The main dynamics of Turkey – EU relations are the existing and the expected of work co-operation areas, and especially the structural or conjunctural problems which caused crisis on the last period of the relation. The relationship has promoted an image like uphill and downhill since 1963 and both are confident to continue the relationship even while the crisis coming to the picture. The last term of the relationship there are some crisis and problems that stamped to themselves. Relation between the parties have become more complicated with the addition of many problematic issues from different areas to the negotiations clogged for political reasons. Turkey is not a member of the EU even fifty years past after the Ankara Agreement between Turkey and European Economic Community in 1963 and the candidacy negotiations that are continuing since 2005. The relationship between Turkey and the EU has been affected positive or negative by three different conjunctures which are events in Turkey, events in European countries and the international events. The refugee crisis, which is one of the consequences of the Arab spring and especially Syrian refugees, is one of the key factors that shape the relation according to deal with humanitarian problems, human rights issues, and democracy. The European politics slides obviously to the near of right side very much, and far-right parties which are against Islam and immigrants came to the power and shapes the agenda in such as Germany, Austria, Netherlands, and France. This paper will examine the effects of refugee problem on the relationship which is flooding the European countries through Turkey, the Refugee Agreement, and the period after that.
First, Arab Spring which started in 2010 in Tunisia has spread all around the Middle East and North Africa and it changed settled socio-politics and economic dynamics of the territory. As a consequence of the social movements around the territory and existing non-governmental armed organizations’ movements, millions of people are trying to reach Europe from different routes to be secured and more comfortable life. In this period, some part of Syrians refuged to Turkey and some parts of them used Turkey as a transit country and, usually by sea, they started to migrate to Europe through Greece. Especially, in 2015, 1 million immigrants which are coming from different ethnicity had reached European countries via Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. In addition to this, Brussels and Ankara needed to be closer because of radical movements and far-right impact. On 16th of December 2013, “Visa Liberalization Dialogue Reconciliation Text and Readmission Agreement” Joint Action Plan was signed and improved on a text which is because of promoting a solution on the problematic relationship between Turkey and EU on 18th of March 2016. According to this agreement, the refugees who were came across the Greek borders illegally from Aegean Sea need to be retaken by Turkey and in accordance with this one of the Syrian refugees in Turkey will be settled in Europe. In this context, “the European Union made a commitment that is including opening of new negotiation titles, refreshening the Turkey’s candidacy to the EU, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and totally 6 billion Euro as financial support to Turkey”. As consequences of this agreement refugees which are trying to escape to Europe from Aegean Sea did decrease and the border security of the EU was much more strengthened. According to the European Union border security institution Frontex’s shared information about decreasing of refugee data shows that 72% of the migrated population has disappeared after the agreement which is signed with Turkey in 2015. Because of this radical reduction in the number of refugees, Turkey’s value is understood much better when the EU faced a refugee crisis. However, on the next period of the time, unrespects to the agreement caused damages instead of opportunities. Because even they are taking measures both irregular and illegal immigrations are controlled by the European institutions and it is irrational. At the same time, four million Syrians are financed by Turkey itself and it costs a lot to Turkey. So, it is obvious that, for the stability and social coherence in European continent dependent on Turkey in that sense.
Second, in early February 2016, Turkey had threatened to “open the Gates to Europe” for refugees. This was framed by Ankara as a defense of Turkey’s rights in the face of frustrations over Europe’s delayed response to the refugee crisis. If the historical background of the 2020 discourse of Erdogan is examined, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated this sentiment again on February 12, “Turkey will be patient up to a point over the crisis in Syria and could be forced to take action if necessary.” It shows that parties of the relationship between Turkey and the European Union are not just depending on the EU countries and depending on Turkey in that sense. On February 28, 2020, Turkey has lost 33 soldiers in Idlib by an airstrike, and this event caused Turkey to open its border gates to the European countries for refugees living in Turkey. Financial Times newspaper in England was focusing on the refugee crisis and in their news they said “European Union had many time to deal with the issue of refugees, however they did not do their responsibilities’ needs and Turkey is right to threatened Europe and the EU become passive party of the relationship.” It is obviously saying that Turkey is the right party and European countries need to make an agreement with Turkey to avoid from the refugees in their border. The last event which caused Greece to defend their borders against any pressure and threat that comes from the refugees as a European Union member country promotes Turkey’s serious attitude on the issue and being loyal to the agreement which signed in 2016 as it pinned above. The spokesman of European Commission Laura Berard made an interview with Euronews and said that approximately there are 42000 refugees in Greece and the EU gave 2.23 billion Euro to Athens since 2015 and 700 million is on the agenda to Greece. However, Turkey where there are 3,6 million refugees gained 3.2 billion Euro from 6 billion Euro as mentioned in the agreement since 2016. Even it is not clear whether they will give the Money or not. According to the last pandemic illness which caused global crisis all over the world shows that the unexpected outgoings will not accept Europe to pay rest of the Money to Turkey.
Third of all, the Joint Action Plan has two main part and subtitles of the two title which first part is ‘supporting the Syrians under temporary protection and their Turkish hosting communities’ and it is actually saying that Turkey is making commendable efforts to provide massive humanitarian aid and support to an unprecedented and continuously increasing influx of people seeking refuge from Syria which has exceeded 2.2 million to date. Turkey has already spent more than € 7 billion of its own resources on addressing this crisis. Therefore, Turkey has had responsibilities among the territory and has taken its duties automatically. There is a said that geography is destiny and so Turkey did behave mature and open its gates for refugees as human rights defender, however, the refugees in Turkey did not stay in Turkey and some of them used Turkey as a transit country to Europe. In addition to this, European countries did not accept the situation and signed this Joint Action Plan with Turkey to stop illegal and irregular refugee flooding to their territory. Both parties have literally something to do to avoid from any terror movement and to be against from immigrants. As far as Powers are far-right parties in European countries for instance Merkel in Germany or Sarkozy in France, they are against refugees and Islamophobia in their countries had risen, therefore they cannot tell the immigrants to their own people as representatives of their people. In addition to this, the second part of the Joint Action Plan is ‘strengthening cooperation to prevent irregular migration’ also due to the same aim. Xenophobe of the European countries do not let them to accept different, unqualified people into their border without any circumstances. Under this part of the Action Plan, measures will build on the visa liberalization dialogue, the visa roadmap and the provisions of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement.
Fourth, FRONTEX (Operational Cooperation Agency for the Management of the External Borders of the European Union Member States) the institution, which plays an active role in the security of the EU borders in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was established on October 26, 2004 and started its activities on May 1, 2005. Its main purpose is to ensure coordination between the security units of the member states in border security. Apart from this target, which is innocent in the first place, violent interventions have been avoided through FRONTEX Emergency Border Response Teams (RABIT), which have turned into the EU’s ‘border patrol’ with military ships and personnel in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. and therefore, FRONTEX has been accused of letting many innocents drown in the open sea. Therefore, the European countries do not want refugees in their territory, and they are not avoid from using violence against them. Furthermore, the coastal countries of the European Union hosted the most part of the refugees, for instance, Italy, Hungary, or Greece. It is to say that the absence of a common refugee policy within the EU can be easily understood from the absence of standard practices for refugees among member countries. As an example of this situation, asylum seekers’ acceptance rates vary from country to country and their differences in benefiting from minimum health and shelter services. Their unity is just sharing opportunities and they are not supporting fully each other on the bad situations. Unfortunately, the European Union is the first in the world on many different issues like economics, welfare state system, and so Turkey does not fed up with this candidacy process.
On the other hand, disunity of the EU countries shows thinking about an alternative instead of the European Union for Turkey. However, this idea is invalid, too. From Turkish point of view, Turkey is trying to enter this kind of a union which is not satisfying even its own member states, and this brings its members to not trust the union in facing with any problem. However, thinking about another union apart from the EU for instance a union with Eurasian countries, or in the Middle Eastern countries seems impossible to Turkey. In such a situation, Turkey cannot be reaching economic welfare in the Middle East instead of the EU countries, because of many of the Middle Eastern countries have no political stability and petrol they are earning Money from is shared with American companies. The cooperation with Russia as an alternative is also a risk for Turkey because of the historical background of the relationship, so Russia and Turkey came across many different times for instance; Chechenia, Crimean Tatars issue, in Syria and diplomacy is just making the tension stabile. Therefore, being in a unity with Russia and to trust them is important for Turkey, in addition, Iran and China are cooperating with Russia, so simple example of Russia’s unfriendly attitude is Armenia versus Azerbaijan problem in the region. Russia and Iran support Armenia against Azerbaijan and it is obvious that we as Turkic people in the region have no relationship which is built up with friendship with the others. Indeed, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs works very well on the candidacy issue, as it is said above, the relationship has three different conjunctures and they are internal issues of Turkey, internal issues of the EU countries and international events that shapes the relationship route. The refugee crisis and the Joint Action Plan between parties is an event that is effect of regional relativeness.
To conclude the paper, the takeaways from the process of the negotiation and implementation of the JAP are twofold. First, the fact that neither Turkey nor the EU has backed away from the agreement, despite pronounced frustrations on both sides, signals that there is some benefit in the continuation of the agreement. Ankara also knows that, even as it is frustrated by stymied progress toward visa liberalization, walking away from the agreement would close the door entirely on its bargaining Powers. For Europe, which is still struggling to handle the number of migrants already within its borders, the JAP continues to be its best option for stemming further refugee influxes from Turkey. Second, the refugee crisis is by no means over for either Turkey or Europe. The civil war in Syria continues to produce humanitarian challenges of historic proportions. The refugee crisis turned Syrian Crisis into an internationally critical issue. However, Turkey and the EU relations had tension on the discourse of Erdogan to open the gates to Europe for refugees and Greece turned back and used harsh method to push the refugees back out of their border. The EU suppress the coastal countries of the union to deal with the immigrants. Turkey will be dealing with both refugees and the candidacy process as well as Turkey is trying to be accommodationist in every situation to be accepted by the EU. The pandemic illness called Covid-19 and its consequences on European countries are so sad and Turkey’s attitude towards the members of the EU and aids which are sent to them would be helpful to close the gap which opened in the refugee crisis.
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Yazar: Zeynep ERBİR