Back-scratching, EU-style

“What’s it going to take for me to get these refugees into your country today?” (Wikimedia | Armin Linnartz)

How do you stop a flood of refugees from migrating from Syria to the EU? Why, you pay Turkey to keep more of them, obviously! At least, that seems to be Angela Merkel’s plan:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered Turkey the prospect of support for faster progress on its bid to join the European Union in return for cooperation in stemming the flow of refugees and taking back those rejected by Europe.

Merkel also said on Sunday that Germany could accelerate the path to visa-free travel to the EU for Turks, bringing the process forward to July 2016 – a year earlier than planned.

Turkey reportedly wants a cool $3.4 billion from the EU (and you can certainly understand why) on top of accelerating its membership bid, which is about three times what the Europeans are thought to be offering. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutolu said in an interview on Turkish TV that “Turkey is not a concentration camp” and wouldn’t simply keep refugees in exchange for payment from Europe. That might be a principled stance (“we won’t keep all these refugees indefinitely in exchange for any payment”) or it might be a negotiating position (“we won’t keep all these refugees indefinitely in exchange for this payment”), but only time will tell.

It seems pretty certain that Tayyip Erdoğan will also try to use his newfound leverage within Europe to prod Washington toward a stronger anti-Assad position in Syria, though with Russia now seriously engaged on Assad’s behalf, and hardly anybody in the West willing to call Putin’s bluff and risk the (slim) possibility that he’s not bluffing, that may be tough to accomplish.

Merkel was previously seen taking a shockingly liberal policy toward admitting Syrian refugees, with Germany talking about admitting upwards of 800,000 (or more) of them by the end of the year. She seems like she might want a take-back on that policy at this point, since not only has there been an uptick in xenophobic right-wing violence in Germany (and when has that ever not been bad news) in recent weeks, but she’s lately been under considerable political pressure over the crisis.

What’s interesting about the acceleration of Turkey’s potential EU bid is that Turkey and the EU might not be such a great fit these days. For one thing, the same people who are protesting the admission of a few hundred thousand Syrian refugees into the EU are going to go absolutely batshit over the admission of ~75 million Turkish citizens (~60 million of whom are Turks and ~98% of whom are Muslim) to the Union, a move that would instantly make Turkey’s Muslims something like 12% of the total EU population. This is obviously a very shitty reason to reject Turkey’s membership in the EU, but I wouldn’t underestimate the power of European xenophobia to either block Turkey’s admission or to seriously threaten the withdrawal of some major EU members if Turkey does get in.

For another thing, countries have to meet certain criteria for EU membership, like “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” Does anybody want to say that Erdoğan’s Turkey meets these qualifications? Respect for freedom? Not so much. Respect for the human rights of minorities? Hm, that seems iffy at the moment. Respect for democracy? Let’s see how Erdoğan responds if Turkey’s snap elections still fail to produce a stable parliamentary majority. In fact, whatever you think of Turkey’s conflict with the Kurds — justified self-defense or unjustified aggression — the EU doesn’t admit countries in the midst of major internal conflicts (“territorial integrity” is another one of their criteria).

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