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Dumping the refugee deal

DW Autor und Reporter Gunnar Köhne
Gunnar Köhne
May 25, 2016

Merkel has put visa-free travel for Turkish citizens on the back burner. In turn, Erdogan has threatened to cancel the refugee agreement with the EU. DW's Gunnar Köhne finds this to be a predictable move.

Merkel and Erdogan
Image: picture alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Sometimes he warns, "We will drop out of the refugee agreement," and sometimes he seriously states, "They are just jealous of our dams and subways." People in Europe should get used to Recep Tayyip Erdogan's insults as they will likely surge in the next few weeks - probably until the day the Turkish leader has achieved his goal of introducing a presidential system in Turkey. For this reason, Erdogan needs the EU as a punching bag. Given the prevailing nationalist mood in his country, this behavior goes over well and it will probably help him in a possible referendum on such a constitutional amendment. Once the one-man state has been established, he will tone it down again.

Otherwise, Erdogan's threat to terminate the refugee agreement if visa-free travel is not made possible for Turkish citizens is quite empty. He also knows that the massive decline in the number of refugees in Europe has more to do with the closure of the Balkan route than with the readmission agreement between Turkey and the EU. If he were to discard the agreement, Europeans would just build more walls and Turkey would be left to deal with 2.5 million refugees on its own. The country would receive no money from the EU, although in light of its ailing economy, Turkey could certainly use the promised six billion euros.

At the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Erdogan praised his country as the most "large-hearted country in the world." Does he really want to encourage displaced persons to take on the perilous crossing to Greece again?

Visa-free travel versus anti-terror clause

The visa-free travel that Erdogan had promised his compatriots long ago will not come about for a long time if he scraps the refugee agreement. Of course, Erdogan will try to lay the blame on the "Islamophobic Europeans" but even in Turkey, many know that in 2013, Erdogan himself signed the list of 72 conditions for visa-free travel, yet has still not delivered on his promise.

Gunnar Köhne
DW's Gunnar KöhneImage: Gunnar Köhne

The requested change in the Turkish anti-terror clause comes at an inconvenient moment because Erdogan is using this law as his main means of eliminating the opposition. Should the EU be willing to make concessions on this issue, it would continue to lose the trust of the beleaguered opposition in Turkey.

Apparently, adapting penal laws to European standards can wait until EU membership is negotiated. Visa-free travel would then be possible until further notice. But who actually still believes in accession talks with Turkey?

Erdogan needs the EU and vice-versa

Turkey is dependent on Europe just as much as Europe needs Turkey - at least for the refugee deal. The EU is Turkey's largest trading partner - and currently its only benevolent foreign partner. Russia has cut ties with Ankara for the time being. Recently, Erdogan did not manage to get an appointment for talks at the White House and furthermore, most Arab neighbors distance themselves from him. That is why Chancellor Angela Merkel is always so relaxed when she comes out of raucous talks with Erdogan.

That's why Europe would do well to realize that the tirades from Ankara are just red herrings and instead work to the best of its ability to help democratic forces in Turkey.

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