A controversial deal between Turkey and the European Union, which promises to permanently stem the flow of refugees into Europe, entered into force on Sunday. Under the agreement, Turkey will take back any refugees who reached the Greek islands, making it meaningless for refugees to risk their lives at sea. It would make more sense for them to wait for their turn in Turkey, Turkish and European leaders reason. But a lot of things remain up in the air.
Opposition leaders in Germany and elsewhere will try to argue that the European Union made unnecessary concession to Turkey. Let's stop acting like the Turkish delegation came to Brussels, stole something from Europe and went back home. In truth, many conditions would have already been met by the European Union had their leaders shown some leadership. If the Europeans had been smarter, they would have seen that forcing Turkish citizens to go through a lengthy and humiliating vetting process to visit Europe was hurting, not serving, European interests. Likewise, the decision to open new chapters in membership talks is not a favor - it is an opportunity for Europe to work with Turkish leaders to hear their side of the story and address what they consider major problems.
Having talked a great deal about "European values," Europe finally came to see Turkey as a respectable partner in peace. It was realpolitik, not European values, that paved the way to the refugee deal though. By ignoring the humanitarian crisis and turning dialogue into barter, Europe has failed its promise and made a healthy process to address pressing issues look like a dirty, behind-closed-doors deal.
Since Turkey and the European Union reached a deal last week, European leaders have been exclusively talking about how the agreement would help them kick out Syrian refugees. At the same time, many observers are blaming Turkey for putting a gun to Europe's head. There is no denying that the refugee crisis has been a pressing challenge, but it was the European Union, not Turkey, that turned dialogue into give-and-take.
There is a new sheriff in town and the game will be played by a new set of rules: Instead of playing dumb, Europe's leaders should acknowledge the fact that they will have to speak with the Turkish government instead of resorting to bullying and intimidation to make progress in crucial areas.
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