Turkey is demanding an ever-higher price for its cooperation in fending off refugees. As long as they stop the influx, Europeans are prepared to accept any legal fig leaf held up by Ankara, says Barbara Wesel.
Victories look different when state elections loom and definitive headlines like "Refugee Crisis Ended!" are needed. Thus, Angela Merkel will have to be satisfied with a postponement, and half-heartedly sell Turkey's offer to take back illegal immigrants as a "breakthrough."
A "qualitative improvement" doesn't carry much weight in an election campaign. But nothing more was to be expected, even after twelve further hours of negotiations in Brussels. For Turkey's proposal, shot from the hip, came far too quickly and left far too many details unaddressed.
Merkel can't do anything right anymore
Once again, Eastern European countries cried foul, accusing Germany of having overrun them with the proposal. Although the German chancellor denies this, many heads of government now oppose her simply because they recognize her influence. Hungary, for instance, reiterated it opposition to resettling Syrians in Europe. Budapest is not going to let go of its fight against "the aliens."
Indeed, the Turkish proposal fails to set a start date for the promised readmission to Turkey of migrants newly arrived in Greece. And naturally the price was too steep for many EU member states: Pay another three billion euros for Syrian refugees living in Turkey? Drop EU visa requirements for Turks within three months? And speed up Turkey's EU accession negotiations?
Objections were voiced to every one of these points. Nevertheless, there was consensus that Europe should be closed off to any further refugee influx. And Austria and the Balkan countries view a closed border to Macedonia as an effective instrument in achieving this end. One that works without having to make further concessions to Turkey.
The end of values
One aspect that was largely ignored at the summit was how one could engage in haggling with Turkey at a time when it is so aggressively dismantling freedom of the press at home.
This would seem to necessitate breaking off accession talks, which, by rights, should have no chance of success. That is unless such criteria were struck from the EU's fundamental list of requirements. That should not be discounted considering the EU's eagerness to keep further refugees at arm's length.
In any case, criticism of Turkey's anti-democratic repressions and human rights abuses were subdued to a degree that is often only reserved for China. Values are only espoused on Sundays when there are no summits.
Humanity itself was buried just as quickly and completely. Not one mention was made of what should be done about those desperate people currently trapped in Idomeni. And not a word about the fact that Turkey can only nominally be considered a safe third country. In any case it is not a constitutional state - something that Ankara is once again proving to the world.
One must ask: Will Turkey simply begin deporting exiled Iraqis back across the border, pointing them toward Mossul? Will it fly large numbers of Afghans back to Kabul in transport planes? Will it send Iranians straight home again?
In Germany an asylum seeker has the right to an assessment of one's individual reasons for fleeing, and the EU is obliged to uphold the rules of the Geneva Convention. But none of that matters when the only goal is to bring the number of refugees down to zero. We are moving ever closer to the ideal of rightwing populists - a Fortress Europe. Now that the EU has taken in a million refugees, it is willing to enter into an unsavory agreement with Turkey, putting its own future on the line, while raising the drawbridges at its borders. It is a pathetic spectacle in every respect.
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