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Opinion

Opinion: Dark shadows loom over refugee deal

The increasingly autocratic Turkish president is making it hard for the European Union to stick to its refugee policies. But those who enter into such a dependency have only themselves to blame, says Bernd Riegert.

The refugee and asylum policies of the European Union have come under strong pressure from several sides. Although the March agreement between Turkey and the EU has succeeded in greatly reducing the number of migrants attempting the sea journey from Turkey to Greek islands, those islands are still in a state of degrading chaos. Turkey has done its bit, but the EU hasn't. Its member states have not sent enough personnel to Greece to help out. And Greece itself is unable to organize its registration procedures rapidly.

The supposition: Turkey will sort it all out for us

Two months ago, the heads of state and government promised that everything would now start moving fast. But not all that much has actually happened. The EU has been relying, disastrously, on the refugee problem having been successfully shifted to Turkey. Both the resettlement of refugees and asylum-seekers directly from Turkey, and their redistribution from Greece and Italy to other EU states, are proceeding much more slowly than had been decided and announced dozens of times. Solidarity - that oft-evoked European value - is not at all in evidence among the bloc's member states. Most of them are operating according to the motto: "The main thing is that no more of them come to me. Who cares what happens in the long run?"

Deutsche Welle Bernd Riegert

DW's Bernd Riegert

Greece has now been left more or less on its own with the refugees. A similar situation could confront Italy if the number of those coming over the southern Mediterranean route rises again. The refugee policy of the EU amounts simply to isolating itself, without any legal opportunities being created for people to enter Europe for the long term. Euphemistically, this can also be called "securing the external borders." Because many states do not trust this measure, they are also sealing the inner borders to other EU states, just to be on the safe side. Hungary, Austria, Denmark and even Germany are setting a bad example in this regard.

But this halfway successful sealing-off of the southeastern flank has one massive flaw for the EU: The bloc is now completely reliant on Turkey. Just last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is well on his way toward complete megalomania, again threatened to flip the switch and "send off the refugees" if the EU does not do as it is told.

The reality: Turkey has its own interests

But domestic political developments in Turkey - the disempowerment of parliament, the pressure on media to conform, the repression of freedom of expression, the use of dubious anti-terrorism laws - are making it more and more difficult for the EU to stick to its deal with President Erdogan.

Turkey's demand for visa-free travel for its citizens is becoming an acid test for the EU. If Turkey does not change its laws, the European Parliament cannot approve the dropping of visa requirements. If they are not dropped, however, President Erdogan will, as things stand at present, cancel the refugee deal. The EU would then have to confront a summer of crisis similar to the one of the past year. What is more, time is running short. The unsolved problems make the envisaged launch of visa-free travel in July very unlikely.

Because they were not capable of solving the refugee crisis on their own, the quarreling heads of state and government in the EU have thrown themselves at a would-be sultan from Turkey who is hard to predict and resistant to criticism into the bargain. This could have dire consequences in the future. This "European solution" - largely the brainchild of German Chancellor Angela Merkel - could soon come back to haunt her.

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