The German Foreign Minister Wants To Renew The EU-Turkey Deal
It’s been just over five years since the European Union and Turkey agreed a deal, or in the EU’s preferred language, a “statement” to restrict migration from Turkey to the EU. The deal, signed at the height of the “migrant crisis,” has met criticism on various fronts, and will likely be discussed at the upcoming European Council meeting of June 23-26. In the run-up to this meeting, Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas told the German broadsheet Die Welt, that he thinks the deal should be renewed.
“Despite all the issues we have with Turkey,” said Maas, “we must recognise that they have shouldered a considereable burden for us.”
By this, Maas means that Turkey agreed to prevent millions of people, who were attempting to reach Europe, from getting any further. Turkey was indeed very effective in this endeavour. According to the EU’s own accounting, two years after the deal was signed more than a million people had been diverted in their efforts to reach Europe. That’s, according to the EU, a drop of 97%.
The point of the deal was nominally to disrupt the operation of smugglers who profit from sending people in rickety boats from Turkey to the Greek islands, where they could claim asylum. The aforementioned EU report notes that among those million detained on their journey were a thousand people who might otherwise have died.
The deal has a number of levels to it. Turkey agreed to accept back irregular migrants trying to cross the Aegean after March 2016, while the EU agreed to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian sent back (and if you’re wondering how that worked in practice, you’re right). At the same time, talks between Turkey and the EU on Turkey’s accession to the bloc and access to the Customs Union were to be accelerated, and the EU would contribute around $7 billion in aid to support those people stuck in Turkey.
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The deal has received criticism from all sides. On the most basic level, observers accused the EU of essentially off-shoring their refugee commitments to Turkey. It has also been repeatedly observed that Turkey is neither a safe place for refugees in itself, nor does it honour its commitment to accommodate refugee within its borders, instead often pushing Syrians back into danger.
Even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself has criticised the deal, alleging that the EU had reneged on their promise of financial support. In 2020, he threatened to open the floodgates, bussing thousands of refugees to Turkey’s border with Greece in an apparent threat to the EU.
At that time, the German foreign minister Heiko Maas condemned Turkey’s actions. “We must not allow refugees to be made the plaything of geopolitical interests,” said Maas, quoted in Deutsche Welle.
Nonetheless, Maas is now in favour of renewing the deal. And he knows it’s going to cost more. “I don’t want to pull a number out of the air,” Maas said in June to Die Welt, “but obviously it’s not going to work without money.”
One of the sticking points for a deal negotiation, however, would be whether that money goes to Turkey directly or not. Money from the EU to support refugees in Turkey currently goes through humanitarian agencies such as UNHCR and not directly to the Turkish authorities. Turkey would prefer to receive the money directly, and this demand, along with the expectation of an enhanced trade relationship, might determine how future cooperation between the EU and Turkey on migration goes.