Turkey/EU deal: Erdogan has fawning Eurocrats wrapped around his finger

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
European Council President Donald Tusk and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan © Kacper Pempel
Having completed a sordid deal with Turkey on Friday, a country that has imprisoned even more journalists than China, next week Eurocrats will no doubt be crowing about 'European values' as per usual.

The great Paul McCartney famously bellowed: "Michelle, Ma Belle, these are words that go together well."

While they don't rhyme as nicely, the words EU and hypocrisy also combine perfectly. An organization ostensibly dedicated to the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights is ignoring rampant abuses in Turkey. Worse still, by its warm embrace of Recip Tayyip Erdogan, it's encouraging his behavior. Meanwhile, the obsequious western media is largely silent.

In the seminal 1978 movie, Midnight Express, a naive westerner gets trapped inside the Turkish legal system. Initially, he cooperates with the authorities, offering assistance in the hope of a fair deal. However, they renege and he hurtles into a downward spiral of abuse and resignation. Only when he faces annihilation, does he manage to escape. Even bribes don’t translate to guarantees, and he ultimately has to fight his way out.

Brussels' current relationship with Turkey is not unlike the plot of Midnight Express. It’s based on entrapment, coercion and blackmail. With its fragile unity creaking, the very survival of the EU is in jeopardy. Hence, Ankara holds all the aces and its increasingly dictatorial president is using his hand to extort concession after concession. By acquiescing, the EU is diluting its once cherished ‘values.' In the long term, it may be signing its own death warrant.

By making dirty deals with Erdogan, Brussels’ emboldens ‘illiberal’ politicians on Europe’s fringes to resist its authority. Hungary and Poland’s current leaders must be rubbing their hands with glee. And make no mistake, Friday’s transaction between the EU and Turkey was a dirty deal.

Ankara has agreed that migrants arriving to the EU after Sunday can be sent back. In return, Turkey can release a properly registered migrant from its own territory to the EU. The number is capped at 72,000. A figure that seems to have been pulled from the ether.

The Numbers Game

While the arrangement sounds reasonably straightforward in theory, it’s difficult to envisage how it can succeed in practice. There are already over 45,000 migrants stranded in Greece alone. Despite pleas from Angela Merkel for all EU members to accept their ‘fair share’ of people, only 937 have found a new home so far. Thus, the ultimate result of Friday’s accord will most likely be that another 72,000 souls are thrown into a Greek purgatory.

This scenario will - hypothetically at least - prevent them moving north to Germany, Sweden and Austria, for example. Naturally, that’s the whole point of this murky understanding.

In return, Brussels has agreed to speed up the disbursement of €3 billion to Ankara. It has also offered ‘re-energized’ talks on EU membership. Germany wanted to give more concessions in that regard. But Cyprus, with a considerable amount of its territory occupied by Turkey (and the UK), objected.

Erdogan's Game

In reality, Erdogan has no desire to join the EU. If Ankara did become a full member, it would presumably have to revert to genuine democracy. Doing so would loosen Erdogan’s totalitarian grip on power. Instead, what Erdogan really wants is for Western Europe’s elite to legitimize his regime. His strategy is working.

The same politicians who endlessly rant and rave about 'values' are now bowing to a thug who has reversed the long celebrated reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Make no mistake, Turkey, long an oasis of modernity in a troubled Middle East, is going backwards at an alarming rate.

Erdogan reportedly said on Wednesday, in Ankara, “democracy, freedom and the rule of law… for us, these words have absolutely no value any longer.”

Just imagine if a leader less valuable to current western strategy made such a statement? For example, Vladimir Putin or Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff? There’d be venom spat all over the op-ed pages from The New York Times to Le Monde and Die Welt. But when a NATO member’s president spouts such things, the same newspapers don't even report the comments.

Erdogan didn’t stop there. He also said Turkey will “strike Kurds everywhere.” These are the same Kurds that America (and Russia, too) has partnered with in the war against ISIS. Yet, the US government seems oblivious to Erdogan's words.

According to the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), in 2013, Turkey had jailed more members of the media than China (40 against 32). For the record, Russia was held responsible for two cases and the USA one. The only EU state included was Italy, also with one. Now, you’d imagine that freedom of the press is a core “European value,” but even their colleagues in the western media don’t make noise about the oppression of Turkish journalists. Across government and the establishment press, there seems to be an understanding that you cannot criticize Turkey.

That’s because everybody is afraid to upset Erdogan. If this bully doesn’t get what he wants, he can flood Europe with migrants. And Jihadis. Not only that, if Turkey withdrew from NATO, the US would lose vital military bases it needs to dominate the Middle East. Erdogan has them all over a barrel. And he knows it. He must enjoy watching them squirm.

A Dud Deal

Aside from these issues, it’s very doubtful that Friday’s arrangement will prove effective anyway. The Turkey-EU transaction gave Greece 48 hours to build a functioning asylum system and a court to hear challenges against returns. Considering that Strasbourg says (MSS v Belgium and Greece) that Greece has not had a functioning asylum system for ten years, this seems a trifle optimistic.

Not to mention that one particular legal issue could derail the whole project. EU member states have not been able to send asylum seekers back to Greece, since a 2011 court ruling which found that migrants suffered “degrading treatment” and faced inadequate processes that meant they were at risk of being sent back to countries where they faced persecution.

Ultimately, even if Greece somehow manages to control of the situation, and Erdogan keeps his word, where will these migrants eventually go? To the UK perhaps? It has already given $1.7 billion to refuges in Syria. But London won’t take them in. Meanwhile, the only two countries who were willing to take masses of migrants last year, Germany and Sweden, have cried “enough."

Right now, it’s impossible to predict how this gigantic mess will ever be resolved. Yet, to paraphrase an old Irish expression, “If I was trying to get there, I wouldn’t start from here.”

There are many potential losers in this crisis. Brussels, Merkel and thousands of innocent migrants being the most obvious. Nevertheless, there’s one surefire winner - Erdogan. He’s got the EU wrapped around his finger. And he knows it.

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