By threatening (not for the first time) to open the borders to Europe for millions of refugees, Erdogan makes it crystal clear who is pulling the strings: he is. The so called “Turkey statement” of 2016, by which Turkey is hosting some four million refugees, with financial support from the EU, made the EU vulnerable for blackmail, and exposed to Erdogan’s whims. It is bitter irony that EU member states could agree more easily with Erdogan to stop asylum seekers, than with each other on how share responsibility for them within the EU. However, this inability of national government leaders has effectively put Erdogan in the drivers seat. Europe is at his mercy.
The informal deal was struck hastily after the influx of refugees in 2015. The national government leaders pledged 6 billion in financial support, and in return Erdogan would act as a border control agency for the EU. The government leaders sighed in relief, and leaned back. But instead of using the time they bought to find sustainable and permanent solutions, such as agreeing on a new Common European Asylum System, they spent the next four years bickering, arguing and praying another refugee crisis would simply not occur. In the meantime the warning signs were consistently ignored, most notably the humanitarian disaster on the Greek islands.
For many years now, the response of government leaders to migration flows has been a combination of building the highly lethal fortress Europe, and outsourcing our border control to third countries like Turkey or Libya. That is clearly not sustainable, and it is leading to hideous - and by now explosive - humanitarian crises inside and outside Europe. Local communities in Europe are grappling with the messy consequences of the absence of any serious policy. The inertia of government leaders has created a fertile breeding ground for far-right extremism.
Government leaders have to finally take their responsibility. Being in the European Union comes with benefits as well as obligations. That means a common responsibility for managing migration flows, and a common responsibility for making available the necessary budgetary means. Member states holding the EU hostage over asylum policies or budget issues, are behaving like political hooligans.
While acknowledging that Turkey did a lot, Erdogan now needs to be urgently reminded that using millions of refugees as bargaining chips is totally unacceptable and has to stop immediately.
Europe cannot leave front line countries like Greece of Bulgaria to sort out the mess. But fighting refugees, desperately stuck in no mans land between Turkey and Europe, with tear gas is wholly unacceptable and incompatible with “the European way of life”. The people stuck now in the border zone must be allowed to enter the EU in a managed way, such as through daily quota and with immediate relocation to EU member states.
Europe needs to urgently adopt its own plan for the scenario of a sudden mass influx of refugees, whether from Turkey or new refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. The never used Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) could provide a framework, or an alternative arrangement must be created. But all member states must acknowledge the collective responsibility and act with determination.
In addition, EU government leaders must dither no longer, and also finally adopt a sustainable, effective and decent common asylum and migration policy. It can be done quickly, as the European Parliament, elected by over 200 million citizens and representing all political families, has already adopted a full Common European Asylum System package.
The paralysis of the Member States in the Council is literally killing. It is taking human lives of migrants. And it is killing the European Union. It is killing public support and trust, and killing our common values. So government leaders, playtime is over, do what you have to do!