EU-Turkey Deal –An Ideal Partnership?

22 April 2016
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On March 18, 2016 Turkey and European Union have finally reached an agreement after months of negotiations. The talks went back and forth with Turkey and the deal was constantly changing. After an agreement was reached, the EU and Turkey signed a deal in order to prevent illegal immigration into Europe. The EU-Turkey agreement has paved the way as the refugee-crisis solution of our time. Scrutinizing the details of the agreement are important as the deal will shape both countries’ futures and international politics. It is already clear there are some miscalculations on both sides. Regardless of the benefits each party will obtain, both sides’ futures are on the line morally and politically.


As German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated at a press conference after signing the deal, “the most important part of this deal is that it will end the business model of smugglers and contribute to securing the EU's external borders”. The agreement went into effect on April 4 and all migrants who arrive on European shores illegally will be returned to Turkey. Europeans have promised to speed up the accession negotiations of Turkey and the liberalization of visa procedures, which is already part of the accession. But is Turkey going to become a transit country or a buffer zone while the EU enjoys the end of illegal immigration?


According to the proposal, Turkey has agreed to take all illegal immigrants who arrive on European shores. In return, for any Syrian sent to Turkey the EU will grant legal status to the same amount of registered Syrian refugees seeking Europe. Turkey has the sovereign right to send illegal refugees back to their home countries regardless of the nationality, yet it is unlikely Turkey will do this. It is unjust and foul act from the EU to expect so much from Turkey. The Syrian “one for one deal” may seem moral, yet it contains a major flaw. The first problem derives from the terms of the immigrant’s nationality. Syrians consist of 46% of the Mediterranean Sea arrivals to Europe since January 1, 2016 while Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Iranians hold another 45% combined.[1] The agreement is unfair towards these migrants and can be called “one for one” for Syrian refugees, while other asylum-seekers are not even mentioned.


The second problem with the deal is the moral and humanitarian ramifications. Most people can agree nothing is more important than a single person’s life. Regrettably, many people were unaware of the refugee-crisis until children’s bodies began washing up on beaches. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the number of people missing or dead due to the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea is increasing yearly: 1,500 in 2011, 500 in 2012, 600 in 2013, 3,500 in 2014, 3,771 in 2015, and 711 people in the first three of months of 2016. Moreover, since the beginning of the Syrian crisis the number of missing or dead people from illegal sea-borne journeys is much higher than the number of registered asylum-seekers requesting access to Europe. Even though the deal covers cooperation between both parties on illegal immigration, immigrant-centred policies still have higher priority over human rights-centred policies. Amnesty UK criticized the agreement after the announcement as a dark day for Europe and humanity.


The third problem centres on both side’s future image. On the European side, the agreement can be seen as a political success and diplomatic victory owing to stopping illegal flows into Europe. However, the rise of right-wing populism in many countries, Islamophobia, the perception toward refugees who are probable Islamic extremists, and similar reasons might lead towards a “Fortress Europe”. Therefore, these security-driven measures and control-oriented migrant approaches could damage idealized Western values such as democracy, humanism, freedom, equality, etc.


Although the deal is sealed on refugee crisis, EU countries were inactive for a long time and undecided about mutual consent as French President Hollande mentioned in a joint speech to the European Parliament with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.[2] The deal took a long and resulted in inactivity for several reasons. There hasn’t been this large a immigration problem since WWII and the EU has to have 28 countries agree on one solution before collaborating with foreign parties. Regarding this EU-Turkey deal, poorer border countries do not want to let in more refugees, while richer ones, like Germany, are willing to accept some. Additionally, Europeans are still facing the effects of the financial crisis and focused on restructuring debt within the Union. Overall, the EU-Turkey agreement could be named as the “optimal” decision determined by Europeans. However, recent actions by the EU on the refugee crisis might seem one-sided eventually by third parties and devalue the Union’s global credibility, especially since the Union has only accepted 872 refugees out of 160,000 refugees in the relocation plan.[3] Having said that, the deal is multi-sided from that perspective because Turkey also agreed to sign it.


On the other side, Turkey’s image is not so different from those European Union countries. Many blame Turkey for trading refugees in return for the financial benefits of 3 billion euro – with the potential for another 3 billion euro. An interesting component of the deal, however, is many Turks are unaware of the details of the agreement in contrast to European citizens. The “one for one deal” does not highlight that Europeans will cap the number of accepted Syrian-migrants at 72,000 while Turkey will take in more than estimated in the long term. Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, nearly 3 million Syrian refugees have fled with approximately 85% - 90% moving outsides of refugee camps into cities. These immigrant flows will result in social, economic, political and demographic problems in Turkey such as children’s education, issues with cheap labour force, contagious diseases, increased crime rate, increasing unemployment etc. The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister has even mentioned that Syrian refugees might become a permanent problem in Turkey.[4]


The forth essential flaw with the agreement could be the misunderstandings about Turkey's accession into the EU. While Turkey is being optimistic about it, diplomats of the EU have made it very clear that there will not be another enlargement to the Union soon. Turkey was one of the first countries to request acceptance in 1959 and is still waiting to be accepted. [5] The EU has postponed the accession for a number of reasons. Additionally, with the recent crisis Europeans have underlined that the deal changes nothing for Turkey regarding the accession. Regardless, Turkey still has faith in making itself closer to the EU through the agreement with membership as the final goal. Furthermore, Europeans late attempt in which restricting the terms of agreement and suspending the visa liberalization under ambiguous conditions could cause the breakdown of relations with respect to rescinding some major agreements between Turkey and the EU.[6] This lack of mutual trust and cooperation could cause shattered hope and partnerships.






Many concerns of the deal are still alive today. For the European side, the EU will benefit from the agreement and German Chancellor Angela Merkel might enjoy the success as the main negotiator of the deal. On the other hand, the EU could lose its global credibility in the international arena. Security-based approaches might isolate Europe in a “fortress” while rising populist extremist parties do not want to boost Turkey’s accession process.


Turkey is going to benefit financially to help with the refugee problem, through visa liberalization to travel Europe, and an accelerated procedure in the accession to the EU. Some Turks are proud not to have to show their passports in the Schengen zone, and many others believe that this deal makes Turkey closer to the Union. But, according the recent statistics there were 813,339 applications for Schengen visa in 2014, and 770,342 of the applications were approved.[7] Since Turkey's population is approximately 78-79 million, the deal doesn't meet the society's privileges in regard to visitor/population ratio. Thus, unlike the optimistic thought the deal is in favour of Europe and signing it is irrational decision for Turkey. Though, Turkey has not historically had strong bargaining power regarding EU accession and agreements, the deal has been praised by many. All in all, Turkey might face problems from the signed agreement in the long term with migrants and be weakened in the region through the refuges problems.

Security-migrant based policies also contribute to the risk of delaying a solution to illegal immigration while there is still ongoing conflict in migrants’ home countries. Thus, these problems may turn Turkey into a buffer zone or second Syrian-homeland that would effect Turkey’s accession process in a negative way. Ultimately, comprehensive, humanitarian, and result-oriented approaches might decrease the uncertainties, trust issues, and criticism.  Additionally, active participation of other global powers, regional powers, and neighbouring countries of Syria, are more likely to contribute to a moral solution. These are better approaches compared to security and number-based policies.



[1] “Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response – Mediterranean”, The UN Refugee Agency,, (Last visited: April 21, 2016).

[2] “Disunity on migrant crisis would be ‘end of Europe’, Hollande warns”, France 24, October 10, 2015,, (Last visited: April 20, 2016).

[3] “EU leaders row over Balkans migrant route 'closure' ”, EU Business, March 7, 2016,, (Last visited: April 21, 2016).

[4] “Kurtulmuş: 1.6 milyon Suriyeli kalıcı”, Hürriyet, November 6, 2014,, (Last visited: April 20, 2016).

[5] Turkey first applied for associate membership in the European Economic Community in 1959, and on 12 September 1963 signed the "Agreement Creating An Association Between The Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community", also known as the Ankara Agreement.

[6] The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey gave the Readmission Agreement and the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal as examples to rescind in his speech in the parliament.

[7] “Schengen Vizesi'nde en çok başvuru Almanya'ya”, Habertürk, October 19, 2015,, (Last visited: April 01, 2016).


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