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The EU Migrant Deal Still Holds, For Now

3 MINS READAug 18, 2016 | 15:54 GMT
The EU Migrant Deal Still Holds, For Now
State Secretary of the German Federal Foreign Office Markus Ederer (C) and Istanbul's deputy Mustafa Yeneroglu of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (L) visit the damaged Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara.
(ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

In spite of contentious back and forth, the critical migrant deal between the European Union and Turkey is holding. The solidity of the deal, however, has been under constant pressure by negotiations between European governments and Ankara over the details, especially in the wake of the failed Turkish coup. This week, the German government is scrambling to downplay a leaked confidential report on Turkey produced by the German Ministry of the Interior at the behest of the Left Party. It suggested that the Turkish government supports armed Islamist groups in Syria as well as numerous regional terrorist organizations, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The report also alleged that the increasing power of Islamist ideology in the country has made it a central platform for Islamist groups in the Middle East. 

Ankara was outraged and condemned the report, saying it directly targeted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the government. It accused Berlin of maintaining a double standard. The Turkish government also criticized Germany for not providing support for the efforts to suppress the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey labels a terrorist movement.

The German government has largely declined to comment on the report's contents, but spokesman Steffen Seibert did say on Aug. 17 that Turkey is an ally in the fight against the Islamic State. A representative of the Ministry of the Interior said the report was produced by the deputy interior minister, implying that it did not necessarily represent the views of either Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere or Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. For his part, de Maiziere commented that there was nothing to regret about the report but that it depicted only one aspect of Turkey.

German-Turkish relations have deteriorated since the July 15 coup attempt. Berlin, alongside other EU governments, has criticized the post-coup crackdown across Turkey, expressing concern about human rights and rule of law. But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble recently made his government's position clear by stating that the European Union should not end cooperation with Turkey. 

Cooperation centers mostly on the migrant deal struck between Turkey and the Continental bloc in March. In this agreement, the European Union promised Turkey financial support, visa liberalization and progress in its bid for EU membership. In exchange, Ankara offered help in preventing migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece. The EU side of the deal has been delayed. Discussions on the visa liberalization, Ankara's most pressing demand, will resume when European institutions return in September from their summer break. Turkey still has to satisfy some of the criteria to secure this liberalization, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Aug. 15 that Turkey will abandon the refugee deal if the European Union does not grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens by October.

In spite of the difficult negotiations and political turmoil, in practice the migrant deal has not yet fallen apart and is still being enforced. On Aug. 16, 143 Syrians were relocated from Turkey to Germany in accordance with the deal, and another eight Syrians were sent back from Greece to Turkey on Aug. 17 after renouncing their right to asylum. And the total numbers of arrivals seems to have declined. According to U.N. Refugee Agency data, in August only 1,718 migrants crossed from Turkey to Greece, compared with 107,843 in August 2015. 

Moving forward, the agreement, which has always been tenuous, should largely hold. The interplay between EU demands and Ankara's stubbornness on requested changes will continue, but in practice the flow of migrants will remain manageable.

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