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Europe

Turkey deal is a 'spectacular EU failure:' Greek ruling party MEP

The deal struck between the EU and Turkey to manage the refugee crisis is a "spectacular failure," Greek politician Dimitris Papadimoulis, who heads the ruling Syriza party's MEPs, tells DW.

DW: What are the mistakes you believe Europe made in dealing with the refugee crisis?

Dimitris Papadimoulis: The first and largest mistake of Europe is that it considers that a European Union with a population of 500 million population is facing a refugee crisis when it's faced with 1 or 1.5 million refugees. Lebanon is facing a refugee crisis. Jordan is facing a refugee crisis.

The second mistake is that it seemed to be caught off guard, while it was perfectly predictable that the ongoing war in Syria would create these refugee flows.

The third mistake is that Europe failed to apply its own decisions. The decision of the EU last September for the relocation program has a current implementation rate of under one percent.

It also made the mistake of tolerating unilateral actions from certain member states. When last year Greece asked for some more flexibility on the issues of economic policies, we were told that only joint European decisions apply. Now, when joint European decisions should be applied to the issue of refugees, it's permissible, without any ratification, for a few countries to throw joint European decisions out the window. This is an a la carte Europe.

In light of its slow pace, should the relocation program be abandoned?

The relocation program must be applied, not cancelled. The process must be sped up. The countries that refuse to participate in this voluntary program should take part on an economic basis and pay the equivalent cost to the European Central Bank.

It's not possible for Poland to have accepted taking 7,000 refugees [last September] and now for them to say they won't take even one under the excuse of the terrorist attack in Brussels.

What are the mistakes that the Syriza government has made in handling this crisis?

Dimitris Papadimoulis

Compared to the situation in Lebanon or Jordan, the influx of refugees to Europe is no crisis, says Papadimoulis

It would be pointless for me to try and hide the mistakes, the delays and the weaknesses. I'll use the words of Fabrice Leggeri, the director of Frontex. Having experienced the refugee flows on Greek islands, he said that any country, even with perfect administration, that would find itself in Greece's place would have had problems.

Right now, Greece has covered most of its obligations, when Europe as a whole has done very little, and Turkey has essentially not even started applying the agreement.

What do you think of the current agreement between Europe and Turkey?

This deal is a spectacular failure of the European Union in its handling of the refugee crisis. The EU had a solution - the decision of last September - and was unable to apply it and so it decided to give Turkey the role of a subcontractor.

We've been given assurances that all aspects of human rights will be respected, which would be good if it turns out to be true. I think the criticism of the deal helps us put pressure on the Turkish authorities to do what they have agreed to.

For Greece, with Europe refusing to apply its decisions, and the failure of [Turkish President] Erdogan to curb the activities of the smugglers, this agreement, even with its grey areas, takes some of the pressure off. We need this relief from the pressure, because, don't forget, we are a country going through two crises - an economic crisis and a refugee crisis.

We've received praise for our approach as a country, but if we can't take off this pressure, it won't last. We have the issue of the [extreme right] party of Golden Dawn and far-right propaganda. This is a poison that spreads, and it would be a mistake for us not to realize that it needs to be dealt with in a timely manner.

What does it say about the European project that Turkey had to be brought in to work on this, since European countries together could not reach a solution? Should the EU be negotiating with the government of Erdogan given its track record?

I would prefer that the EU had implemented its own decisions for a European solution to the refugee problem and then to negotiate with Turkey from a stronger position with regards to the issue of respecting human rights.

What are the issues with the current agreement of relocating one Syrian refugee to Europe for each one returned from illegally crossing into Europe, and why has the basic problem of people smugglers not been addressed and the risk that they'll make people use newer and more dangerous routes?

In the agreements that have taken place, the priority is to crush this circle of people smugglers. If they wanted to, Turkey could have done so already. That's where the pressure needs to be applied, because if we leave the refugee flows to remain high, this system of one in/one out will turn into a dead end.

When it comes to the deal's application, there are a lot of questions about how the Turkish authorities will correctly apply it. For example, would they send a Syrian Kurd as a refugee to Europe or will they push him right to the bottom of the list? Beyond that, the deal is limited to 72,000 people, after which the deal no longer applies.

So it's crucial that the smuggling rings are broken up - and this is an issue of the government of Erdogan and [Prime Minister] Davutoglu - because then the refugee flow will stop and people will stop drowning in the Aegean.

The flow of refugees arriving in Greece has slowed to a trickle in the last week - is this a sign that the new deal is working?

I think it's a small, encouraging sign, but we must wait to see what happens, because we have the experience from the past to see that these flows stop and start. We have to see the successful and correct application of the deal from all sides at an appropriate time in the future. It's too early to say that the deal is working.

Dimitris Papadimoulis is a vice president of the European Parliament and heads Greece's Syriza MEPs in Brussels.

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