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On the borders of Realpolitik

Justice & Home Affairs

On the borders of Realpolitik

President Erdoğan is seen by many German Turks as the country's only chance for stability.


Taking refugees from Turkey is the right thing to do, but stepping up EU accession talks with Ankara is not, writes Albrecht Meier.

Albrecht Meier is the political editor of EurActiv’s partner Der Tagesspiegel.

One thing that the Brussels summit showed was that the refugee crisis is increasingly becoming an exercise in realpolitik for Europeans. There is no way around cooperating with Turkey, the EU’s unstable neighbour and doorman.

Germany depends a great deal on successful collaboration with Turkey, given that the country is the main destination of many of the refugees. If Ankara were to agree to take back all the migrants that have arrived in Greece, then the so-called Balkan route would effectively dry up. The bizarre discourse that developed at the summit about whether the route is “closed” or not would become mere water under the bridge, because the EU external border between Turkey and Greece would act as a barrier against more arrivals.

Equally correct is the second consideration of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in which Europe would accept Syrian refugees from Turkey in order to spare them the hazardous sea crossing. In essence, this idea is just another attempt to set up quotas, like that already proposed by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière last year.

So far, so good. However, Angela Merkel still faces an uphill battle in convincing her European Council colleagues that a solution to the crisis will only be found through a collaborative effort. How refugee quotas would actually be implemented and distributed among EU states is still anybody’s guess.

The impending deal with Turkey is also problematic because Europeans feel uneasy at the thought of being at the mercy of the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. After the surprising developments at the summits, it is Turkey that will be playing a crucial role in the distribution of refugees among EU member states, not Greece. The much talked about “hotspots” in Greece, where the registration of refugees is supposed to be carried out, have not garnered much attention lately.

Despite the political and sober realities needed to manage the refugee crisis, the partial agreement that has been hashed out in Brussels so far raises numerous questions. These include: Is it right to reignite accession talks with Turkey, when freedom of the press continues to be restricted by Ankara?

For years, accession negotiations have been conducted on both sides of the Bosphorus by parties fully aware of the fact that the ultimate goal of EU membership would not be realised in the foreseeable future. In the last 12 months, the EU’s attempts to push Turkey to be more democratic and implement the rule of law more through accession talks has be shown to be a sham. The refugee crisis should not be used to prolong this self-deception.

This opinion piece was also published by EurActiv Germany.