Rethinking Europe, Global HotSpots

Refugee Crisis: The EU’s Turkey Connection

Europe has to tread carefully as Turkey itself is in a precarious situation.

Credit: John Kehly Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • If transit countries police their sea borders, the inflow of refugees can be reduced significantly.
  • If Turkey does not slow down flow of refugees, the political situation in Germany could get tenser.
  • Enhancing Turkey’s stability needs to be one of the foreign policy priorities of the EU.
  • To depend on the goodwill of Erdogan is not exactly a comfortable position for Europe to be in.

Turkey matters. But Europe has to tread carefully as Turkey itself is in a precarious situation. I see a good chance that Europe (specifically Germany) and Turkey can work out a deal that will lead to a slower flow of refugees from Turkey into Greece.

One year ago, almost all eyes were on Russia and its war against Ukraine. Now, Europe’s attention needs to focus more on Turkey.

Almost as in the case of Russia, Europe may not like the government it has to deal with. But it has to deal with it nonetheless.

Last year, Turkey allowed 800,000 refugees to cross into Greece, mostly in the second half of the year. At the same time, the stream of boat people from northern Africa into Spain or Italy, which had made headlines earlier on, played a much smaller role.

This shows that, if transit countries police their sea borders, as Morocco and Mauritania have done in the past two years with some crucial support from Spain, the inflow of refugees can be reduced significantly.

Tense politics in Germany

If Turkey does not act to slow down the flow of refugees into Greece — who will then try to make their way to Germany — the political situation in Germany could get tenser.

Continuing headlines about an unabated inflow of refugees could further stoke tensions across Europe, aggravating the risk of a British exit from the EU (“Brexit”).

Tense politics in Turkey

Turkey itself is in a precarious position driven by significant domestic tensions. As a mostly Sunni country, it could become a more frequent target for IS terrorists from next door.

That risk has increased since Turkey seems to have hardened its initially rather permissive stance toward support for IS.

The conflict with the strong Kurdish minority in Turkey’s southeast has flared up badly again. Protests of the urban middle class against the authoritarian tendencies of President Recep Erdogan may easily erupt again as well.

With a current account deficit of 5% of GDP, Turkey’s economy is vulnerable to sudden capital outflows. Serious trouble within Turkey, a country with some 80 million inhabitants, would be a nightmare scenario for Europe.

one of the foreign policy priorities of the EU and its major member states should be dealing with Turkey in a way that enhances the country’s stability.

As the key transit country for refugees or asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and even Pakistan into Europe, Turkey has some leverage over Germany and Europe.

Having to depend partly on the goodwill of Recep Erdogan is not exactly a comfortable position for Europe to be in, to put it mildly.

Two-way street

However, the leverage cuts both ways;

    • To state the most obvious, Turkey’s shaky economy depends on free access to the European market.

    • In military terms, Turkey probably needs NATO very much, given that it sits in a rather unstable corner of the world and has alienated neighboring Russia badly.

    • Fundamentalist Sunni terrorism of the IS kind is, ultimately, much more a threat to largely Sunni Turkey than to any other country in Europe.

    • Visa-free access to the EU would be very popular in Turkey. By dangling that carrot in front of Turkey’s leader in case Turkey manages to control its borders again, Europe has a potent instrument to entice Turkey to cooperate.


    • That leaves a good chance that Europe (or de facto Germany) and Turkey can ultimately work out an admittedly awkward deal. Even if Turkey honors it only partly, as it may, it may help to stabilize the region and reduce the flow of migrants across the Aegean Sea into Greece.

To sum up

1. Like it or not – Europe has to deal with Turkey
2. If Turkey does not police its borders, Germany has a problem
3. Turkey itself is in a precarious position
4. While Turkey has some leverage over Germany and Europe, the leverage definitely cuts both ways.

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About Holger Schmieding

Holger Schmieding is chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London. [United Kingdom] Follow him @Berenberg_Econ

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