Can Greece invade Turkey?

Refugee deal could be revived

“That's the deal,” said the then EU Council President Donald Tusk on that Friday, March 18, 2016. Chancellor Angela Merkel was fierce: “Europe will make it. Together with everyone, together with Turkey. ”In fact, after three rounds of negotiations, the (at that time) 28 heads of state and government of the EU had just concluded an agreement with Ankara that was supposed to work no less than a small miracle: stopping the immigration of refugees from Syria across the Aegean to Greece - and from there to the rest of the EU. When the 27 heads of state sit together again at the end of next week, the paper will be back on the table. The Turkey deal is seemingly dead. But its revival is on the agenda. And the question is still the same: How can the escape of hundreds of thousands of Syrians from the war be prevented?

The route across the Mediterranean should be closed

In the months before the deal, a coalition with Austria, Hungary and a number of other EU members had effectively blocked the way for those seeking help across the Balkans. Now the way across the Mediterranean should also be closed. For that you needed Turkey. After endless deliberations, the Europeans took up an idea from the Berlin migration expert Gerald Knaus from the European Stability Initiative. He started with the idea that it should be in Ankara's very own sense to help Europe solve the crisis in order to prevent forces potentially hostile to Turkey from gaining influence among migrants in the EU.

The paper that was finally agreed stipulated that "irregular migrants" who landed on a Hellenic island after March 16, 2016 and whose asylum applications would have no chance, should be withdrawn by Turkey. In return, the EU would allow a legal refugee to enter the Union directly from Turkey. Ankara was promised six billion euros for the operation of refugee camps to secure the infrastructure. There should be care and schools for children, and access to the health system, housing and work for everyone else. In addition, they wanted to expand the customs union with Turkey and promote visa-free entry. Ankara was also promised to give new impetus to the accession process.

Five years later there is hardly anything left of it. The repatriation of those seeking help from the Greek islands did not work because the Greek authorities went wrong and suddenly no longer accepted Turkey as a safe third country. Instead, the camps on Lesbos, Samos and the other islets were overrun - until Moria burned. In the Community itself, the eastern member states of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia in particular blocked any admission of refugees. Til today. A common right of asylum did not come about. The auxiliary workers in the camps on the Greek islands were completely overwhelmed.

Situation escalated in early 2020

The situation escalated even more when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intensified the confrontation with Europe in early 2020 and not only opened the crossings to the west, but also allowed the refugees to be transported to the external borders of the EU by buses. The president was angry - allegedly because the EU failed to meet its payment commitments. In fact, however, it was about other developments: After the attempted coup against him in July 2016, Erdogan had dramatically increased the arbitrary arrests, so that the EU's visa-free requirements and the customs union could not possibly be met. His attempt to bind Russia as a partner to himself failed. And his intervention in Syria completely isolated him in terms of foreign policy.

There were also disputes over the status of the divided island of Cyprus, the northern part of which is occupied by Turkey, while the southern Republic of Cyprus belongs to the EU. All attempts at reunification failed. Then the coronavirus crisis broke out, making any further rapprochement impossible.

But five years after the deal at the time, building a bridge no longer seems completely unimaginable. "I think that some kind of agreement of this kind has to be made in the future, the refugees are still there," said the EU's foreign affairs representative, Josep Borrell, on Monday this week. Even if the meaning of the word “any” has been puzzled in Brussels since then, normalization of the relationship no longer seems to be ruled out. Ankara had had a violent dispute with Greece in the past few months when it had a research vessel drilled for gas and oil in Hellenic waters - according to Brussels, a pure provocation of the community. But people in the Turkish capital attentively noticed that the EU leaders refrained from reacting sharply at the last summit. Since then, there have been signals from both sides that could be understood as a willingness to return to the negotiating table.

Apparently Erdogan has also understood that the billions of euros from Brussels (of the promised six billion have been paid out so far, another 500 million are tied to specific projects and are available for use) could be a welcome development aid for his country to build important infrastructure -To address improvements. In addition, even the President should remember that Turkey's official status as an EU candidate country was far better off economically than it is today, even if full membership is not an option in the short or long term.

The EU only trusts President Erdogan to a limited extent

In Brussels you don't stand in the way of a better relationship with Ankara. But the willingness to trust the president still seems limited at best. The fact that Erdogan used the refugees in his country without hesitation to blackmail the European Union will certainly not be forgiven him anytime soon. The Turkish head of state, it is said in the EU, would have to come up with something - for example, resuming the still valid deal with the Union.