As the long-awaited refugee summit between the European Union and Turkey is set to take place on Sunday, many experts agree on one point: Brussels needs an urgent deal with Ankara to stem the flow of refugees rather than the other way around.
Facing a huge influx of refugees, the EU has explored a variety of options to solve the problem, including raising cooperation with Turkey. The 28-bloc union must quickly address the refuge crisis to prevent its visa-free travel dream from collapsing as the Schengen zone has come under intense criticism recently. EU Council President Donald Tusk argued that saving the system "is a race against time" and added: "Without effective control of our external borders, Schengen will not survive. We must hurry, but without panic."
European media outlets also question whether the European Union will disband as member states start to adopt more conservative policies. According to a piece published in The Financial Times, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke of the possible collapse of the EU as well.
"As we all know from the Roman Empire, big empires go down if the borders are not well-protected," he said in an interview with a group of international newspapers.
Considered the most influential political figure in the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a sudden visit to İstanbul in October to hold meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. In both meetings, the need for a solution to the unprecedented crisis was stressed.
While Merkel asked for more collaboration and better border controls from Ankara to ease the number of refugees trying to reach Europe, PM Davutoğlu and President Erdoğan urged the EU to provide fair sharing of the refugee burden and some concessions such as visa-liberalization and the opening of several EU chapters for Turkey.
Shortly after the meetings, snap elections ushered in a single-party government in Ankara. The European Union was hoping to see a strong single-party government in Turkey, putting all of its plans on hold with Ankara until after the Nov. 1 elections. With the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) sweeping back into power in a landslide victory on Nov. 1, the EU sought to convene a refugee summit with Ankara as soon as possible.
At this summit, the parties are expected to focus on easing the refugee crisis by means of an action plan. A draft action plan was previously introduced in early October. According to the plan, the EU will give 3 billion euros to Turkey and, in turn, Ankara will pledge to better control its borders and stop refugees from entering the EU zone illegally. Ankara however, has maintained a firm stance on the issue. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu underlined that "Turkey is not a concentration camp" for those fleeing the war in Syria. Davutoğlu repeatedly stressed that the first topic for Ankara is "the fair share of the refugee burden." He also added that visa liberalization for Turkish citizens must be secured for Ankara in advance to agree on a deal with the EU.
Speaking to Daily Sabah on the subject, a former member of European Parliament, Ozan Ceyhun, asserted that the EU should grasp the significance of the issue or Chancellor Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will not be able to retain their positions in their respective new terms. "The EU had better realize that this is no joke or Merkel and Hollande will lose," Ceyhun said.
Underscoring that Turkey has nothing to lose with 2 million refugees already taking shelter in the country, Ceyhun argued that Ankara is not necessarily obligated to keep them. "President Erdoğan also said that Turkey cannot prevent these refugees from walking towards Europe," he added.
Ceyhun also claimed that the EU may use the recent tensions between Russia and Turkey at the summit in order to hide "its desperation" over the refugee crisis. Pointing to the arrest of two Turkish journalists on Friday and some issues with the Greek Cypriot side, he reiterated that the EU may play down Turkey's advantageous position.
Also speaking to Daily Sabah about Sunday's summit, Enes Bayraklı, a foreign affairs specialist at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) and an academic at Istanbul's Turkish-German University, contended that securing a deal is not urgent for Ankara, which already hosts 2 million refugees and does not have a tremendous social problem in this regard. "It has become a problem of Europe as well, with refugees walking toward the EU zone after the EU had relied on Turkey for a long time," Bayraklı said.
Asserting that time is in Ankara's favor while pressure piles on Europe and especially German Chancellor Merkel with the right-wing in Germany on the rise, Bayraklı suggested that Ankara's demands will be taken into more serious consideration in time. "EU's financial aid offer of around 3 billion euros is disproportionate given that Turkey hosts 2 million refugees and a refugee costs 13,000 euros a year," he added.
Bayraklı also argued that expecting Ankara to sign any kind of deal without visa-liberalization and opening of chapters is irrational. "They [the EU] still assume that they can sort it out with some concessions. These refugees should be allocated fairly and the problem in the Middle East should be resolved lest 3-4 million more people flee," he added.
When asked about whether a concrete outcome will come from the summit, Bayraklı conveyed his doubts and simply said: "It will be very tough."