On 29 February 2016, the European Foundation for Democracy hosted a closed-door policy briefing for EU diplomats and officials entitled: “Turkey-EU deal on refugees: domestic and foreign policy implications”. The guest speaker was Zeynep Alemdar, an associate professor of political science and international relations at Okan University in Istanbul, where she also contributes to the European Union Research Center. She is actively involved in civil society and is a distinguished member of the Turkey-EU Association (Turkish Council of the European Movement International), as well as the Women in Foreign Policy Initiative (WFP14) in Istanbul that encourages and promotes young women’s participation in foreign policy mechanisms.
EFD Senior Policy Advisor and moderator of the event, Dr. Murat Seyrek, opened the discussion by highlighting that there are now more than 2.6 million refugees in Turkey; representing a population that is 2.5 times greater than Brussels. This has been a growing crisis for the last four years in Turkey. It has only been labelled as such in 2015, however, as the refugees began reaching Europe. It is a late wake-up call, he said, but a wake-up call none the less.
The guest speaker highlighted that this latest deal represents a typical European move: it is very pragmatic for the EU but it fails to address Turkey’s immediate needs. She then discussed the growing resentment of Turks towards the EU, largely due to the minimal progress made on accession agreements over the last ten years. It is only since the spread of ISIS, she noted, that some support for the EU in Turkey has been regained. She then provided an overview of the numerous obstacles which are hindering accession negotiations and the refugee deal, including Turkish President Erdogan recent negligence towards human rights, rule of law and freedom of press. There are indeed many reasons to be pessimistic in Turkey these days, but also it is really the time – if the EU truly cares about what it preaches – for the EU and Turkey to make progress on the deal, she said. Moving forward, there is still a chance to improve the situation, but she warned that devising and implementing a complete solution will likely take more than two years. Trust on both side needs to be built, but this will only occur if each make good on their promises.