Turkey must not be allowed to blackmail Europe on migration

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Europe shouldn't make the same mistake twice. [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan/Flickr]

Europe once entrusted Muammar Gaddafi with controlling the amount of people crossing the Mediterranean into Europe – we must ensure the same mistake is not made again with Erdoğan, writes Leopold Traugott.

Leopold Traugott is the director of Campus Europe and a Young Voices Advocate.

Whenever solutions for Europe’s refugee drama are proposed, it’s never long before fingers are pointed at Turkey. This is understandable, since Turkey is the point of entry for most refugees coming to Europe.

Clearly there is a need for Turkish cooperation on this issue. But Europe must be extremely careful about how closely it associates itself with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, and what doors it’s prepared to open. While Turkey might be the most stable country to negotiate with in the region, its leaders have continuously proven undemocratic and unreliable.

A lot has been offered to Turkey over the recent weeks in return for their aid with Europe’s refugee disaster: a restart of EU membership negotiations, despite known German and Cypriot rejections; visa-liberalisation for Turkish citizens, despite significant internal debate about the EU’s free movement policy and concerns over levels of immigration; and an acknowledgement of Turkey as a “safe country of origin,” despite it being the world’s leading incarcerator of journalists, and its waging of internal wars on supposed ‘enemies of the state’.

The European Union has made many compromises and disregarded many of its own principles in order to find an external solution to cure its own problem. Whether this is the right strategy and whether Erdoğan’s AKP is the right force to partner up with, remains questionable on both pragmatic and moral grounds.

Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the EU from playing an important role in supporting Erdoğan in his November election campaign.

A European Commission report accusing Erdoğan’s party of curtailing freedom of press and the rule of law was kept back until the after the elections, in order not to offend the Turkish leader. At the same time, Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul and her open call for Turkish help were a perfect campaign assistance.

It’s a coup that allows Erdoğan to consolidate his image as the country’s strongman, and it comes at a time when Europe ought to be criticising him for his human rights violations. Instead, everyone except the European Greens seems to have turned a blind eye to such problems.

This is, admittedly, unsurprising. The European Union has a long-standing tradition of propping up authoritarian governments in its own neighbourhood for short-term benefits. But this doesn’t make it right. It merely shows domestic and foreign audiences that Europe is not serious about its alleged support for human rights and strengthened civil societies.

Critics will argue that in times like these – so-called times of emergency – Europe must make compromises. Of course, this is part of life and in particular part of politics.

Nevertheless, compromises must be carefully weighed against both their long and short term consequences. And if European leaders think that they can persuade Turkey to keep millions of refugees at bay for a mere €3 billion and some political concessions, they are in for a rude awakening.

The flow of refugees will not stop anytime soon. But once the solution is outsourced to Turkey, Europe will become even more dependent than it already is, leaving Erdoğan to use Europe for his own benefit.

Turkey will have the power to increase or relax the flow at its own convenience. This is what happened when a similar arrangement existed with former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi prevented African migrants from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, but regularly threatened to open the floodgates and “turn Europe black” in order to attain favourable concessions.

To assume that Europe can outsource its border control to Turkey is not only short-sighted, it is dangerous. Erdoğan is still far from becoming the next Gaddafi, but Europe should be careful. We don’t want such a situation to occur again.

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