The European Union (EU) is going through what most consider the toughest times in its history. The surge of migrants, not only from the Middle East but also from South East Asia and Africa, has provoked an untenable human crisis on the continent. It is threatening the fundamental principles on which the (EU) was built. In desperation, Europe turned to Turkey for help and became the prey of an authoritarian government whose main objective is to force its way into the EU.
More than ever Angela Merkel has become the homme fort (the strong man) of Europe. She is the only one among the 28 heads of state of the EU to have taken a clear stand on how to manage the migrant crisis – albeit without a well-thought-out plan. The general opinion here is that, as a good pastor’s daughter, she has been motivated by a sense of moral duty when she opened her arms to the migrants at the end of 2015.
On the flip side, her methods have irked many Europeans such as her several one-on-one talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The day before the crucial March 7 meeting in Brussels, she met Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davitoglu for a six-hour long discussion, which lasted late into the night in an hotel near the Commission. The only officials present were Jean Claude Junker, president of the European Commission and Netherland Mark Rutte, president of the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council).
The French daily Le Monde described what happened in an article titled, “The night when Angela Merkel lost Europe.” On the morning of March 7, diplomats and EU officials were stunned to discover the text of the pre-agreement. None of them had been in the loop, not even Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, who had talked to every single EU leader state seeking to create a consensual policy.
To speak in the German Chancellor’s defense, however, one should stress the pitiful lack of solidarity between the 28 EU members. From the start the Visegrad group (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic) – a remnant from the former Iron Curtain countries – closed their borders to the migrants. Other East European countries like Bulgaria and Rumania are also opposed to mandatory refugee quota.
The chancellor felt betrayed when, on Feb. 24, Austria called a meeting of the Balkan states to stop the influx of migrants. Greece, the Balkan country most affected by the migrant crisis, was not invited. Neither Brussels nor Berlin was notified. David Cameron is too embroiled with his Brexit issue to get involved.
France has its own problems — it is still recovering from the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks, it does not want to help the right wing Front National by opening its borders too much and it is busy fighting radical Islam in five countries of the Sahel. The “Franco-German couple” was described by some people as “moribund.”
As regional elections were approaching, Merkel made a 180 degree turn by tightening her immigration policy. It was back to realpolitik lest public opinion forgets that she is a tough politician.
The German elections on March 13 did reflect the growing opposition to the influx of migrants. The populist parties made substantial gains in the three Landers, both in the affluent West and in the remnant of the poorer RDA : in Bad Wurtenberg the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) gained 15.1 percent and in Rhineland Palatinate 12.6 percent. In Saxe-Anhalt , AfD placed second, right behind the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) with 24.3 percent of the votes.
Daniel Cohn Bendit, former “green” euro-deputy commented, “What is important is that 55-60 percent of the German population still supports Angela Merkel’s policy regrading the migrants. Such scores would make many politicians green with envy.”
On March 18, the negotiations between the EU and Turkey toward the final agreement looked like a haggling process with a “toxic but needed partner,” to use the words of Pierre Servent, military expert. Immediately the text raised violent criticisms across the board.
The plan concocted by Davitoglu is complicated, requiring extremely challenging logistics to implement. The objectives are to stop the drownings, curtail the despicable activities of the passeurs (smugglers), legalize entry into Europe of persons entitled to asylum and send back to their countries of origin the “economic refugees.” From now on all the migrants arriving in Greece – whether “real” refugees or not – will be shipped back to Turkey. Then, for one Syrian refugee leaving Europe, one Syrian refugee will return to Europe through an humanitarian corridor.
Turkey will be the central player of the plan, which it will co-steer with the UN Frontex agency. For this job Turkey expects to receive another three billion Euros. Some commentators describe the whole process as a mass deportation. Legal experts find the plan to be a violation of human rights as written in the European constitution and in the 1949 Geneva convention on the right to asylum.
The task is herculean, commented Jean Claude Yunker. A heavy responsibility is being placed on Greece. Judges, translators, and up to 4,000 people will have to be hired to process the human flow. France and Italy worry that the migrants, in order to avoid Turkey, will look for other access routes to Europe .
Turkey demanded two sets of compensation for services rendered: simplification of visa requirements for Turkish individuals traveling to Europe and acceleration of Turkey’s acceptance into the EU. At first the European negotiators wanted these topics to be red lines not to be crossed. They had to be satisfied with the inclusion of a few caveats in the text — 72 criteria for obtaining a visa; only one chapter open for the membership discussion and not five as Turkey wanted.)
It is to be expected that Europe will drag its feet to accommodate Turkey. After 52 years, its position on Turkey still has not changed — it does not think Turkey belongs in Europe.
The migrant crisis has left Europe weaker, not very proud of itself and more divided than ever.
Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.
About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.