E.U.-Turkey deal promising but fragile

Apr 20, 2016, 10:47 AM EDT
Turkish P.M. Ahmet Davutoğlu.
(Source: Bond154/flickr)

The E.U.-Turkey migrant deal is showing early promise, but it remains fragile. On Wednesday the E.U. released official statistics on how migrant flows are shaping up: so far, 325 irregular migrants -- including two Syrians -- have been sent to Turkey from Greece, and 103 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil have been resettled in the E.U. Meanwhile, Greek P.M. Alexis Tsipras told parliament, "A few months ago we had flows of 3,000 to 4,000 daily to our islands ... Today, the flows are about 50 to 60 (migrants and refugees) daily." On the surface it seems like a chaotic situation is finally being brought under control.

But Turkey remains the wild card, since it is not acting out of benevolence alone. In return for taking back all illegal migrants that arrive in Greece (and only resettling legal Syrian refugees into the E.U.) Ankara will get $6.8 million in European aid over the next three years and the possibility that Turkish citizens could travel visa-free to the E.U. as of the end of June.

The economic aspect is straightforward, and moving right along: on Tuesday the E.U. unlocked another $126 million part of the enormous aid package to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Far trickier is the issue of visa-free travel for Turks in the E.U. On Tuesday E.C. President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Ankara that the necessary “criteria will not be watered down in the case of Turkey.” Turkish P.M. Ahmet Davutoğlu underscored that only one quarter of the E.U.’s 72 criteria remain to be completed by Turkey, and will be done by May. The E.C. said it could recommend the visa change in May, but it doesn’t have the final word – approval would have to be given by E.U. governments, which is far from guaranteed in many countries where migration is a thorny political issue.

But on Tuesday Davutoğlu warned that if E.U. visa rules on Turkish citizens don't get relaxed by June, then the deal could easily be called off. "If the E.U. cannot take the necessary steps required of it, then of course it cannot be expected of Turkey to take these steps,” he declared.

The deal has its flaws, which human rights groups are up in arms over. But it is far better than the uncontrolled, overwhelming crisis that was only worsening before. To let the agreement fall apart over the issue of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens – provided Ankara meets all the criteria, with no special treatment -- would be a shame.  There is prejudice against Turks (and other Middle Easterners and Africans) in many parts of Europe, and no logical arguments will change that. However, Turkish travelers bring revenue to local European economies, and they are not permanently staying. That’s hardly a burden.