On November 29, 2015, the Joint Action Plan between Turkey and the European Union was adopted to address the issue of migration flows. The approval of the joint agreement with the country has also expressed a commitment to accelerate Ankara’s accession to the EU, which has so far encountered many obstacles.
The parties decided to proceed with the opening, as early as during the talks held on December 14, 2015, of Chapter 17 (relating to economic and monetary policy) and agreed to then discuss Chapter 33 (dedicated to financial and budgetary provisions) during the Dutch EU Presidency. The Commission will submit a proposal in this regard in the coming weeks, which could speed up the process of Turkey’s accession to the EU, despite the resistance of many of the Member States.
However, the Turkish government continues to face the repercussions for trade measures, adopted by Moscow, following the shooting down of the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 during the autumn and the freezing of the South Stream project.
Trade agreement with the EU and Russian-Turkish crisis
Following the talks between the Turkish and EU authorities, last February the European Union gave the green light to €3 billion of funding (€1 billion from EU funds and €2 billion from the Member States) in order for Turkey to be able to manage the increased flows of refugees, as a result of the worsening of the conflict in Syria.
Simultaneously, Ankara has for months been forced to address the diplomatic crisis with the Russian government, which has had significant effects on the economic policy of Ahmet Davutoglu’s government. Moscow has repeatedly accused the Turkish authorities of not doing enough to control direct funding and supply of weaponry to the Islamic State (ISIS) across the Anatolian peninsula.
Therefore, there are now dozens of Turkish businessmen who have frozen their businesses in Russia. Not only that, the Russian consumer protection agency has prepared for the withdrawal of tons of products from Turkey, considered to be at risk. It has also introduced strict controls over Turkish agricultural products. While the Crimean authorities have frozen dozens of Turkish investment projects in the Black Sea, totaling half a billion dollars. The restrictions have also affected the plans for the Turkish Stream gas pipeline and for the nuclear power plant of Akkuiu, which are currently frozen. The Russian authorities would instead be willing to proceed with the North Stream project (which should enter into operation as of 2019), despite the resistance of certain European countries.
However, there could be other priorities of the Turkish authorities in terms of foreign policy. “Erdogan’s priority is to strengthen his alliances with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Azerbaijan”, Emel Kurma, director of the think tank Helsinki Citizens Assembly, explained to Abo.
Control over migration flows
It is true that Prime Minister Davutoglu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the signing of the agreement with the EU, emphasizing that “it will allow the Aegean Sea not to turn into a cemetery for migrants”. According to the agreement between Brussels and Ankara, all “illegal migrants” who have disembarked since March 20, 2016 in Greece shall be taken back to Turkey. For every Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey, another will be transferred to a European Union country.
However, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed concern with regard to the procedures for transferring refugees, with reference to the partial application of the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees by Ankara. Turkey has started to build 2 centers for Syrian and other migrants who will return to the country from Greece under the agreement with the EU: in Cesme, in the province of Izmir, and in Dikili, opposite the island of Lesbos. Approximately 2 million Syrian refugees are expected in the country. The large presence of migrants, often unregistered, has greatly strengthened the local ultra-nationalist parties.
According to Professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of London (Birkbeck) Sami Zubaida, this agreement does not necessarily accelerate Ankara’s accession to the EU. “It is, above all, to assess the effectiveness of the visa system in a context in which the process of Ankara’s accession to the EU is still remote”, he explained to Abo.
The primary purpose of the agreement between Turkey and the European Union, which has only just entered into force, is to control the migration flows, especially those of Syrian refugees, heading to Europe. It can be used by the Turkish government to balance both the long phase of internal political instability and the crisis with the Russian authorities with regard to managing the conflict in Syria. However, this does not mean that it will accelerate Ankara’s accession to the EU. The Turkish government, for this reason, is looking to the east and planning specifically to extend its interests in the Gulf with the construction of a military base in Qatar, which should become operational within 2 years.