A German tabloid reported yesterday (9 May) that the EU was considering giving the billions it promised to Turkey to Greece instead, in case the deal agreed with Ankara to stem the refugee flows collapses.
On Monday, Bild reported that several Greek islands in the Aegean are being turned into central registration sites for stranded refugees, and that ships will no longer take refugees to the Greek mainland in order to stop the uncontrolled flow of migrants into the EU.
In other words, asylum seekers will be kept on the islands; those refused asylum would then be deported directly to their home countries. The €6 billion in aid promised to Turkey would be transferred to Athens instead.
The paper reported that several EU states are considering this alternative plan in the event that the EU’s refugee deal with Ankara collapses. The story included statements from unnamed high-ranking politicians. Bild is known for having excellent contacts within the German government.
Hasty government denial
The German government, however, was quick to deny the story. “There are no grounds to doubt the further implementation of the current deal,” said a spokesman for Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. The source added that the German government is doing everything it can to fulfill its obligations. “Therefore, there is no question of an alternative agreement,” the ministry said.
The European Commission said it does not comment on reports in the press. A spokeswoman did refer, however, to comments Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made at the weekend. “We have negotiated with the Turkish government, we have the word of the Turkish government, and we will continue to work with the Turkish government.”
The executive, however, has reasons to fear that the deal agreed with the then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on 18 March might collapse.
Davutoğlu stepped down following disagreements with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who clearly follows a much tougher line and has threatened to ditch the deal if the EU doesn’t fulfil its side of the bargain.
Moreover, the EU may be unable to move forward with the promise to offer visa-free travel to the Turks by the end of June. On 7 May, Erdoğan made it clear Turkey will not change its anti-terror law, which is one of the conditions for the EU to lift the visa barrier.
The present anti-terrorism laws allow Turkey to press terrorism charges against critical journalists and academics. Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gül, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, have been accused of trying to topple the government with the publication in May 2015 of video purporting to show Turkey’s state intelligence agency helping to truck weapons to Syria in 2014.
On 6 May, the two journalists were sentenced to five years in prison, however not for terrorism, but for revealing state secrets.
Moreover, the visa deal depends on the ratification by the European Parliament and of some national parliaments who would also like to have their say. In such circumstances, preparing a “plan B” appears much more as a wise decision, rather than political fiction reported by a tabloid.