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Opinion

Opinion: In dealing with Turkey, tough days ahead for the EU

Angela Merkel and EU leaders put on a good show in Turkey, but tough questions remain. It looks like the EU will stick to its "minimum controversy" policy toward Ankara, writes Seda Serdar, of DW's Turkish department.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his European guests, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, put on a great show in Gaziantep. From their arrival at the Nizip camp in huge buses with snipers on the roof to the posters with Merkel's photo and slogans in German proclaiming "solidarity with the refugees" decorating the city, it was all planned out perfectly.

During the press conference Davutoglu emphasized that Turkey is a part of the European family. Belonging to the European club has been a decadeslong dream for Turkey, one that has never materialized. Thanks to refugees from neighboring Syria, the country is one step closer to getting its foot in the door.

Sure, Turkey takes pride in being the best example in the whole world of how to treat refugees. The President of the European Council Donald Tusk's praise of Turkey is well deserved when it comes to the camps. It is also a known fact that Turkey did open its borders to the Syrians fleeing the Assad regime. This was the humane thing to do, which no other country did.

Now, five years on, the majority of the refugees are trying to survive outside of the camps with no real prospects. The thought of them returning to Syria one day is no longer a realistic reading of what's happening on the ground. So the bigger issue is, how will Turkey integrate the 3.1 million people that have come to stay? How much is Europe really willing to help?

Mutual trust

The visit showed once again that the European Union is willing to do almost anything to keep refugees in Turkey. There are two clear signals of that. First, all leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, were very careful about not broaching any of the delicate topics such as freedom of speech and human rights violations in Turkey. The days of Europe meddling in Turkey's business are long gone. Davutoglu made it clear when he said "You can not keep questioning us as if we are in an exam room."

The second signal was given by European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. Until recently, Europe was keen on channeling the money to projects run by international organizations, but Timmermans said that after seeing the situation in these camps and the urgent need for education, the EU could think about signing contracts directly with the government. This can be read as another victory for Ankara. In such a scenario, will the EU be able to audit the spending, or will it have to depend on mutual trust?

Trust is very fragile between the European Union and Turkey. The two sides are running from one crisis to the next, which makes the relations between them tense, even though they are talking to each other more often. Even though both sides made it clear that they were willing to stick to the plans concerning visa-free travel for Turks to Europe by the end of June, Davutoglu made it clear that this went hand-in-hand with the readmission agreement. In other words, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will do everything in its power not to disappoint its constituents. This means more tough days ahead for Europe.

It looks like the European Union will stick to its "minimum controversy" policy toward Turkey. The EU will address issues such as respect for human rights and freedom of expression on a case-by-case basis - just like Tusk did in a very diplomatic way after Davutoglu made a strong statement about the German satirist Jan Böhmermann. "The line between criticism, insult and defamation is very thin" Tusk said, adding that "if politicians try to decide this, it could be the end of democracy. I hope in the future freedom of speech will not be our main topic."

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