EU-Turkey deal two years on: Prospect of European migration policy

How to secure borders while upholding the right to asylum?


Gerald Knaus, Director of the European Stability Initiative and the driving force behind the EU-Turkey deal

Ana Uzelac, Senior Policy Fellow at the Clingendael institute, Expert on Migration

Agnieszka Kulesa, Institute of Public Affaris, Manager of the Migration Policy Programme

Chaired by

Konstanty Gebert, Journalist at Gazeta Wyborcza and ECFR’s Associate Fellow

The Warsaw Offices of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (HBS) had the pleasure to organise a debate titled:

EU-Turkey deal two years on: Prospect of European migration policy

April 25th between 16:00 and 17:30
on the premises of the Stefan Batory Foundation, ul. Sapieżyńska 10a, Turowicz Room

Two years after the EU-Turkey deal, the debate on migration and on European asylum reform is still going. Despite a dramatic drop in the number of those trying to reach Europe via the Aegean Sea, the number of deaths has not fallen, as the dangerous Central Mediterranean route is still open. In order to look deeper into the question, Warsaw offices of European Council of Foreign Relations and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung hosted a public debate titled EU-Turkey deal two years on: Prospect of European migration policy on April 25th. The panel discussion was joined by Gerald Knaus, Director of the European Stability Initiative and the driving force behind the EU-Turkey deal; Ana Uzelac, Senior Policy Fellow at the Clingendael institute and expert on migration; and Agnieszka Kulesa Manager of the Migration Policy Programme at Institute of Public Affairs. The debate was moderated by Konstanty Gebert, journalist at Gazeta Wyborcza and ECFR’s Associate Fellow. Among the major issues brought up during the debate were the outcomes of the EU-Turkey Deal, the subsequent dependence of the EU on the internal regime in Turkey, the implications for possible future agreements with other states, possible reforms to be introduced to the EU migration policy, and the issue of European cohesion on migration.

First and foremost, the discussants looked into how the EU-Turkey deal has influenced the EU migration policy. All speakers agreed that the deal was concluded out of necessity and at addressed crucial issues in a decisive moment and with few alternative solutions available. As Ana Uzelac and Agnieszka Kulesa noted the drawbacks of the deal, particularly in the humanitarian domain, Gerald Knaus tried to moderate the discourse by underlining that the “EU-Turkey deal” is not a deal in fact, but is rather a political statement. According to Mr Knaus the agreement by itself did not introduce any new legislation but reinforces parties’ commitments to existing obligations on refugee protection. Therefore, he claim, one cannot argue that the deal worsened the situation, especially since no better alternative has been proposed.

Ana Uzelac noted that Turkey has exhibited exceptional willingness and capacity to integrate refugees into its society, which – combined with EU money – provided them with considerable opportunities and enabled the deal to function. However, the deal also allowed Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to instrumentalise refugees in order to strengthen his hand in dealing with EU leaders, making them less willing to put pressure on Turkey with regard to its democratic backsliding.

The opinion was shared by Konstanty Gebert, who underlined that Erdoğan is the only politician who would commit to the EU-Turkey agreement, as it is politically convenient for him. However, Gerald Knaus noted that the EU’s policy on Turkey is determined by factors beyond migration that necessitate maintaining positive relations with the country. It would therefore be a mistake, he argued, to focus on the agreement as the source of Europe’s dependency on Turkey.

Regardless of their assessment of the deal, all speakers agreed that it is not possible for it to serve as a blueprint for the further deals. Agnieszka Kulesa argued that it is necessary to distinguish different types of migration, as well as to take into account political and economic environment in partner countries – and propose adequate policies for different scenarios. Gerald Knaus claimed that EU-Turkey agreement cannot be replicated with Libya, since it does not guarantee that refugees and migrants will be protected in accordance with EU law.

Regarding the EU-Turkey agreements’ implications, the discussion also looked into the ways in which the EU asylum policy could be reformed at this point. According to Gerald Knaus, the major problem for the EU migration policy is the failure of the return and relocation system. Because of ineffective return system, most of the migrants to the EU only need to apply for asylum to ensure their stay on the territory of the EU for at least 5 years. Even in case of asylum being declined it is almost impossible to return these migrants to their countries of origin – illustrated by only 260 returns to West Africa out of 100 thousand migrants. To change this, he proposed negotiating agreements with countries of origin – creating more legal channels of migration, offering incentives, and stipulating “day X” returns – as well as introducing faster procedures for dealing with migration inflows over the Mediterranean. Agnieszka Kulesa, in turn, emphasized the importance of finding an equilibrium between speed and fairness for a functional asylum system.

The discussants also took a wider look at the EU migration policy as such, each of them touching upon more general strategic context in their speeches. Agnieszka Kulesa has argued that the EU member states have been focusing mainly on “extinguishing fire” in the last couple of years – that is, dealing with the current migration crisis. This has distracted them from a more important task, which is building a common, functional system to deal with different types of migration in the long run. Ana Uzelac, in turn, perceived EU-Turkey agreement as a temporary measure which “bought time” for the EU. Therefore, the task for the EU member states is to articulate whether they are willing “to continue as a Union” and actually build a common policy. According to Ms Uzelac, the popular anxiety over migration inflows into Europe is not caused by migration itself, but deeper internal problems with distribution of wealth, movement of capital, and lack of social protection, which EU has to address. In addition, she claimed that European leaders would have to deal with the problems contributing to migration itself – i.e. the lack of political and economic stability in the countries of origin. Finally, Gerald Knaus argued that migration has been used to mobilise electorates, especially by political elites in Central and Eastern Europe. However, the relocation system did not fail only in the region, but in the whole Union and the EU needs a complex approach to migration which would deal with the issue on different levels.

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