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Erdogan threatens to tear up refugee agreement; creates crisis for Angela Merkel

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces potentially difficult elections next year her attempt to hold off the anti-immigrant AfD party by getting Turkish President Erdogan's agreement to limit refugee flows in return for accelerated EU membership threatens to come unstuck.

Erdogan’s threat to flood Europe with refugees if the EU follows through with the European Parliament’s resolution to freeze Turkey’s EU accession talks puts me in mind of an article I wrote for The Duran on 5th May 2016, shortly after The Duran started.

In that article I pointed out that German Chancellor Merkel was completely misguided and very foolish to think she could place any reliance upon the agreement she had negotiated with former Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu to limit refugee flows to Europe.

Two months before the attempted coup in July I warned in that Erdogan was concentrating power in Turkey in his own hands, and that this was extremely dangerous for Turkey and was creating growing instability in the country

“What is happening in Turkey is that its already severely weakened constitutional and institutional structure is now being systematically dismantled by a politician – Erdogan – who accepts no limits on what he can do and who sees the law in purely functional terms as there to do what he wants.

Turkey is evolving from a flawed but nonetheless functioning democracy into a form of one man rule where all the levers of power are held by one man who increasingly runs things through his own family.

Erdogan’s bid for power is disastrous for Turkey. His concentration of power in himself is bound to increase instability since his personal charisma and his family are far too narrow a power base to build a stable structure upon.”

I also pointed out how all this was completely antithetical to everything the EU supposedly stands for, and how it made any bargain based on a trade-off of Turkish cooperation on refugee flows for an acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership bid ultimately unworkable

“Turkey’s transformation into a dynastic system of one man rule is a disaster for Merkel and for the EU politicians who have worked with her.

Their entire approach as they have struggled to gain Turkey’s cooperation to deal with the refugee flood has been to cut deals with Davutoglu. Basically those deals involved a trade-off – advancing the prospect of Turkey’s EU membership for limits on refugee flows.

That was already a shabby deal when it was agreed with Davutoglu and as the rise of the AfD in Germany shows it was in much of Europe already a very unpopular one.

Now with Davutoglu gone Merkel and the EU leaders find themselves with their key partner gone and having to deal with Erdogan directly, whose manner of achieving power in Turkey diametrically opposes everything the EU is supposed to stand for.

Not only is this likely to make dealing with Turkey even less popular with European voters but it confirms what should have already been obvious, which is that any deals cut with Turkey are entirely subject to Erdogan’s whims, which given his unwillingness to be bound to anything that limits him all but guarantees their failure.”

(bold italics added)

It took no insight to say these things in May, only a certain knowledge of Erdogan and of the situation in Turkey.  It does however surprise me how quickly they are coming true.

More to the point, Erdogan’s threats to unleash a flood of refugees must be causing Merkel great alarm.

Already Merkel has to deal with a Trump led US which is threatening to reverse the anti-Russian policy she has staked her authority and reputation supporting, and she now also has to face the prospect of a new French President in April who is also committed to reversing this anti-Russian policy.

Following the Brexit vote Merkel is also losing her key ally on foreign policy in the European Council, as Britain becomes increasingly distracted by its internal divisions over Brexit.

With Renzi looking set to lose the constitutional referendum in Italy, which may put his position as Italy’s leader at risk, Merkel may also be about to lose another key partner who though disagreeing with her anti-Russian policy has at least done so in a measured way.

Beyond that Merkel also has to worry about the outcome of the forthcoming parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, where there is now a serious possibility of a major advance by Geert Wilders’s anti-Turkish and anti-Islamist party, which is going to make her fraught relations with Erdogan even worse.

Merkel must know that that there is no possibility of the European Parliament reversing its vote on Turkey’s accession, and that a solid majority of EU states quietly – and in some cases not so quietly – oppose Turkish accession, as does the European and German public. 

Since there is therefore no possibility of her successfully pressing ahead with Turkey’s EU accession process, Merkel knows that she cannot honour her promise to Erdogan to accelerate Turkey’s EU membership in return for his stopping the refugee flows.  She therefore has good cause to worry that Erdogan will act on his threat to flood Europe with refugees.  What after all does he have to lose?

With the East European states of the EU increasingly defying Merkel by closing their doors to refugees, Merkel would in that case either have to risk a further furious row with them in the run-up to the German parliamentary elections next year in order to get them to accept more refugees – something which might strain her authority within the EU to breaking point – or see many more refugees flooding into Germany itself.  The alternative would be to do what she did last year, which is to try to buy Erdogan off by giving him even more money than she has already done.

In every case it is easy to see how all this could play into the hands of the anti-immigrant AfD, which has already reached up to 16% in recent opinion polls, and which will be the main right wing challenger to Merkel’s CDU party in Germany’s parliamentary elections next year. 

There must be times when Merkel feels that everything is now going wrong at once.  Undoubtedly her officials are communicating anxiously with Ankara, giving assurances (which the Turks are unlikely to believe) that the European Parliament’s vote does not mean what it appears to mean, and that Turkey’s EU accession negotiations are still on track.  In return they will be seeking reassurances that when he threatens to flood Europe with refugees Erdogan also doesn’t mean what he says. 

In the meantime Erdogan has just landed Merkel with another big headache.

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Alexander Mercouris
Editor-in-Chief atThe Duran.

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