Opinion: Keep calm and carry on negotiating | Opinion | DW | 15.08.2016
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Opinion: Keep calm and carry on negotiating

Despite its threats to the contrary, Turkey has a strong interest in complying with the EU's refugee deal. Brussels, however, should be more independent, writes DW editor Cristoph Hasselbach.

It is not the first time that Turkey's leaders have threatened the EU. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said many times that without a swift easing of visa laws for Turkish citizens, he will no longer feel the need to uphold the country's refugee agreement with the EU.

Now Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has echoed that view in an interview with Germany's mass-circulation "Bild" newspaper. He accused the EU of having a "Turkey phobia."

And then came the statement directed at the refugee deal: "Either we deal with all agreements at the same time, or we put them all to the side." Cavusoglu added that if the visa issue was not resolved by October, then Turkey would start allowing migrants to enter the EU.

For many in the EU, the agreement, as part of the refugee deal, to move towards easing visa restrictions for Turks was hard to accept even before Turkey's failed coup attempt. This is especially true now, as the government cracks down on dissent and Erdogan hints at reintroducing the death penalty. Even Cavusoglu voiced understanding for bringing back capital punishment.

If the death penalty were reinstated, it would be the death knell for Turkish hopes of joining the EU. Erdogan and Cavusoglu obviously know that. But they also know the migration issue has put the EU in a corner, or at least the bloc feels that way.

Easing visa restrictions had been the plan before the EU-Turkey refugee agreement talks. It was unfortunate, then, that it became an additional incentive for Turkey to play its part with regards to the deal.

Yet the EU has not issued Ankara a blank check, but rather set clear conditions. Brussels, though, does not feel Turkey has done enough. Above all, the bloc is upset that the country is using anti-terrorism laws to crack down on the opposition.

No reason for acquiesence

Christoph Hasselbach

DW's Christoph Hasselbach

So what should be done? Under no circumstances should the EU back out of the refugee deal. So far, Turkey has held up its end of the bargain. Since the deal was agreed, few migrants have made their way to the Greek isles. For the EU, that is a huge relief.

Despite all the rhetoric, it is unlikely that Turkey will follow through on its threat. Ankara has a strong interest in continuing its European relationship: Its economic dependence is significant; the EU has alleviated some of the isolation that Erdogan has brought to the country; and ultimately, Ankara gets a lot of money from the EU to address the refugee crisis within its own borders. That all plays a significant part in the game.

But many Europeans feel it would be dangerous were Turkey to meet the necessary qualifications for its citizens to enter the EU without visas. The EU would then have to deliver on its word.

As it stands, there is a significant possibility that many oppressed opposition politicians and, above all, Kurds, would travel to Europe and seek asylum. Germany and many other EU nations would be on the verge of a new wave of migration.

But many EU countries have already prepared a so-called "emergency brake" for just such a scenario. There is therefore no need to panic about acquiescence to Erdogan.

The EU can take action on its own to distance itself from Turkey. The large decrease in refugees entering Europe perhaps had more to do with the closure of the Balkan route than the agreement with Turkey. The majority of migrants are now being held on islands off the coast of Greece. They can apply for asylum there, but there is no guarantee they will get it.

Ultimately, though, the EU must secure its own borders, rather than delegating the task to others. The current refugee deal with Turkey can only be a temporary solution.

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