The way Donald Tusk put it you’d think the days of irregular migration to Europe are over. In fact that’s exactly how the European Commission President put it. After the EU/Turkey Summit ended in Brussels he faced dozens of journalist and, presumably with his fingers cross behind his back, said ‘The days of irregular migration to Europe are over’.
That was on Monday. Since then several thousand people have migrated to Europe in an irregular fashion. At least another 20,000 can be expected to have done so by the time the EU meets again on March 17th to decide whether to back the plan.
There are reasons to believe that the plan will not be implemented, ut this is the EU, and a fudge can be found, it will be, however, even if it is, it will hit immediate problems.
Here’s why it may never even be agreed:
The outlines of Monday’s proposed deal were worked out pretty much between the Germans and the Turks. It does have some support among the 28 EU countries, the Netherlands for example, but possibly not enough.
The money isn’t the problem. Handing over several billion Euros is acceptable to many states because they know they will be spending huge sums of money if the the refugee/migrants flow does not stop anyway. One sticking point is Turkey’s insistence that, in the words of Prime Minister Davutoglu “By the end of June, Turkish citizens will be able to come to [the Schengen area] without visas”.
But the visa waiver criteria involves a state recognizing Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia which currently Ankara refuses to do. Unless that changes, why would Cyprus vote for the deal next week?
Then there are the details of the ‘One for one’ agreement. The EU has agreed it will take one Syrian refugee from a camp in Turkey for every one refugee/migrant deported from Greece back to Turkey. But, who chooses which refugee? More importantly, why will the 28 agree to share a quota of refugees when this is exactly the deal Merkel has been trying to sell for months now which has been categorically rejected by Poland, Hungary and others?
Last September the EU decided it would relocate 66,000 refugees from Greece. So far the scheme has delivered about 600 people.
Another problem is the legality of the deal, especially the forced deportation of people from Greece back to Turkey. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR issued a statement saying ‘The collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights…An agreement that would be tantamount to a blanket return of any foreigners to a third country, is not consistent with European law, is not consistent with international law.”
The final problem is one which is getting very little attention. Behind the scenes Turkey is trying to link the refugee deal with support for opening up a military humanitarian corridor in Northern Syria. If that was explicitly linked, but in secret, and it later came out, there would be uproar.
But let’s put those details to one side, as the EU appears to be willing to so do.
On the plus side, there may be a reduction in refugees and migrants willing to make the dangerous crossing from Turkey to Greece, even through the weather will now slowly improve. However, it is unlikely to halt. We will still have a situation where tens of thousands of people will have to be herded together, and then forcefully ejected from the country. This is likely to lead to rioting.
At the same time, the people smugglers, denied their income from selling fake life jackets and sending people into danger will look for the next way to make money out misery. If the 75 million Turks are to be allowed to visit the EU’s Schengen countries without visas, and therefore without visa checks at embassies as is currently the case, the market in fake Turkish travel papers will be brisk.
Another knock on effect of the visa carrot dangled before Turkey is that the details of it might be lost on parts of the British electorate who would be voting in their EU referendum at about the same time as Mr Davutoglu envisages the visa requirements being waived. It could have the effect of helping the Leave vote.
We’re not there yet, we may never get there, but its clear that quite a dramatic agreement is going to be required for the worse refugee crisis in Europe for more than half a century. So, even if this deal falls, another must take it place. The diplomats, politicians, and international lawyers are going to be very busy. So is the coastguard.