The EU-Turkey deal from Brussels

The major events of last week were, without question, the terror attacks in Istanbul and Brussels.

As long as measures are not taken following such an upsurge in attacks by various terror groups in Turkey, such attacks are regrettably unlikely to end soon.

At the same time the bomb in Istanbul exploded, participants at the German Marshall Fund’s 11th Brussels Forum in the Belgian capital were discussing the fight against global terrorism and extremist currents, the migrant problem and how such issues were likely to affect global security strategies.

It bears noting that the forum touched on far more issues than those above, ranging from broader geopolitical issues to the digital revolution, the need for a more equitable liberal economic order and the necessity for a change in mentality on gender equality.

With everyone in Europe searching for a solution to the migrant crisis, perhaps the most captivating panel at the forum was conducted with Turkish EU Minister Volkan Bozkır and EU Budget Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, who were both fresh from signing the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU.

Despite their visible fatigue following the grueling negotiations, the pair gamely attempted to allay concerns about the refugee deal that had aroused suspicions in both Turkey and the international community during the panel “Refugee Crisis: Europe’s Ultimate Stress Test.”

It bears noting that the sides view the deal not so much as an ultimate deal, but more as an important step along the road to a solution.

As it is, Georgieva sought to emphasize this in her comments. Noting that the EU’s 72,000-person quota as part of the one-for-one swap between Ankara and Brussels was just the beginning, she said: “The EU has been aware for years that it has to address the refugee problem. In the discussions on the refugee crisis, we were talking about the 1.5 million refugees in Europe; what about the 59 million people that could be at our door due to a variety of disaster scenarios? As such, the EU needs to exert efforts to address the root of the problems that have produced the refugee crisis – particularly in terms of effecting political solutions to military conflicts. Moreover, what we need to do should not be restricted to providing shelter and food for refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. We need to create opportunities for schools and work for people so that the influx is decelerated.”

Instead of heeding Turkey’s warnings in a timely fashion, the EU busied itself gawking at the approaching tsunami, Bozkır said, while adding that he was pleased the bloc had finally – if tardily – comprehended the severity of the situation. More than financial aid, Turkey expects collaboration and a sharing of responsibilities from the EU, Bozkır noted, adding that Ankara needed to again feel it was “part of the family.”

Despite realizations that there will be a number of problems in the implementation of the deal, from the return of refugees to the expectations of visa-free travel and other issues, there is a hope that the agreement will somewhat deter refugees from attempting to illegally enter Europe and save them from the clutches of human smugglers.

It behooves one to say, however, that the majority of participants milling about during the coffee break were in the “doubters” category.

At the outset, participants expressed their desire to see Europe emerge from this stress test with added strength. Similar hopes for Turkey depend on a revival of relations with the EU that are partly tied to the continued positive trajectory of the Cyprus peace negotiations, which would help open accession chapters that are currently under veto.

Rather than unfettered access to the Schengen zone come June, it is more likely that a narrower group of people (business leaders, academics, students and the like) will be able to benefit from visa-free travel.

Bozkır, meanwhile, addressed critics at the forum who asserted that Turkey was straying from the Copenhagen criteria, suggesting that they should think again. “[If Turkey doesn’t enter a deal due to the points you mention], it will be deprived of opportunities for progression. In an era in which human rights and democracy are under threat, let’s work together to make Turkey a better country,” he said.