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Opinion:
Leela JACINTO

Leela JACINTO
International News Reporter, France24.com

The EU cuts a cynical deal with Turkey and migrants are left to stew

Le 09-03-2016

So, the latest EU-Turkey migrant draft deal is being hailed as a “game changer,” which is the sort of thing people say after they’ve drunk the Brussels Kool Aid.

On March 4, in a hail of tear gas and water cannons, the Turkish government took over Zaman – the country’s largest opposition newspaper – displaying the sort of callous disregard for democratic principles that would have turned Turkey’s erstwhile military rulers green with envy.

Just three days later, EU leaders were “warmly welcoming” a “breakthrough” draft deal with Ankara that would see Turkey taking back migrants – including Syrians – from Greece in exchange for European promises to jumpstart Turkey’s deadlocked EU membership talks.

In the annals of cynical, pragmatic policies bereft of vision or idealism, this one takes the cake.

Let’s break down this breakthrough deal. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning bloc of 28 nations has cut a deal with a government that is systematically crushing free speech, civil liberties, Kurdish peace hopes, secular principles and any opposition to its policies.

The deal with the devil is being pushed through so that European governments can appease an increasingly right wing domestic audience jittered by headlines put out by increasingly right wing-owned media organizations about the hordes arriving at Europe’s doors.

In exchange for doing Europe’s dirty work of pushing back tens of thousands of little Aylan Kurdis, Turkey will be rewarded with a faster track to EU accession.

Erdogan's 'zero problems' lead to 'zero solutions'

It was the lack of progress on Turkey’s EU ascension that put Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the path to his disastrous foreign policy, which saw NATO’s only Muslim-majority country turn its back on an unwelcoming Europe to court the Muslim world.

The only problem of course is Erdogan’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy has turned into “zero friends in the neighborhood”. With the US and Europe looking on helplessly, Turkey supported Islamist opposition groups in Syria, woke up to the Daesh (or Islamic State group or ISIS) problem too late, and is busy crushing the Kurds, the most reliable partners in the war against Daesh.

So, Europe’s glorious lack of vision exacerbated the Syrian conflict, which in turn triggered the migrant crisis, which Brussels is trying to stem by buying an autocrat and rewarding his human rights crackdowns with the promise of reinvigorated EU accession talks.

This sure beats buying up Muammar “mad dog of Libya” Gaddafi in exchange for holding up the African hoards.

One-for-one and none for all

And that’s just the principles – or lack thereof – of the deal. Let’s get down to the mechanics, which are still being hammered out since the EU is all about holding further meetings to hammer out further details of half-baked deals.

The latest “game-changer” promotes a one-for-one deal, under which, the EU will resettle one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey in exchange for every Syrian that Turkey takes back from Greece.

Mind you, these are Syrians, the crème de la crème of the world’s hapless masses. The rest – the Afghans fleeing increasing violence, the Eritreans fleeing an oppressive regime and others fleeing despotism or poverty – can simply rot. The draft deal envisages the return of all “irregular” or “illegal” migrants from Greece back to Turkey with the EU covering the cost of this pushback.

Assuming the one-for-one details are hammered out, this means EU member nations have to agree to who’s taking in how many migrants.

Well, good luck on that.

Last year, after a summer rush of migrants plunged Europe into “one of its worst crises,” the continent’s leaders managed to hammer out a deal after nights of painful negotiations. EU member states agreed to resettle 160,000 migrants. Much column space and broadcast hours were devoted to that “landmark deal”. But since then, governments have been dragging their feet and by the end of February, barely 600 people were moved.

Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – also known as the Visegrad group of nations viciously holding on to Soviet-style insensitivities in their swing from extreme left to extreme right – are closing up borders and turning Greece into what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called a “warehouse of souls”.

The winter of Brexit discontent

Spring is nearly here, summer will bring in a rush of desperate souls and EU member states will be haggling one-for-one on migrant relocations.

The winter passed of course with Brussels wasting its time trying to accommodate David Cameron and his self-imposed “Brexit” initiative that has stirred up the nastiest of British nasties, aided and abetted by a media machine owned by a certain Rupert Murdoch. These days even the journalists’ questions have changed. It’s no longer “how do we manage the crisis?” It’s “how do we stop them from coming here?” Remember that Hungarian camerawoman who kicked a migrant dad and kid near the Serbian border? We’re not quite, but we’re getting there, in pleasant Western Europe.

Now we’re all supposed to hail this one-for-one batting migrants around like ping pong balls, which is going to increase the workload of the human rights crowd as they try to figure how all these measures contravene international conventions – which they most certainly do.

Barely 24 hours after EU chief Donald Tusk announced the “breakthrough” deal, UNHCR started putting out early warnings. "Collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention on Human Rights. An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return of any foreigners to a third country is not consistent with European law, is not consistent with international law," UNHCR's European director Vincent Cochetel told reporters in Geneva.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon followed it up with a statement expressing “concern” over some EU countries “shunning” their humanitarian responsibilities.

The solution lies in addressing migrant flows at the source of course, which means tackling fundamental economic and political problems that send millions fleeing.

But this is more than the EU can chew. That would involve some foreign policy teeth to tell despots to go rot, some principles to uphold besides craven pragmatism, and the military might to act as a deterrent or to back up those principles without rushing across the Atlantic for help.

After five years, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions of displacements from the Syrian battle zones, the international community is busy examining what US President Barack Obama should or should not have done. Nobody expects the EU to take the lead in sorting anything, even if the problem lies is Europe’s backyard. The EU, as usual, will fiddle and meet and quibble like mean children over their responsibilities while Syria burns and migrants drown.

So, if you find anyone hailing the new “game changer” that will change nothing, hand him, or her, another glass of Brussels Kool Aid and wait for the next meeting that will change nothing.

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