Soeren Kern, Gatestone, July 31, 2019
Turkey has threatened to re-open the floodgates of mass migration to Europe unless Turkish nationals are granted visa-free travel to the European Union. The EU agreed to visa liberalization in a March 2016 EU-Turkey migrant deal in which Ankara pledged to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.
European officials insist that while Turkey has reduced the flow of migrants, it has not yet met all of the requirements for visa liberalization. Moreover, EU foreign ministers on July 15 decided to halt high-level talks with Ankara as part of sanctions over Turkish oil and gas drilling off the coast of Cyprus.
In an interview with Turkish television channel TGRT Haber on July 22, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey was backing out of the migrant deal because the EU had failed to honor its pledge to grant Turkish passport holders visa-free access to 26 European countries. “We have suspended the readmission agreement,” he said. “We will not wait at the EU’s door.”
A day earlier, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu accused European countries of leaving Turkey alone to deal with the migration issue. In comments published by the state news agency Anadolu Agency, he warned: “We are facing the biggest wave of migration in history. If we open the floodgates, no European government will be able to survive for more than six months. We advise them not to try our patience.”
Turkey currently hosts an estimated 3.5 million migrants and refugees — mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. Many of these people presumably would migrate to Europe if given the opportunity to do so.
Responding to Çavuşoğlu’s remarks, EU spokesperson Natasha Bertaud insisted that Turkey’s continued enforcement of the EU-Turkey deal remains a condition for visa liberalization.
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that Turkey has no place in the EU. In a February 2016 interview with the French news channel iTélé, he expressed sentiments that presumably are shared by many Europeans:
“Turkey has no place in Europe. I have always adhered to this position, it is based on common sense. This doesn’t mean that I have anything against the Turks. We need them, they are our allies in NATO. But if we begin to explain it — that Turkey is in Europe — European school students will have to be told that the European border lies in Syria. Where’s common sense?
“It’s not just that. What’s the idea behind Europe? Europe is a union of European countries. The question is very simple, even in a geographical sense, is Turkey a European country? Turkey has only one shore of the Bosporus in Europe. Can Turkey be regarded a European country culturally, historically, and economically speaking? If we say that, we want the European Union’s death.”
European officials may be justified in taking a hardline stance against Turkey, but Ankara is well positioned to create chaos for the European Union if it chooses to do so. Indeed, Europe appears to be trapped in a no-win situation.
If the EU approves the visa waiver, tens of millions of Turks will gain immediate and unimpeded access to Europe’s passport-free zone. Critics of visa liberalization fear that millions of Turkish nationals may end up migrating to Europe. The Austrian newsmagazine, Wochenblick, reported that 11 million Turks are living in poverty and “many of them are dreaming of moving to central Europe.”
Others believe that Erdoğan views the visa waiver as an opportunity to “export” Turkey’s “Kurdish Problem” to Germany. Markus Söder, the head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, warned that millions of Kurds are poised to take advantage of the visa waiver to flee to Germany to escape persecution at the hands of Erdoğan: “We are importing an internal Turkish conflict. In the end, fewer migrants may arrive by boat, but more will arrive by airplane.”
On the other hand, if the EU rejects the visa waiver, and Turkey retaliates by reopening the migration floodgates, potentially hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East could once again begin flowing into Europe.