The latest summit between Turkey and the EU signals that the Syrian refugee crisis is likely to end the political apathy between both parties
The EU-Turkey Summit held in Brussels on Monday was expected to be an uneasy encounter at the highest level. It has fulfilled all its promises to be a very surprising summit. The preliminary negotiations between Turkey and EU officials have been establishing a two-year cooperation plan regarding the integration of 2.5 million refugees into Turkish society. In exchange, Ankara would exert additional efforts to prevent refugees from leaving Turkey illegally to Greece or Bulgaria to demand asylum from the EU.
The whole negotiation looked like a very shallow, tit-for-tat bargaining, creating much debate and conflict within the EU. Victor Orban, the vocal Hungarian prime minister, has been adamant in his denouncements of the EU policy, saying it is to "kneel down before Turkey." Greece has been very swift to oppose the 3-billion-euro aid package to be given to Ankara over two years. Instead, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said that such amount should be funneled to Greece to deal with the large amount of illegal migrants there.
Ankara has also asked for the revival of its frozen EU accession talks and the implementation of long overdue visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. This has also been denounced by a number of media outlets in Europe and in Turkey as dirty and low haggling.
The summit started under these rather bad auspices. Germany, through its diligent chancellor, Angela Merkel, has tried to facilitate these negotiations by preparing a final draft that would keep a humane note about stopping the large number of migrants from heading toward Eastern European countries.
But the real surprise came from the Turkish delegation. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu offered a much enlarged cooperation package and collaboration perspective that took everyone unprepared. The surprise was so great that the first reactions mentioned a "game changing attitude" on the part of Turkey. After a great many digressions and debates within the EU's 28 member states, the EU agreed to establish a much larger, wider and deep-running collaboration scheme with Ankara. The final and official answer will be given at a continuation summit to be held in 10 days. But already the common evaluation of the summit is that it was a breakthrough. EU member state representatives can breathe with relief, the border controls within the EU, the Schengen zone, looks safe for now, thanks to Turkey's initiative.In the heat of the development, there is no reason for exaggerated complacency, but we still need to emphasize two very important openings:
First, the Turkish government, through this last minute offer, has changed the parameters of the deal. This is not a simple and cozy give-and-take, but a full-fledged system of sustainable cooperation. The EU has been refusing to establish such institutional collaboration systems with Turkey up until now because of its reluctance to see possible membership for Turkey in a near future.
Second, despite the good opportunities such a deal can bring, the perspective for swift EU membership for Turkey looks as remote as ever. French President François Hollande has declared without ambiguity that "the summit has created hope that the refugee question can be dealt with through solidarity in Europe, and efficiency in cooperation with Turkey." He clearly establishes a distinction between "EU solidarity" and "efficient cooperation with Turkey."
Still, there is a blatant need for both Turkey and the EU to get closer in a world where the absence of generalized war should not hinder the reality of a multitude of smaller wars all around democratic countries.
Instrumentalizing Turkey's accession talks, sabotaging the whole procedure, was very bad policy on the part of the EU. It basically froze all channels of communication between the two parties. Turning its back on EU values for Turkey is not an option. The more Turkish authorities distance themselves from EU harmonization policies and objectives, the worse the political, social and economic situation becomes. There is an old Turkish saying that a single mishap is worth a thousand pieces of good advice. Perhaps the refugee problem and its solution will help the EU and Turkey understand the depth of their reciprocal importance. Only this could make the last summit a historic event.