• Valentina Koumoulou

The Relationship between the EU and Turkey throughout the Refugee Crisis

Turkey has been a candidate member of the European Union (EU) for a significantly long period. More specifically, Turkey applied for membership in 1987 [1], but the exact criteria were not established until 1993 at the European Summit in Copenhagen[2]. Its official candidate status was given in 1999[3] and the country has made progress in order to comply with most of these criteria, especially with regards to handling the Syrian refugee crisis.

© AFP via Getty Images


Turkey’s Status on the Refugee Crisis


Turkey has been dealing with the refugee crisis since the beginning in 2011 [4], having a geographical position that allowed it to be a barrier between the East and the West. The financial support by the EU in order to keep the refugees within its borders has been significant. Throughout the crisis, Turkey has been welcoming the biggest number of refugees, reaching more than 3.6 million [5]. This has affected the native population with regards to unemployment rates, housing and goods pricing[6]. More specifically, the influx of refugees has increased the prices of food and rent, while the local economy found itself in a very dire state, making it hard for locals to cope with everyday life. In addition to that, employers prefer to hire refugees because they work without insurance and benefits, so the cost is much lower than hiring natives [7]. A social gap has been created and tensions begin to slowly rise, while also affecting the trust and support of the Turkish people to their government. The relationship with Europe as well as the political popularity of Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been challenged.


The EU-Turkey Agreement


To relieve these tensions, a few European countries accepted to take in a significant percentage of refugees, such as Greece, Germany, Sweden, Austria, and the Netherlands[8], but others like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary strongly refused to abide by EU law and take in the required amount of refugees[9]. However, the EU decided that it was necessary to strike a deal with Turkey so that the crisis might be properly managed without weighing heavily on Turkey’s economy and social structure. In 2016, the EU-Turkey Agreement[10] was signed in order to halt the irregular migration towards Europe and to return from Greece to Turkey the refugees who were denied asylum[11].


The Repercussions of Erdoğan’s Dissatisfaction


In February 2020, President Erdoğan announced that Europe did not actually support Turkey according to the deal between the two partners.[12] He used the social tensions inside Turkey as an excuse, claiming he was forced to open the borders and let them cross into Europe[13]. This could be characterised as an attempt to use the refugees as a weapon in order to manipulate the EU and to make it difficult for its neighboring country, Greece, to handle such a situation in the midst of a Covid-19 outburst. Erdoğan succeeded, given that Greece had to deploy its military on the borders and ask for assistance from Frontex, the EU’s police in the borders[14]. During the pandemic, almost 13.000 refugees[15] were at Greece’s border trying to bypass it in order to spread throughout Europe, where the conditions were not proper with regards to hygiene or supplies, creating an even more challenging situation for both Greece and the EU.


Turkey’s leader has shown over the past years that even though his country is a member of NATO and a candidate member of the EU, he will do whatever he believes will make him stay in power. This stance makes him an unstable ally who is not easily trusted by his partners. His alliance with Russia in Syria which resulted in him buying the S-400 missiles from Russia[16], is a pretty good example of the repercussions such an unstableness could have. Moreover, Turkey’s long-lasting claims in the Eastern Mediterranean[17] and its overall behaviour towards its neighbor countries and fellow allies, such as Greece and Cyprus, have shown that Erdogan is neither willing to communicate via dialogue nor respect international agreements and laws.


Erdoğan’s Reputation inside Turkey


The situation President Erdoğan has to deal with inside Turkey has not been easy on his reputation, especially with regards to the refugee influx. Politically, he is perhaps trying to assert power within his country by undermining the EU and NATO, because of his awareness that neither party would like a warzone in the Mediterranean. He keeps pushing and challenging the patience of his allies due to the fact that he has lost the grip of his people, something that was proven in the 2019 Istanbul mayoral election, where opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu was elected mayor of Turkey’s largest city[18]. That was a major defeat for Erdoğan and it seems that ever since the election, he has been trying non-stop to assert dominance and assure his people that with him in power, Turkey’s reputation will reach much higher levels in the international community. That is probably the oldest trick in the book of politics. Turkey is currently dealing with the rise of nationalism, a shuttered economy, and last but not least social tensions due to the significant amounts of refugees trying to be integrated.


Patience with Turkey- how long?


To conclude, the Syrian refugee crisis has taken a toll on Turkey’s internal as well as external affairs. The EU-Turkey deal does not seem to work in favor of Turkey, thus giving Erdoğan the opportunity to open the borders letting 13.000 refugees stuck between the Greek-Turkish borders with the claim that Europe did not do what was promised. Tensions between the two neighboring countries rose in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, while the help of Frontex was deemed necessary to maintain order on the borders. The successful manipulation of events by the Turkish President shows that he will do anything to have the upper hand in negotiations. The real question is until when will the EU and NATO show patience towards this behavior?

Bibliography

"EU Regulates Terms For Accession Talks As Turkey's Decades long Waiting Continues". 2020. Daily Sabah. https://www.dailysabah.com/eu-affairs/2020/02/06/eu-regulates-terms-for-accession-talks-as-turkeys-decadeslong-waiting-continues.

"Accession Criteria - European Neighbourhood Policy And Enlargement Negotiations - European Commission". 2016. European Neighbourhood Policy And Enlargement Negotiations - European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/policy/glossary/terms/accession-criteria_en.

"EU-Turkey Relations In Light Of The Syrian Conflict And Refugee Crisis - Think Tank". 2020. Europarl.Europa.Eu. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2020)649327.

Uras, Umut. 2020.

"Turkey, EU And The Imperilled Refugee Deal". Aljazeera.Com. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/turkey-eu-imperilled-refugee-deal-200302085719576.html.

Emre Akgündüz, Yusuf, Marcel Van den Berg, and Wolter Hassink. 2015. "The Impact Of Refugee Crises On Host Labor Markets: The Case Of The Syrian Refugee Crisis In Turkey". Ebook. IZA. https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=866105071122102093100091114095016075063054071045017087095022005011118086028078122118008024036073080127018087011116082102114098108003000000083079127113084017004087074018120026126&EXT=pdf.

Todd, Zoe. 2020. "By The Numbers: Syrian Refugees Around The World". FRONTLINE. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/numbers-syrian-refugees-around-world/.

Wanat, Zosia. 2020. "3 EU Countries Broke Law By Refusing To Take In Refugees, Says Court Lawyer". POLITICO. Accessed July 17. https://www.politico.eu/article/3-eu-countries-broke-law-by-refusing-to-take-in-refugees-says-court-lawyer/.

"Implementing The EU-Turkey Agreement – Questions And Answers". 2016. European Commission - European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/MEMO_16_1494.

Vitor Da Silva Marques, Joao, and Anelise Borges in Edirne. 2020. "Erdogan Demands EU Chiefs In Brussels Support Turkey 'Without Delay'". Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/10/erdogan-demands-eu-chiefs-in-brussels-support-turkey-without-delay.

Gadalla, Paul. 2020. "Turkey’S Track Record Of Weaponising Refugees, PAUL GADALLA | Kathimerini". Ekathimerini.Com. https://www.ekathimerini.com/251025/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/turkeys-track-record-of-weaponising-refugees.

Pierini, Marc. 2020. "How Far Can Turkey Challenge NATO And The EU In 2020?". Carnegie Europe. https://carnegieeurope.eu/2020/01/29/how-far-can-turkey-challenge-nato-and-eu-in-2020-pub-80912.

"Istanbul Election Rerun: Opposition Candidate Wins Key Mayoral Race | DW | 23.06.2019". 2019. DW.COM. https://www.dw.com/en/istanbul-election-rerun-opposition-candidate-wins-key-mayoral-race/a-49321179.

NOTES

[1] "EU Regulates Terms For Accession Talks As Turkey's Decades long Waiting Continues". 2020. Daily Sabah. https://www.dailysabah.com/eu-affairs/2020/02/06/eu-regulates-terms-for-accession-talks-as-turkeys-decadeslong-waiting-continues.

[2] "Accession Criteria - European Neighbourhood Policy And Enlargement Negotiations - European Commission". 2016. European Neighbourhood Policy And Enlargement Negotiations - European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/policy/glossary/terms/accession-criteria_en.

[3] "EU Regulates Terms For Accession Talks As Turkey's Decades long Waiting Continues". 2020. Daily Sabah. https://www.dailysabah.com/eu-affairs/2020/02/06/eu-regulates-terms-for-accession-talks-as-turkeys-decadeslong-waiting-continues.

[4] "EU-Turkey Relations In Light Of The Syrian Conflict And Refugee Crisis - Think Tank". 2020. Europarl.Europa.Eu. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2020)649327.

[5] Uras, Umut. 2020. "Turkey, EU And The Imperilled Refugee Deal". Aljazeera.Com. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/turkey-eu-imperilled-refugee-deal-200302085719576.html.

[6] Emre Akgündüz, Yusuf, Marcel Van den Berg, and Wolter Hassink. 2015. The Impact Of Refugee Crises On Host Labor Markets: The Case Of The Syrian Refugee Crisis In Turkey. Ebook. IZA. https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=866105071122102093100091114095016075063054071045017087095022005011118086028078122118008024036073080127018087011116082102114098108003000000083079127113084017004087074018120026126&EXT=pdf.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Todd, Zoe. 2020. "By The Numbers: Syrian Refugees Around The World". FRONTLINE. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/numbers-syrian-refugees-around-world/.

[9] Wanat, Zosia. 2020. "3 EU Countries Broke Law By Refusing To Take In Refugees, Says Court Lawyer". POLITICO. Accessed July 17. https://www.politico.eu/article/3-eu-countries-broke-law-by-refusing-to-take-in-refugees-says-court-lawyer/.

[10] "Press Corner". 2016. European Commission - European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/MEMO_16_1494.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Vitor Da Silva Marques, Joao, and Anelise Borges in Edirne. 2020. "Erdogan Demands EU Chiefs In Brussels Support Turkey 'Without Delay'". Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/10/erdogan-demands-eu-chiefs-in-brussels-support-turkey-without-delay.

[13] Gadalla, Paul. 2020. "Turkey’S Track Record Of Weaponising Refugees, PAUL GADALLA | Kathimerini". Ekathimerini.Com. https://www.ekathimerini.com/251025/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/turkeys-track-record-of-weaponising-refugees.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Pierini, Marc. 2020. "How Far Can Turkey Challenge NATO And The EU In 2020?". Carnegie Europe. https://carnegieeurope.eu/2020/01/29/how-far-can-turkey-challenge-nato-and-eu-in-2020-pub-80912.

[17] Ibid.

[18] "Istanbul Election Rerun: Opposition Candidate Wins Key Mayoral Race | DW | 23.06.2019". 2019. DW.COM. https://www.dw.com/en/istanbul-election-rerun-opposition-candidate-wins-key-mayoral-race/a-49321179.

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