On March 17-18, EU leaders will gather for yet another summit hoping to finalize the proposed agreement with Turkey to cut off the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe. Meanwhile, this tentative deal pushed through Chancellor Merkel has run into increasing difficulties. As Merkel is coping with political fallout from Sunday’s regional elections, in which her party suffered significant losses while an anti-immigration party surged in all three contested German states, formal objections to the migration deal have piled up from at least six EU member states.
Before the weekend, CEPI asked Central Europe’s leading experts on Turkey for their views. In general, they see a deal that could potentially work in limiting the flow of refugees into Europe. However, there are still many details to be clarified or agreed upon, which would otherwise discredit the whole agreement or risk national vetoes, including from Hungary. For the V4 governments, at least two problems stand out: the relocation of Syrian refugees within the EU is still refused, and the almost immediate visa liberalisation for Turkey, which is seen as unfair to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ankara’s growing democratic deficiency may be a concern for the Czech Republic, while the other three Visegrad countries would probably not consider this an issue.
Adam Balcer, WiseEuropa think tank, Warsaw, Poland
The deal is morally dubious but seems unavoidable. It could potentially lead to substantial decrease in the number of refugees arriving in Greece. The remedy is, however, easy to prescribe but hard to implement. The deal faces several challenges on the European side, for instance possible opposition to the direct relocation of refugees from Turkey to the EU, to the lifting of the visa regime for Turks and to speeding up the Turkish accession process — which is thus far progressing at a snail’s pace. Opposition in the EU would also be strengthened by a further authoritarian slide in Turkey. All of these are reminders of the price the EU might have to pay for solving the migration crisis.
Needless to say, we will most likely witness more divisions in the EU over the migration issue. I believe the Visegrad Group (V4), including Warsaw, will support Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán’s veto on relocation. By default, this will reaffirm the V4 region’s negative image in Western Europe and the Muslim world. In some countries, the Hungarian veto will be likely accompanied by anti-Muslim and racist rhetoric as well as strong criticism of Germany and its leadership in the EU. At the same time, the veto might attract strong popular support in the V4 countries. Warsaw and Budapest will not hesitate to misuse the relocation issue as a pretext to demonstrate their defiance towards the EU’s and Germany’s criticism of an anti-liberal slide in both countries, and to incorporate the issue into their defense of national identity against an alleged “moral imperialism” coming from Berlin. These divisions could be used by the EU either as leverage over Ankara or as a tool for Turkey’s divide et impera strategy.
The EU concessions to Turkey, if they are not selected and implemented carefully, could turn into a handicap. Instead of cherry-picking, the EU should focus on opening select negotiation chapters like judiciary, rule of law and human rights which might represent new channels for the bloc to influence internal developments in the country. Visa liberalisation could be an opportunity to enhance the EU’s engagement with Turkish society. The EU-28 should not forget the economic and geopolitical leverage it has over Turkey. Ankara still needs Brussels more than the other way around. While the Turkish government is coping with a high structural account deficit and an economic slowdown, its economy is strongly dependent on EU foreign investment, tourism and markets. This plays into the hands of Brussels and is a testimony to the EU’s economic foothold in Turkey. On the other hand, Turkey is under strain from Moscow in three areas: the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Middle East. Russia’s involvement in the Kurdish issue, representing Turkey’s “Achilles heel”, also adds fuel to the fire. We should not forget that Turkey has waged a war against the Kurdish guerrillas since July 2015, without much success. As a result, strong ties with Europe and the West may prove useful to Ankara as a counterbalance to Russia.
Edit Inotai and Dániel Bartha, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy, Budapest, Hungary
In theory, the Hungarian government should be in favour of Turkey protecting Europe’s external borders. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has declared Turkey a safe state where migrants could be sent back without remorse. There is little concern in political and diplomatic circles regarding the humanitarian situation in refugee camps, let alone President Erdogan’s troubled relationship with democratic institutions. His takeover of critical media outlets has prompted little criticism in Hungary. Mr. Orbán even respects Mr. Erdogan for his political philosophy and governing techniques, as indicated in numerous interviews.
Yet, there is no sign of a zealous support for the EU-Turkey deal. The deal is overpriced, but not in the financial sense. The originally suggested €3 billion compensation would surely be underpaying for the services provided by Turkey, both as a host to more than 2 million Syrian refugees for years and as a potential gatekeeper for Europe. Offering more financial assistance would be negotiable for EU members, even Mr. Orbán suggested he would be ready to pay more.
The real problem is the rest of the package, including the almost immediate visa liberalisation demanded by Turkish PM Davutoglu and the resettlement of Syrian refugees in exchange for each migrant sent back from Greece. Hungary is — at least in words — a supporter of Turks travelling visa-free in Europe and even campaigns for Turkey’s EU membership. However, when it comes to deeds, Budapest is more cautious. “Visa liberalisation for Turkey could only happen after Ukraine is granted similar status,” Orbán argued, trying to find an emergency exit for Budapest. Few notice the trick behind visa-liberalisation: visa-free travel would not only apply to the 78 million Turks but — eventually, after five years of residency — also to all Syrian refugees who apply for Turkish citizenship.
Hungary is more likely to compromise on the visa issue than on the relocation of Syrian refugees. “No migrants in Hungary” is an absolute red line set by Orbán himself, and he has no intent to cross it. The one-for-one exchange of refugees for migrants raises several questions anyway. First, it would probably mean the end of refugee politics based on the Geneva Convention and challenge basic human rights principles. Those being returned from Greece to Turkey would be qualified as migrants, regardless of their condition or origin. Second, many EU-states are not open to welcoming refugees, from Greece or Turkey. Signing a deal with Ankara without clarifying this would discredit the whole agreement, risking not only a unilateral veto by Orbán but tacit support of Hungary`s veto from other EU member states.
Lucia Najšlová, Editor in Chief, v4revue.eu, and Assistant Professor at the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic
It is in the Czech Republic’s vital interest to arrive to an agreement with Turkey that would address both the refugee crisis and reiterate to Ankara that there is a viable accession process with a realistic chance for membership.
The Czech government represents just 10 million of the EU’s 500 million citizens. At the time of writing, it seems that the more powerful EU countries have not yet found a way to strike a strategic deal with Turkey without completely undermining the strict conditionality of EU enlargement based on democracy and human rights. This certainly weakens the leverage of those voices in Czech diplomacy who believe that despite its size, the country should take a bolder and more pro-active position on this issue.
The Czech Republic has a long track-record of supporting human rights abroad, initiated by the former President Václav Havel. But there are also dissenting voices in the current government who believe Czech economic and security interests can be fulfilled without paying attention to democracy and rights abroad.
The Czech government has understood that any workable refugee agreement must involve more than just strengthening EU border protection and financially supporting Turkey. It will have to include assistance to Greece and also opening the door to some of the refugees applying for asylum in the EU. The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, has repeatedly conveyed the CR’s readiness to fulfill its obligations under the Geneva Convention and EU treaties. It is a vital interest of the CR to remain in a functioning EU that sticks to basic values. This position has also been reiterated by a number of foreign policy experts. Unfortunately, this rhetoric is under staunch criticism from President Miloš Zeman, a populist, and emerging anti-Islam movements.
In any case, Czech membership in the Visegrad Group is unlikely to have a significant bearing on Prague’s steps on this matter. While Czech diplomacy believes dialogue with V4 partners including Hungary is important, it has already indicated that the refugee crisis and the future of EU-Turkey relations require an EU-wide consensus. Thus, any expression of V4 solidarity will probably not take precedence over a negotiated EU solution.
At the moment, Prague seems ready to support measures that will bring the EU and Turkey closer, but it expects Germany and other bigger players to clarify their positions on unilateral vetoes of accession chapters by Cyprus (as well as France), and take a lead.
While Turkey’s EU membership bid has strong backing in the Czech foreign policy community, this is likely to weaken if Turkey does not send stronger signals that it is serious about its EU aspirations. The Czech media perceive news about declining media freedom in Turkey with great concern, and thus it is increasingly difficult to justify that a credible EU accession process could be one of the strongest tools to bring Turkey closer to EU standards.
“A view from Central Europe” is a series of monthly blog-style publications providing a platform for young and up-coming thinkers from the Visegrad Group – Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – to reach an EU wide policy-focused audience. The project aims to intensify dialogue between the V4 capitals and European opinion-makers on relevant issues in the EU agenda with strategic implications for Central Europe.
“A view from Central Europe” series is edited by Jana Psarska.
This project is supported by the International Visegrad Fund.