segunda-feira, 2 de maio de 2016
Brussels embraces open borders for Turks
Brussels embraces open borders for Turks
‘Qualified’ recommendation for visa liberalization expected Wednesday.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 5/2/16, 5:34 AM CET
European Commission will recommend visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in Europe Wednesday, setting the stage for an acrimonious debate over whether the EU has traded principle for expediency to salvage its refugee deal with Turkey.
Barring a last-minute complication, the Commission will make a “qualified” recommendation for visa liberalization, officials said.
That means the Commission’s endorsement is contingent on Ankara’s fulfillment of the entire catalog of 72 “benchmarks” required of applicant countries. Turkey has met most, though not all of the criteria, a list that includes everything from introducing biometric passports to ensuring rights of minorities.
The Commission’s recommendation, which it has rushed to complete, is a critical step. The final decision on whether to grant Turks visa-free travel, expected at the end of June, rests with member-country leaders.
The question is whether the proposal will ever get that far.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crackdown on critics both at home and abroad has hardened resistance to the deal, creating an unlikely coalition between left- and right-wing forces that want to torpedo it.
They have a fair chance of doing so in the European Parliament, which must approve the plan before it goes to the leaders.
Erdogan’s recent attacks on Kurds, and on opposition politicians and journalists, leave the EU with no choice but to reject the agreement, opponents argue.
“There are all sorts of reasons to say no: the failure to respect human rights, democracy, freedom of expression, the crushing of minorities,” Fabio Massimo Castaldo, a populist MEP from Italy, said during a debate last week, arguing that the deal was “illegal.”
The Commission’s public response has been twofold: First, it says that there is no viable alternative to the Turkey deal if Europe wants to halt the flow of refugees and save Greece from becoming a giant refugee camp; second, while condemning Erdoğan’s attacks on journalists and other critics, the Commission argues that ignoring Turkey, as Europe did in recent years, would make the situation even worse.
“What have those years of not engaging brought us?” Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans asked during a debate in the European Parliament Thursday. “What have those years done for human rights in Turkey? For the position of the press in Turkey? Nothing.”
There is no indication Brussels is watering down conditions Ankara must fulfill. Whether Erdoğan will respect those is another matter.
The argument isn’t without merit. Erdoğan will have to make a number of uncomfortable concessions on issues such as campaign finance and privacy rights in order to seal the deal.
In many cases, compliance is in the eye of the beholder. Still, there is no indication Brussels is watering down the conditions Ankara must fulfill, in terms of passing legislation and adopting EU rules. Whether Erdoğan will actually respect those standards in practice is another matter.
The Turkish leader’s recent moves against critics suggest he won’t. European officials have been perplexed by what they call Erdoğan’s “provocations.”
The EU’s main counterpart in the negotiations has been Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, considered a moderate voice in Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party. One theory is that Erdoğan is trying to show he intends to keep the party’s pro-European camp in check.
Whatever the case, there’s little doubt that moves such as the raid on opposition newspaper Zaman just minutes after European Council President Donald Tusk left the country in March, are meant to send the message that Erdoğan won’t dance to Brussels’ tune.
Questions remain about the commitment of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to human rights.
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Erdoğan has appeared to relish reminding Europe that Brussels “needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the European Union,” as he said last month.
That’s partly bluster. With the so-called Balkan route to northern Europe effectively closed, refugees have less reason to leave Turkey for Greece. If the EU-Turkey deal collapsed, Ankara would also face a bigger burden. Under the agreement, it receives financial aid to deal with the influx and can also transfer some Syrian refugees to Europe.
While freedom of travel is just one of several concessions Europe made to Turkey in March to secure the refugee deal, it is by far the most significant one.
Turkey has been negotiating with Brussels over visa liberalization for some time and was on course to complete the process later this year, but Ankara worried it could be derailed and put the issue on the table during the refugee talks. The EU agreed to settle the issue by the end of June, provided Turkey meets the requirements.
For Turks, the promise of visa-free entry to Europe is about much more than just convenience. Above all, it’s an acknowledgement that Turkey is a respected partner, a first-world power that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the West.
In Europe, facing a surge in right-wing populism, establishment politicians regard the move with trepidation. The worry is that Europe could see a surge of Turkish asylum seekers and economic migrants. Even though the agreement would include an “emergency brake,” allowing the EU to suspend it, the political damage would be done.
That EU leaders accepted visa-free travel in the face of migration concerns | Hakan Goktepe/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
European Council President Donald Tusk with Ahmet Davutoğlu and Angela Merkel (right). EU leaders accepted visa-free travel in the face of migration concerns | Hakan Goktepe/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
That EU leaders accepted visa-free travel in the face of those concerns reflects how desperate the bloc, and in particular Germany, was to win Turkey’s assistance.
Now, with the deal showing early promise, officials say they are determined to see it through. There is no plan B.
In private, European officials acknowledge the credibility gap that the deal with Turkey has created.
“We’re not going to turn them into a model democracy by Wednesday,” one official said. “It’s going to be very difficult.”
At the same time, they insist the crisis can’t be resolved without Turkey’s help.
Some officials have begun comparing the refugee crisis to the eurozone debt crisis. The EU-Turkey deal, they say, represents the same kind of turning point as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s pledge to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. Controversial at the time, Draghi’s move succeeded in calming investor fears the common currency was on the verge of collapse.
Since the Turkey deal came into force, the number of refugees arriving in Greece has dropped from as many as 10,000 per day last fall to a handful.
“It’s impressive,” the official said. “Yes, Turkey is a difficult partner but there is no alternative.”