ENDING THE REFUGEE CRISIS: Geopolitical Challenges for Turkey-EU Relationship

15/03/2016 14:56


In a debate, organized jointly by Bruno Kreisky Forum and the International Institute for Peace, Hannes Swoboda, president of the IIP, was chair of a discussion with Gerald Knaus from the iindependent Think-Tank European Stability Initiative (ESI),  and the Turkish ambassador to the EU, Yenel Selim. The basic message of the two speakers was clear. It was a message, which has been heard already at many occasions in the last weeks and which culminates in the acceptance and respect of mutual interests, goals and responsibilities between the EU and Turkey in overcoming the refugee crisis.


Concluding thoughts on this crucial, partial ambivalent or at least polarizing topic which is also offering possibilities in many ways are summarized below:


1) The refugee crisis is a European challenge, because it affects all EU countries - some more some less. Not every government/country has the same opinion and the same readiness to contribute to a European solution. However, for a European problem we need a European solution. All other solutions will not be sustainable and/or maintainable.


2) European solutions must include acts of solidarity. This does not exclude that a coalition of the willing is able to start actions. Furthermore, solidarity could also be expressed by financial contributions - this could be a possibility for those countries who are not willing to take in refugees. Solidarity, however, must be expressed towards the weakest countries who are gravely and involuntarily affected by mass migration.


3) It is Greece which needs help, especially due to its administrative and institutional weaknesses. These weaknesses were unfortunately not addressed by the economic measures imposed by the EU via the Troika during the Greek government-debt crisis, which became evident in 2010 and could not yet be solved.

Likewise, the Balkan countries are still very fragile and need protection and support. Emphasizing again that this is a European task and that sustainable solutions need common and not isolated actions like the building of new fences and walls inside the Schengen area, every government concerned should work towards long-term, humane and sustainable solutions as an entity.


4) Refugees should not be pushed into the hands of greedy traffickers and human smugglers who organize their dangerous journeys over the sea - from Turkey towards different Greek islands. Therefore, the transfer of people with the right to seek asylum must be organized from the immediate neighbourhood of crisis-ridden countries like Syria. This means that Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey must be the countries with whom the EU has to cooperate in creating and supporting a legal option of the transfer of refugees. Especially Turkey with the biggest number of refugees from Syria and being closest to EU-territory must be our main partner.


5)  It was a big mistake to disregard Turkey as an important ally and partner when dealing with our Middle Eastern neighborhood. Of course we have to speak openly about the different opinions and strategies concerning Turkey's domestic and foreign policy. But without confessing to a viable partnership we will not be able to influence Turkey's policies. Turkey and the EU have a vital and mutual interest in working closely together. Both should start several measures of closer cooperation including a visa free regime.


6)  Yes, the EU must spend money and transfer it to Turkey. But not as a general financial support for Turkey, but for a targeted spending for refugees stranded in Turkey. Turkey already has had many expenses for the refugees and it is only fair to support them.


7)  One of the possible obstacles for closer cooperation is the division of Cyprus into a Greek and Turkish entity, which are rather separated and not closely knit together. Without going into details in this connection, we have also the opportunity to come at least closer to a solution of the Cyprus problem by strengthening the ties in the refugee issue.


8) In this case a number of new opportunities for the Eastern Mediterranean could arise. Turkey, the whole Cyprus, Israel and in the future also Lebanon and Syria could closely work together in the fields of energy security and energy sustainability as well as in the sphere of human security and peace.


9) A close cooperation between Turkey and the EU ( or generally "the West") is necessary to find a sustainable truce and then peace for Syria. It will be a long way towards peace but many necessary steps have to be carefully planned and considered accurately. There won't be a suitable solution if the Turkish interests are not equally respected!


10) In this context the Kurdish issue is of paramount importance. We need to have a sincere and open dialogue with Turkey in order to convince Turkey of a new rational and effective strategy for a peaceful settlement between the Turkish government and the politically organized Kurds inside Turkey but also in Syria (as well as in Iraq and Iran). But the EU must also make it clear to the Kurdish representatives to be moderate in their demands and claims. Both have to be convinced that force and violence are not leading to sustainable peace nor reconciliation.