Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gave his full backing to Turkey's EU membership. That also expressed his support for Ankara’s position on the refugee crisis attracted much attention.
During his first official trip to Turkey, Tsipras on Wednesday spoke out in favor of Turkey joining the European Union and called for extra support for Ankara in coping with the more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey.
While reiterating that Turkey plays a key role in solving the refugee crisis, and that Greece is the European country where many refugees first set foot, Tsipras emphasized that the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war in Syria and conflict in other parts of the Middle East and Africa is not just a Turkish or Greek problem. Instead, he said all of Europe needed to devise a tangible plan for dealing with the crisis.
Greece and Turkey pledged to work together in forming a "bilateral working group" aimed at solving the refugee crisis and agreed to start joint security efforts along the Aegean coast. Statements concerning Tsipras' show of support for Turkey's EU membership and the necessity of solving the Cyprus issue created excitement in Ankara. Prime Minister Davutoglu is expected to visit Greece soon.
Mutually beneficial relationship
Tsipras' comments are one example of how the refugee crisis is pushing Turkey and Greece, as well Turkey and Europe, closer together, according to Gazi University International Relations faculty member Nail Alkan.
"These messages may indicate the turning of a new page in the Turkey-EU relationship,” Alkan said, adding that he expected developments in Turkish-European ties soon.
EU can't solve refugee crisis on its own
Recalling German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent visit to Turkey, where she vowed to make progress on visa-free travel for Turks and to move forward with Turkey's EU membership, Alkan said Europe realizes that it cannot solve the refugee crisis alone and has decided to move closer to Turkey.
An immediate solution to the refugee crisis is of critical importance for Greece, according to Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) Chairman Sinan Ülgen. He added that a Turkey-EU summit scheduled for the end of the month will be crucial in determining the immediate future of relations between Brussels and Ankara.
"Europe will have to come to an agreement with Turkey regarding the crisis by then," Ülgen said. "On this subject, Greece also has major expectations. Tsipras is trying to protect his already economically troubled country from further crises."
Ülgen added that the Islamic State attack in Paris resulted in a widespread threat of terror that has enveloped Europe, adding that anti-refugee sentiment in Europe has increased after the attacks and that the EU needs to quickly reach an agreement with Turkey upon a concrete plan that would likely keep more people from making the trip from Turkey to the EU.
"The EU must make proper calculations"
But reaching a deal that satisfies both the EU and Turkey will require more than joint patrols of the Aegean Sea or sending money to Turkey to house refugees, according to Haceteppe University Immigration and Political Research Center Director Murat Erdogan.
"Efforts geared towards integrating the refugees into European countries must be made," he said. "It has become clear that this problem will not be solved simply by financial means.
"As of today 600,000 refugees have successfully crossed the sea. The number of those who have died is around 3,000. Refugees make this calculation every day, realizing the chance of making it is high. They are saying 'I can face death, because I want a better life.' Europe also must make proper calculations."