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May 16, 2021

About Eastern Question 2.0. Turkey and EU: A difficult partnership (I)

If you are following the international Media these days, you have to be surprised of the place taken by the file of the convention between Turkey and EU on the Syrian refugees (most of them) staying in the block-starts to launch themselves toward Europe, in the human “wave” of the spring of 2016.

The mentions regarding this convention are, of course, contradictory, and they form a wide range of interpretations. For instance, the recent actions of Turkey in this file are either labeled as aggression against Greece in the Aegean Sea – namely premeditated launching the immigrants waves, to overwhelm the target state -, or as a bonus offered by Ankara to Brexit orientation in GB – the hill of the visa liberalization in EU would add strong arguments to the will of the euro-skeptics for undermining the European organization-, or as a “partnership” with Russia, meant to put Brussels on the knees.

If one of these interpretations may be reasonably deemed as obviously biased, others have to be well considered by the analysts. For instance, a recent editorial in “The Telegraph” was mentioning: “Ankara’s blatant abrogation of its responsibility to guard its own borders has resulted in hundreds of thousands of migrants from countries throughout the Middle East – including Afghanistan – travelling to Europe.

This convention is extremely important, and a lot of things on the international theatre will depend by the answer given by the European Commission on May 4, related to one of its provisions – namely visa liberalization in EU for the Turkish citizens. We are talking about the amplitude of the refugees’ wave in the next months from the South to Europe, or about the evolution of the Syrian civil war, or about the relationships between EU member states. What’s all about, actually?

The huge wave of refugees coming in Europe from the South in the last months of 2015 – around 1 million persons – generated the question of their adaptation in the old continent, some of the countries already being crushed by this obligation – first of all Greece, as a first line country, then the targets aimed by the refugees – in particular, Germany. Some EU member states, finding themselves in front of this peaceful invasion, built fences along their own borders – first of them being Hungary, but soon followed by others; European Commission has established a relocation quota regime for the refugees, in all the member states, in order to jointly distribute the burden of their support.

The entire file of the refugees issue management quickly generated strains inside EU, from rejecting the assigned relocation quotas, to the matter of building the interdiction fences on the borders, and to the assertion of discriminating criteria related to the hosting of the newcomers. This way, a major crisis was drawn in EU, some people call it an existential crisis, and the “new” Europe has a different score than the “old” Europe, as it was more than ten years before Iraq invasion in 2003. At the same time, the Dublin convention which was settling the procedures of the member states related to refugees, appeared to be actually abolished; the conventions regarding the freedom of movement inside the Schengen Area are about to disappear, because of the member states decisions to limit the access on their territory.

In other words, the major conquest of EU in the matter of freedom of movement inside her space, as well as the rules for accepting refugees, were only memories, and the perspective of Brexit, or of a new financial crisis in Greece, were generating an unpredictable and dark future. Under such circumstances, Brussels boosted its connections with Turkey, in order to indentify the solutions for the refugees’ crisis, so the negotiations with Ankara were primed already since October 2015 in this regard. Slowing down the wave of refugees for a short period of time (because of the winter season) delayed a final convention between Ankara and EU for a while, although the main directions of the bilateral commitments were settled since October. The evolution of the situation in Syria in this period brought its major contribution to this delay, which is totally unfavorable for the refugees.

Actually, almost 6 million Syrian refugees are in the Syria’s neighbor countries, and most of them (almost 3 million) are in Turkey, because this is the easy way to run away from the horrors of the civil war, but they also run to Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt. On the one hand, Turkey registered a regress regarding her role in the complex equation of the Syrian civil war, since the sponsorship of the ceasefire and the peace process, which was decided by a resolution of the UN Security Council on December 18, was provided by USA and Russia. Or, sponsors were supporting the ones that Ankara considered the main opponents in the Syrian theatre: the Assad regime, generously supported with military help by Russia, while USA was doing the same for the Kurdish minority representatives in Syria.

The fear of Ankara that a possible autonomy of the Syrian Kurdish people will lead to a development of the file related to the birth of a Kurdish state, led Turkey to have trenchant approaches, including against Washington, which was asked to fulfill its obligations as a partner (in the Russian case, the end consisted in shooting down a Russian bomber, on November 24, which suddenly and threateningly raised the temperature of the relationship of the two states).

The internal political situation in Turkey, especially where the Kurdish minority lives, has been quickly damaged, while the police is engaged in making peace where coordinated disorders are taking place; at the same time, terrorist attacks in the other regions, most of all at Ankara and Istanbul, indicate a contamination of the factions that are involved in the Syrian civil war (for example, Daesh). This last issue has determined Turkey to perform military actions against the Kurdish forces in Northern Syria, after the ceasefire agreement was implemented on February 27, 2016. On the other hand, this situation which is deemed as very dangerous by Ankara, has led to the Turkey’s opposition regarding the presence of Kurdish organization from Syria at the negotiations which took place at Geneva, despite USA and Russia’s position, because it is considered to be an appendix of the terrorist organization PKK, acting in Turkey and in the Iraqi Kurdistan. For Turkey, the current situation in Syria and the perspective of the birth of a Kurdish state in its vicinity represents a real existential matter.

Basically, Europe, located in front of the refugees’ wave – they were almost one million people between August and December 2015, and they continue to come in the next months, threatening to make a real tsunami of immigration – and Turkey, identified a joint position of approach and mutual support, since they are faced with an existential dilemma. This resulted in the conclusion of the convention since March 18, 2016, which provided that Ankara hires to stop the refugees wave coming to Greece cross the Aegean Sea, while EU hires to provide the needed budget for their adaptation in Turkey, but also to speed up the negotiations for Turkey’s adhesion to the organizations, which started many years ago, and to grant visa liberalization for Turkish citizens starting with June 2016. As an expert recently wrote, right a day before yesterday’s decision of the European Commission: “Turkey needs Europe as much as Europe needs Turkey. Not long ago Ankara’s foreign policy aimed for ‘zero’ problems with its neighbors, to play the pivot in the Middle East, and serve as an example for the revolutionary countries of the Arab Spring. It has since squandered what leverage it thought it had on Syria’s government, soured relations with neighboring countries, Russia, Israel and a handful of Arab states, and has its own internal Kurdish conflict. Turkey has few friends outside the Europeans.”

Indeed, in today’s international diplomacy, where the new edition of the “Eastern Question” prevails, at least for the Euro-Atlantic space, the convention between Turkey and Europe can be seen as one being able to define an axis of joint action in the future, not only in the matter of the refugees, but also regarding the perspective settlements in the Mideast. And this is because the evolutions in this region are going more and more obviously to such a perspective of establishing new political settlements, in this troubled region.




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