The summit between the European Union and Turkey has been labelled historic in the press and correctly so. It took a long time to get here. Only a few months ago Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had noted that “the Mediterranean has become a graveyard and EU countries are responsible for each and every death in the Mediterranean” blaming the EU for lack of hospitality towards the Syrians, and contrasting it with Turkey’s policy towards the refugees. Turkey, it is true, has hosted since 2013 2.2 million registered refugees. But it could be argued that the hospitality was neither unconditional, nor entirely bereft of motive. Rather, the refugee crisis was successfully used as a foreign policy instrument by Ankara to pressure European leaders into negotiations.
Whereas before Europe would have liked to have Turkey’s cooperation on migration, now it urgently needs it. This was recognised early on by the German Chancellor and it was Germany that pushed forward for this summit and deal, in a last ditch effort to reduce irregular migratory flows to Europe. At the same time, the willingness to involve Turkey stems from a desire to balance migration management, which to Germany should include a bit of outsourcing and a bit of internal EU burden sharing and responsibility. The deal with Turkey would ensure a regulated flow and give time for the national systems to organise. But there is also a recognition that this a gamble, and one member states have no real means of ensuring succeeds.
In that sense, the summit was a success for Europe, which did not commit to much aside from the financial package, but also a big success for Turkey, that has shown remarkable patience in turning down all previous offers to wait for European fear and insecurity to prevail and leverage a better deal for themselves. Germany was the first to break ranks and give in, largely pushed to this direction by its European partners unwillingness (and inability) to find a common solution to the refugee issue but also the porous Greek-Turkish border.
There are many risks in the current deal. First and foremost, it depends on each side delivering to the satisfaction of the other. Germany and the EU need to be satisfied with Turkey’s policy and measures, Turkey with the speed of financing and satisfaction must be mutual. Secondly, if the deal fails or is only semi-implemented, member states will have to once more look internally for a solution and this has been a fairly unsuccessful process so far. But there is a third risk, in the (unlikely) case of the deal succeeding, where member states becoming complacent.
Amidst the current crisis Chancellor Merkel is alone in recognising that the system needs to change and adapt in responding to crises of this type. The majority of EU leaders will look to Turkey’s gatekeeping as a way of solving the problem in the short term, but this will work only until the day Turkey chooses to walk away from that role or a new crisis emerges that does not originate from Turkey. Outsourcing is a very risky and costly – politically and financially – business that creates complacency but also dependencies.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.