Germany has an important opportunity to ensure the European Union’s deal with Turkey on migrants is better implemented now that it is the bloc’s term president, said Meltem Müftüler Baç, a professor of international relations.
The EU cannot rely on Greece, and Germany could work to allocate the necessary funds to Turkey for the next budget period, according to the academic.
What can be expected from the German presidency?
The German presidency can bring forth new opportunities, one of which is the revitalization of the customs union agreement. The decision to update was blocked in 2018 for multiple reasons, but it was critical that Germany did not also approve the revamping. So one of the things that could be done is to convince Berlin to abandon its reservations.
The signs from Berlin are not encouraging.
That’s true, but it’s an issue we need to work on. It might not be feasible today, but we don’t know what will happen in six months.
What can Turkey do to convince Germany?
Take the customs union agreement and compare it to the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement that Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have already signed. A country like Ukraine, which does not have a European perspective, now has an agreement that goes beyond multiple areas of the existing custom union that Turkey has with the EU. In addition, it is an old agreement which is no longer sufficient to address the realities on the ground.
But obviously all these are technical issues. The obstacles are political.
Turkey wants to benefit from the consequences of the pandemic to advance its case. Do you think it will work?
The pandemic has illustrated the key problem in the supply chains of the global economy. Any disruption to the supply chain is a problem for the global economy. The farther away your suppliers are, the larger the impact a pandemic will have on your economic production. Turkey is physically close to the EU and a similar supply disruption is not likely. German producers who need Turkish suppliers, can put pressure on their government to argue that revitalizing the customs union is necessary precisely because it is in the interest of the German economy.
You said the obstacle is political.
Every EU decision with regards to Turkey is taken by unanimity. All the members have their own interests. Cyprus, for instance, wants to have greater control in the eastern Mediterranean at the expense of Turkey.
And currently we have France, which is becoming increasingly anti-Turkish.
One of the key examples I use is this. In June 2007, when things were moving fine in Turkey [in terms of meeting the criteria to start accession talks], then-French President [Nicolas] Sarkozy said openly, “I will not approve the opening talks on the chapter on economic and financial matters.” This was an area in which Turkey was meeting the criteria.
He said if we accept the opening of this chapter, it would lead to membership. But this is precisely why negotiations are opened in the first place. Sarkozy’s decision was a political decision, and what motivated Sarkozy was not the political situation in Turkey, as there was no democratic deficit at that time.
It is apparent that since [former President Jacques] Chirac, all French governments have tended to perceive Turkish accession as more costly than its potential benefits. What could these costs be? A loss of prestige in the Middle East. It could be that Turkey’s large population would make it one of the biggest players in the EU. Turkey’s membership would make France less powerful within the EU. This is a concern for Germany as well.
Montenegro could become a member tomorrow since it is the size of a residential compound in a neighborhood in Istanbul.
Some in the EU do not want to update customs union claiming it would mean rewarding democratic backpedaling.
But I think it’s just the opposite. Turkey has to be drawn into the European framework further with stronger ties. The fact that the Ukrainian, Georgian and Moldovan people have freedom to travel in the EU, while Turkish businesspeople whose products are moving freely in the European market can’t, is an abomination. This harms the EU’s credibility in Turkish eyes. When the EU’s credibility is harmed, its ability to induce political change goes down the drain as well.
One of the issues is the refugee deal, for which Turkey is counting on convincing Germany. But isn’t this issue losing its potency?
The deal is another technical functional tool that the EU has utilized for its own material benefit. They gave Turkey the responsibility of protecting the EU’s borders because they could not do that on their own.
The deal, from the EU’s perspective, is a success story. While it benefited the EU, I am not sure about its material benefits for Turkey. The EU has not fulfilled its side of the bargain. For every Syrian who returned to Turkey, the EU pledged to process an asylum application from a Syrian in the Turkish camps. The number of people who have been settled from Turkey in European destinations remains very low, around 8,500. It also agreed to finalize the visa liberalization. That does not exist. This deal indicated the increasingly functional relationship that Turkey and the EU have, which is no longer defined within the boundaries of accession. That has negative repercussions. We do not want to be the protector of the EU’s external borders; we want to be inside the EU so that we will protect the borders together.
But it seems the EU wants to rely on Greece so it does not depend on Turkey to stop the flow of refugees.
The EU has a gap between its expectations and capabilities in terms of its foreign and security policies, and also in its migration policies. What the EU expects to do and what the EU is capable of doing are two different things.
There is significant pressure on what the Greek government can handle. They are unable to process [all the migrants]. There is a very big gap in the Greek ability to process the existing asylum applications, let alone newcomers.
In Turkey, camps are being closed and refugees are being integrated into society. There are still refugee camps in Greece where the living conditions are abysmal. So the EU says, “I will have the Greek government process these applications.” But when it comes to actual delivery, nobody is able to deliver.
How do you think the refugee deal will be handled during the German presidency?
The EU should be able to deliver on its commitments to Turkey on the refugee deal. The funds have not yet been completely delivered to Turkey. But once this is done, and the EU budget period is over by the end of 2020, there is uncertainty over the next budget period, as no funds have been allocated for refugee facilities. There is no clear-cut commitment from the EU. The German government could work on allocating the funds for the next budget period.
But I need to emphasize that the EU and Germany will be busy with Brexit and that Turkey will not be a priority.
*Who is Meltem Müftüler-Baç?
Meltem Müftüler-Baç is the Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor of International Relations and Jean Monnet chair ad personam at Sabancı University, Turkey.
She received her B.A from Boğazici University, MA and Ph.D. from Temple University, US.
Müftüler-Baç is the single author of multiple academic books.
Her recent H2020 projects are on migration and asylum governance and integrating diversity in Europe.
She holds two awards from the Turkish Academy of Sciences: Young Social Scientist Investigator Award and Distinguished Young Scientist Award.
Her research areas are Turkey-European Union relations, EU enlargement, Turkish foreign policy and Turkish politics, European integration and international relations theory.