sábado, 23 de abril de 2016
Angela Merkel’s Turkey trip highlights risk of deal
Angela Merkel’s Turkey trip highlights risk of deal
The chancellor’s visit allows Erdoğan to show that Europe’s leaders are at his bid and call.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG AND JACOPO BARIGAZZI 4/22/16, 8:59 PM CET Updated 4/22/16, 9:58 PM CET
BERLIN — When Ankara first suggested Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk lead a European delegation to some refugee sites in Turkey, both Brussels and Berlin saw it as a chance to showcase the progress the two sides have made in implementing the the EU-Turkey migration pact.
Instead of a good photo opportunity, however, the visit has turned into a PR nightmare.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s legal pursuit of German comedian Jan Böhmermann, whom he accuses of defaming him on national television, has refocused public attention across Europe on the Turkish leader’s crackdown on media freedom and free speech at home. Reports from human rights agencies assailing Turkey’s treatment of refugees have added to the public’s qualms.
“There is no photo-op that can obscure the deep flaws in the EU-Turkey deal. What Angela Merkel really needs to bring back from Turkey are not smiling photos, but cast-iron guarantees that the Turkish authorities will stop sending refugees back to their countries of origin and start implementing its asylum laws effectively,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia.
Merkel, whose approval was necessary for Erdoğan’s case against the comedian to proceed, has come under intense criticism in Germany for agreeing. Critics say her acquiescence reflects how desperate the German leader is to keep the refugee deal alive.
Saturday’s trip, dismissed as “a farce” by one German commentator Friday, represents just the latest in a series of concessions Merkel has made to Turkey. Though Merkel won’t meet with Erdoğan, the fact that she is traveling to Turkey for just a few hours Saturday, hosted by his prime minister, allows the president to show that Europe’s leaders are at his bid and call.
That the Turkey trip falls just a day before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Germany to meet with Merkel only bolsters Erdoğan’s boast.
Late Friday, Merkel acknowledged that she had made some mistakes in her handling of the Böhmermann affair, but defended her decision on the legal case.
Merkel regards Turkey as the key to limiting the number of refugees arriving in Europe and has been wooing Ankara since last fall.
But Erdoğan’s disregard for what most Europeans consider to be basic democratic standards has left many asking whether the EU paid too high a price in its in deal with Ankara.
Under the agreement, Turkey agreed to help stem the flow of refugees arriving in Europe in exchange for money and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU. As criticism of the deal intensified this week, Turkish leaders were blunt in reminding their partners that, in Erdoğan’s words, “the Europe Union needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the European Union.”
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warned that Turkey would not fulfill its end of the refugee bargain if Europe didn’t agree to visa liberalization by June.
“These pledges are mutual,” he said. “If the EU does not take the necessary steps, it would be unthinkable for Turkey to do so.”
Such statements have convinced some in Berlin and Brussels that Erdoğan is simply toying with them. The Turkish leader never forgave Europe, and especially Merkel, for thwarting his ambition a decade ago to take the country into the EU. Now, they say, he is relishing the chance he has been given for payback.
Before the refugee crisis, Merkel’s only encounter with Erdoğan in Turkey in recent years was a brief and awkward lunch that strictly followed protocol. Saturday’s visit will mark her third trip there since last fall.
For his part, Erdoğan appears not to miss any chance to further humiliate his European counterparts. Just a couple days ago, Turkish authorities detained a journalist with German public television upon arrival at Istanbul’s airport, supposedly because he didn’t have proper accredidation. Merkel, appearing before reporters the same day, could do little but offer a mealy-mouthed statement. “Naturally we view the situation with a certain concern,” she said. The reporter was later sent back to Cairo.
The episode recalled the crackdown on Zaman, Turkey’s largest newspaper, just minutes after Tusk concluded a visit with the country’s leaders last month to discuss the refugee crisis. In Brussels, the move was seen as a taunt.
Tusk tried to address misgivings about the Turkey trip in an op-ed that appeared in a number of European newspapers on Friday. “Recent experience with Turkey shows that Europe must set clear limits to its concessions,” he wrote. “We can negotiate money but never our values.”
But that’s exactly what many Germans accuse Merkel of doing.
Some 80 percent of Germans think the chancellor has made too many concessions to Erdoğan, according to a poll for German public television released Friday. The same percentage does not think Turkey is a reliable partner.
More than 60 percent of Germans believe Merkel handled the affair with the comedian poorly, according to the same poll. Her approval rating has dropped by more than half since the beginning of April.
A number of commentators accused Merkel of kowtowing to the Turkish leader.
The German leader’s political calculation appears to be that in the long term, Germans will care more about keeping refugee numbers down than Erdogan’s respect for democatic freedoms.
She’s probably right. The case against the comedian, Böhmermann, has already disappeared from the headlines. A decision by Germany’s plodding jucial system on the merits of the case could take years.
Even so, Merkel’s Saturday trip to Turkey illustrates how difficult it is to strike a balance between protecting German and European interests and appeasing a leader many consider a dictator.
In between photo-ops and visits to EU-funded refugee projects, Merkel will likely face tough questions from the press about Turkey’s treatment of journalists and anyone who disagrees with Erdoğan.
Even if the chancellor manages to dodge the questions, the refugee deal will face a series of difficult challenges in the coming weeks and months.
Erdoğan’s recent actions have hardened opposition in the European Parliament and many national capitals to granting Turkey visa liberalization. Among the catalogue of requirements Ankara must fufill is a stipulation that the country respect “the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression.”
Given Erdoğan’s recent track record, it’s difficult to see how Europe’s leaders could argue that Turkey meets that test.
A more immediate threat to the deal is getting it to work on the ground. While Turkish efforts to keep refugees from reaching Greece seem to be effective, the second phase of the program has yet to be fully tested. About 7,500 refugees have landed in Greece since the deal took effect last month. Under the agreement, those people will be sent back, after registration and a cursory review of their asylum application.
In exchange, Turkey will send an equal number of Syrian refugees back to Europe. Turkey is expected to send about 1,100 refugees per month.
For the plan to work, EU countries have to show they are willing to resettle up to 72,000 Syrians. That remains an explosive issue in many capitals. Depsite the urgency, countries have yet to agree on a definitive framework on how many Syrians they will take in each month.
In Brussels, officials worry that a failure to reach an agreement soon could provide Erdoğan with another reason not to honor Turkey’s commitments under the agreement.
Matthew Karnitschnig and Jacopo Barigazzi