While Ankara has kept up its end of the bargain by halting refugee and migrant outflows into Europe, Brussels has dragged its feet over the disbursement of aid for those in need, as well as other promises.
Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants are gathered at Turkey’s border with Greece after Ankara announced it could no longer shoulder the burden of the refugee crisis alone.
Turkey is currently home to over 3.6 million Syrian refugees, and an ongoing offensive by the Assad regime and Russian forces could send millions more into the country.
Unable to absorb these potential arrivals, Turkey has no choice but to open its borders with the EU and allow those refugees who want to leave, to do so.
The dilemmas are further compounded by the EU’s reluctance to abide by a 2016 deal between Turkey and European leaders to manage the refugee crisis.
Under the conditions of the deal, Turkey would stem the flow of refugees trying to cross into the EU by land, sea and air and in return, the EU would provide it with the funds needed to improve conditions for refugees.
In this regard, Turkey’s actions have helped reduce migrant flow by 97 percent from an initial peak of 10,000 people a day.
The agreement also included other provisions to compensate Turkey for the financial burden of dealing with the crisis, such as visa-free travel and the opening of accession talks for Turkey’s entry into the EU.
On these and other promises, the EU has failed to deliver. Below we highlight some of the main aspects.
Disbursement of funds
The EU has promised to help Turkey with the financial burden associated with hosting refugees, many of whom are intent on crossing into Europe.
To date, Turkey has spent over $40 billion on handling the refugee crisis, much of which has gone into providing refugees with safe places to live, and primary, secondary, and tertiary education.
European leaders promised Turkey a total of six billion euros, paid in two instalments of three billion euros each.
To date, Turkey has only confirmed receipt of the first payment.
It should be clarified that the money does not go to the Turkish government, as is portrayed in certain European outlets, and is specifically earmarked to provide welfare programmes for Syrian refugees.
Senior European figures have pointed out that no money has been set aside for the EU’s commitment to the deal in the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework, which begs the question of whether the EU is committed to the agreement at all.
Visa requirement relaxation
The EU-Turkey agreement states that visa requirements on Turkish citizens should be relaxed, allowing for visa-free travel for durations of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
Officials promised that such a regime would be implemented by June 2016 at the latest.
Almost four years after the initial agreement, Turkey continues to wait for the EU to push through the matter.
Customs Union upgrade and accession talks
Although currently part of the EU’s Customs Union, Turkey wants to address deficiencies that put it at a disadvantage when it comes to EU trade policy.
Ankara wants reforms to the current system that would give it more of a say in trade policies signed by the EU and the easing of procedures for Turkish vehicles moving into the EU, such as lorries carrying produce.
Despite the 2016 agreement promising an ‘upgrade’ on the current status-quo, multiple EU members have thrown a spanner in the works, most notably by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Turkey is offering a safe passage to refugees headed for Europe. Here's why pic.twitter.com/13SwfBRDuo— TRT World (@trtworld) February 28, 2020
Analysts believe this is a response aimed at appeasing far-right anti-Turkish groups in Germany, such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Talks on Turkey’s accession to the bloc have been unsuccessful following similarly flimsy pretexts, such as Turkey’s exploration off its Mediterranean shore.
Dragging feet on resettlement
In 2016, the EU and Turkey agreed to a one-for-one system of exchange when it came to refugees.
Under the plan, for each refugee returned to Turkey for resettlement from the EU, one refugee will be assigned to an EU-member state.
The Europeans agreed to a 72,000 person upper-limit but in reality, as of 2020, only 25,000 Syrian refugees have been given a place in the EU.