% of GDP). Visa liberalisation is a big political win for the ruling party in Turkey, but importantly, the 73 reforms linked to this as demanded by the EU will help cement broader reform momentum in Turkey.”
All this brings Turkey back into the Western orbit and will help to support the government reformers’ agenda, Ash added.