Mid-October 2015 a hastily agreed deal between the EU and Turkey was announced. On 29 November it was formalized, when Vice-President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans officially announced the deal with Turkey, regarding the issue of refugees mainly from Syria. Hopes were very high on both sides, that this deal would magically solve not only the refugee crisis, but many other issues that for years had been marred with challenges. The deal was said to consist of the EU spending 3 billion euros in Turkey to help shelter refugees, of pushing visa-liberalization, and reinvigorating the accession talks. In return, Turkey would make sure that fewer Syrian refugees would make the journey to Europe, by reinforcing border controls and improving the facilities in refugee camps and local communities in Turkey.
From the moment the deal was announced, Members of the European Parliament were sceptical, and worried about the feasibility of the rushed agreement. But in order to assess the details of the deal, we needed to know what was agreed. It seemed a typical solution on paper, divorced from the operational and even political reality. It was remarkable that the letter Commission President Juncker sent to Prime Minister Davutoğlu was never made public.
Together with a number of colleagues, I asked for a copy of the letter. Timmermans often referred to the letter in public, but the contents of it were secret. By 12 January, we had still not received the contents of the secret letter, so we sent a renewed request to the Commission.
Now finally, almost two months later, we received a copy of the letter in the mail, which you can find below. In it, the Commission states clearly that it is committed to making concrete progress in the first quarter of 2016 towards opening a number of chapters of the accession negotiations. While in the past we have been a proponent of opening chapters, for example on the rule of law and the judiciary, it needs to be clear that the Copenhagen criteria are set and cannot be diluted in any way. Accession can not be traded, it must be achieved. A candidate country either conforms to the criteria or it does not. It is clear to everyone that right now Turkey is moving away from the EU rather than coming closer to it, especially when it comes to the respect for human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. These important topics must be assessed, and the fact that the annual report on whether or not progress was made, was postponed right around the announcement of the deal, sends the wrong signal to people in Turkey.
While the EU seemed to be focusing only on the refugee crisis, over the past few months, the situation in Turkey has slid to worrying proportions. Leading journalists have been arrested, there have been a number of high-profile terror attacks and the government is intensifying its campaign in South-East Turkey against the PKK. This fight against terrorists has led to many civilian casualties and a curfew being enforced for many weeks. When Members of the European Commission traveled to Ankara again, I called on Commissioner Timmermans to also address the need for a return to peace talks and respect for the rule of law and human rights. In a mature relationship, there is room for a broad agenda. The EU-Turkey deal on refugees can not possibly be all people hope it will be. Expectations are too high to be met. It is therefore even more important to discuss with Turkey the wide range of serious topics on the table, and not to trade principles for political solutions. It is a losing game.
Update: On January 26, Marietje Schaake sent follow-up questions to the European Commission on the EU-Turkey deal and the Commission letter to Turkey
See also on Turkey: