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Standing up to Turkey: Austria’s chancellor is the only EU leader prepared to call out President Erdogan over weaponizing refugees

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Standing up to Turkey: Austria’s chancellor is the only EU leader prepared to call out President Erdogan over weaponizing refugees
A poorly-considered fix to prevent Syrian refugees flooding Europe has come undone for the EU as Erdogan opens Turkey’s border to the west, with only Austrian Chancellor Kurz exposing Brussels’ migration policy failure.

If the EU had not been so distracted with the whole prolonged Brexit fiasco or its inability to staff up its Commission with acceptable new faces, then it might have noticed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had weaponised thousands of Syrian refugees.

While Brussels has taken its eye off the ball, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was paying attention and rightly accused Erdogan’s opening of Turkey’s border with western Europe as “an attack on the EU.

Last time there was a mass movement of people from Turkey, after Germany’s Angela Merkel opened the floodgates, Austria found itself with an extra one percent added to its population as the refugees crossed its borders on their way to the ‘open door’ of Germany.

So Kurz needs to keep on top of this.

He further went on to point out that Turkey had focused its action on the border with Greece, not the one it shares with Bulgaria, saying, “this clearly shows that this is organized.”

And he is right.

Also on rt.com Austrian Chancellor Kurz blasts Turkey for migration ‘attack’ against EU

Rising Tide

Back in 2016, the EU naïvely entered into a pact with the populist Turkish president to stem what at the time was a rising tide of Syrian refugees by offering €6 billion to help deal with the crisis.

With around 3.7 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries now in Turkey, that money was never going to be enough, and when the time came that Erdogan wanted leverage over the EU, he was always going to threaten to turn the migration tap on again.

Which is exactly what he has done.

Though Chancellor Kurz has come down hard on the threat, and no doubt scored some much-needed political points by doing so, you have to wonder where the outrage from Brussels is.

Greece is angered over Turkey’s actions, and the horror of images featuring dead children drowned after falling from boats and coastguards shooting at jam-packed refugee dinghies will only increase the temperature of this mess.

It’s not as if we haven’t been here before. The frontline states in this ongoing saga, Greece, Italy and Spain, extended the offer of help to the war-torn countries of the region to the south on the belief that the EU would come up with a common immigration policy that would share the burden equitably among the bloc’s member states.

But we’re still waiting for this to materialise.

Also on rt.com Greek coastguard ATTACKS migrant dinghy and shoot into water amid border mayhem (VIDEO)

What Erdogan wants 

Instead, when Greece and Italy decided to take matters into their own hands, trying to turn back the people smugglers and their desperate passengers, there is outcry from the liberal democracies over alleged human rights abuses.

So suddenly, these two EU member states find themselves as the bad guys.

Turkey has a point. It did the EU a massive favour in taking in millions of Syrians fleeing a war zone, but the bill it has racked up so far of more than US$30 billion is not something they’ll ever recoup.

Erdogan is resigned to that, and it means he can take the moral high ground refusing a paltry offer of a further €1bn from the EU with a sniffy, “Who are you trying to fool? We don’t want this money.”

So what does he want? In a word: friends.

But the days of Turkey courting Western leaders and hoping to join the European Union seem a long way off under Erdogan. If he is trying to convince the EU leaders to help him over Syrian refugees then threatening them is not the smartest move.

Still to organise the paperclips on her desk, new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has her in-tray quickly filling up.

Also on rt.com Erdogan’s use of refugees to pressure EU is ‘unacceptable’ – Merkel

Refugees as bargaining chips

Having been delayed in getting down to business thanks to a series of awkward commissioner hearings, von der Leyen now has the start of the Brexit trade talks and the coronavirus outbreak to deal with.

For a politician like Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Erdogan’s actions combine with EU inaction to provide a perfect opportunity for some angry rhetoric on a pan-European stage and nods of approval from voters in Vienna.

In the meantime, the miserable refugees are used as bargaining chips by Erdogan until he can figure a way out of this mire.

His emergency meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday could hold the key. But that is hugely optimistic.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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