5 July 2017

Will Erdoğan open Turkey’s European border?

By Alexander Fiuza

For Italy, the Migrant Crisis is back – if it ever went away. Some 83,000 migrants from across Africa have landed in Italy this year already – a 12 per cent increase on this period last year. The last week alone has seen a surge of over 12,000 making the journey.

It isn’t just Italy. Around 50 migrants are feared to have drowned on the way to Spain from Morocco yesterday. So far this year, the crisis has been more subdued in the east, but that could be about to change. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been threatening to throw out his migrant deal with the EU unless they grant him various concessions. Principle among his demands from Brussels are Turkish visa-free travel across the EU and progress on Turkey’s membership application. Both are frozen because of Turkish human right7s abuses and repression.

The EU-Turkey deal matters to Europe because it is what is keeping more than 3 million refugees and migrants in Turkey. Migrants trying to leave are stopped at the Greek border. If they get through to Europe somehow, they will be sent back to Turkey and will be accepted there. All this in return for £1.76 billion per year for 3 years – £2.64 billion so far.

That may sound like a lot of money, but the deal is working. In the first four months of 2017, 5,174 migrants have reached Europe via Turkey, compared to almost 100,000 in the same period last year. Whether it’s from boats being stopped, migrants being returned or put off from making the journey in the first place, far fewer are getting into the EU. This is a near 95 per cent reduction in migration flow.

Limiting the numbers coming is essential; the EU is buckling under the strain of the Migrant Crisis. Look at Germany alone. Of the approximately 1.2 million migrants known to have arrived in Germany, 80 per cent have had no documents proving their identity; there is no way to know they are who they say they are. Some come from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq, others from as far as Pakistan and Nigeria, and some from Kosovo and Albania. Unable to process them, given the size of the numbers, the EU authorities struggle to separate those who have grounds for asylum from those who do not.

Some hoped the migrants would help relieve the pressures of an ageing population. These hopes now seem premature. Each migrant who gets through to Germany costs the German Government – on average – £10,200 per year. By the end of 2016 barely 34,000 had found jobs – this in a country with less than 4 per cent unemployment. Optimistic estimates project only 2 in 5 migrants will be employed within 5 years. Worst of all is the complete failure to prepare law enforcement, vet migrants or seriously try to assimilate the newcomers, and this has led to a spike in migrant crime – up from 114,238 crimes in 2015 to 174,438 crimes in 2016 – a 52.7 per cent increase.

Taking in so many people, so quickly, and with so little preparation, isn’t just cripplingly expensive and socially disruptive. It is stretching the fabric of the EU to breaking point. Brussels is now threatening Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic with sanctions over their refusal to participate in a Migrant Quota System. This is stoking resentment, distrust and division at a time when the EU is barely beginning to recover from the eurozone crisis.

To make matters worse, the quotas themselves don’t work. In Portugal, for example, of 1,255 refugees who were sent by quota, 474 have disappeared. Of those, 147 have been found, and many have been arrested as far afield as Sweden.

So, what do Erdoğan’s threats mean for the Turkey deal?

Will he abandon his accord with countries he has called “fascist” (Germany) and  “Nazi remnants” (the Netherlands) and an EU which has pushed back his dream of joining the EU? Will he allow migration flows to shoot up to their utterly unsustainable 2015 levels, inflaming an already tense situation on the continent?

If Erdoğan is behaving rationally, the answer is no. He is a shrewd politician, surely aware that however well his aggressive rhetoric is received domestically, scrapping the deal leaves him without leverage over the EU.

There is also the Turkish economy to consider. It was on the verge of crisis at the end of 2016 and is still teetering. The government has racked up £4 billion in sovereign debt in the first 4 months of 2017. Non-performing loans are also up 9 per cent in the Turkish banking sector. All of this means it can hardly afford to lose the £1.76 billion-a-year payment from the EU to Turkey which the EU bribes Turkey with is critically important to Erdoğan.

All of this would seem to preclude the deal collapsing in the next few months. But if Erdoğan continues in his belligerent tone, and if the Turkish people continue to be exercised by it, those passions could well trump economic and diplomatic common sense.

Alexander Fiuza is a Research Executive at cross-party grassroots campaign group Get Britain Out