The Turkish government decided to close its land borders with Greece and Bulgaria on 18 March 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19.
To obtain EU financial assistance and political support to address the migration crisis, Ankara opened its land borders with Greece a few weeks ago, sending thousands of refugees to Europe. This month, hundreds of migrants arrived on Greek islands near Turkey, increasing pressure on reception centres. Currently, the camps have nearly 42 000 asylum seekers, but they have been designed for 6 000. The situation requires a radical solution, migration camps pose an especially high-risk environment for the spread of coronavirus.
It seems that the opening of borders as an instrument of foreign policy has failed Turkey. By closing its borders, Turkey now lacks tools to put pressure on the EU, weakening its negotiating position. This was also shown at the meeting with European officials in Brussels on 9 March, where the Erdogan’s request for more than just financial support did not lead to an agreement.
Besides, the Turkish effort to multilateralize the conflict in Idlib has also failed since the EU was not interested in involving militarily or politically in the issue. It seems unlikely that Turkey and the EU will accede to an agreement on migration policy any time soon.
The migration issue is Ankara’s most effective negotiating tool with the EU in the long term. Closing the borders without reaching an agreement could thus seem like an unprecedented step showing the limits of the current Turkish modus-operandi towards the EU, built on a migration-based pressure policy. Nevertheless, it is not very likely to expect a greater self-reflection of Turkey in this respect, even after the pandemic is over. This is indicated by the current nature of the Turkish regime, the long-term patterns of its behavior and, in particular, the fact that refugees will continue to be its strongest, albeit somewhat less effective, card. However, the EU’s unwillingness to adhere to Turkish demands and the relatively successful protection of the Greek border was an unpleasant surprise for Ankara, which improved the EU’s negotiating position for the future.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Andrea Hamzová
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