World View: Turkey and Hungary Play Hardball at EU-Turkey Refugee Summit

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This morning’s key headlines from

  • Turkey and Hungary play hardball at EU-Turkey refugee summit
  • With summer approaching, European politicians may be close to panic

Turkey and Hungary play hardball at EU-Turkey refugee summit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels, on Monday
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels, on Monday

Monday’s summit in Brussels between leaders of the European Union and Turkey ended in failure, after Turkey and Hungary played hardball, dashing the hopes and dreams of the desperate European leaders that Turkey would solve the refugee crisis for them.

Turkey started the ball rolling by making some additional demands:

  • The EU had already promised three billion euros in aid for refugees in Turkey, and Turkey demanded an additional three million.
  • Turkey demanded that the plans to give all 70 million Turkish citizens visa-free travel in Europe, scheduled for implementation next year, be moved up to June. This would be a major victory for Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, since it would be extremely popular among the Turkish people.
  • Turkey demanded that progress on Turkey’s long-stalled bid for EU membership be sped up.
  • Turkey proposed a one-for-one refugee swap under which the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey in exchange for every Syrian refugee that Turkey takes back from Greece.

The issue of EU aid to Turkey was already contentious because Turkey claimed that the three billion euros should have been paid four months ago. EU rejected the claim, saying that the money had been held up because Turkey had not fulfilled its own commitments under the agreement. Turkey justified its new demands for an additional three billion euros because there were many more Syrian refugees in Turkey, with many who are not in designated refugee camps.

The purpose of the one-for-one refugee swap plan was to provide a disincentive for people smugglers. Any Syrian who came to Europe illegally would be sent back to Turkey, while Syrians resettled in Europe would come from legal Turkish refugee camps.

Hungary vetoed the one-for-one refugee swap plan, because it would presumably mean that Syrians from Turkey who resettled in the EU would be distributed among the EU nations, including Hungary. However, how the resettled refugees would be distributed would be subject to negotiation, and Hungary might be able to opt out. Kathimerini and AP

With summer approaching, European politicians may be close to panic

Theoretically, there should not be a major problem. The EU has 500 million people, so absorbing one or two million refugees really should not be so hard. But the painful lessons of World War II, incorporated into the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which led to the creation of the European Union, are forgotten. In this generational Crisis era, xenophobia and nationalism are rampant in Europe and in many countries around the world, as they were before WW II.

So now the numbers, tiny compared to the size of the entire EU population, seem staggering:

  • Around 32,000 migrants are currently stranded in Greece, a number that the Greek Interior Ministry says could quickly swell to 70,000. Doctors Without Borders Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) is even expecting 200,000 refugees, and Greece’s bailout economy is already on death watch.
  • Of those, 12,000 refugees are camped out on Greece’s border with Macedonia, which has recently been slammed closed.
  • There are about 2,000 new migrants arriving in Greece every day, despite the cold weather. By the time summer arrives, that number could rise substantially, perhaps as high as 10,000 per day.
  • About 54% of the new arrivals are women and children whose husbands arrived in Europe last year and have sent for their families.
  • The above figures apply just to Syrian refugees. There are also hundreds of Afghan refugees entering Greece from Turkey each day, and the EU isn’t even thinking about them.

As a result, discussions among European leaders are becoming increasingly toxic. Last week, it got to the point where Greece withdrew its ambassador from Austria. Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico in turn warned Greece that if the country did not move to secure its borders, “there will be one single hotspot and it will be called Greece.” Perhaps, he added, it may be necessary to sacrifice Greece for the sake of Europe’s well-being.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been taking the lead in attempting to set Europe’s refugee policy. Last summer she announced that Germany would welcome refugees, but she’s been widely condemned for making the refugee problem worse with that statement. Now she’s changed her policy completely, to focus on getting an agreement with Turkey to stop the refugee exodus to Europe.

Merkel has opposed the policies of Austria and the Balkan states to close their borders, and she’s been warning of the EU’s disintegration “into small states” that will be unable to compete in a globalized world, as well as of the possibility that border controls might soon be reintroduced all across Europe. Merkel also wants to prevent Greece from drifting into chaos: “We did not keep Greece in the euro to abandon the country now.”

The problem is that Europe’s refugee crisis worsens significantly every day, and no one realistically has the vaguest idea how to fix it. BBC and Der Spiegel and Reuters

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Turkey, Hungary, European Union, Angle Merkel, Ahmet Davutoglu, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syria, Afghanistan, Greece, Austria, Slovakia, Robert Fico
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