7 May 2016

On April 16 the Dutch daily paper De Volkskrant published a long article on the genesis of the EU-Turkey agreement, as seen from The Hague and Brussels. If you are interested, here is an unofficial translation.

 

Volkskrant, 16 April 2016

The Deal

– unofficial translation by ESI –

A mysterious word, deadlines, heated arguments, secret meetings and Turkish pizzas at midnight. The EU-Turkey refugee deal was hard-fought, with Prime Minister Rutte on the frontline. “Hand in hand jumping off the cliff.” A reconstruction.

By Marc Peeperkorn

It is already dark on Friday, 18 March, when Prime Minister Mark Rutte leaves a meeting in the colossal Brussels Justus Lipsius building. For two days, he has cautiously negotiated with his EU colleagues to win a pioneering refugee agreement with Turkey. In an agreement where Dutch influence weighs heavily, Rutte plays a leading role in front of and behind the scenes. “Do you realize that in three months’ time we have fundamentally changed the European asylum policy?” says an aide accompanying the Prime Minister to his car. Rutte looks at him grinning: “Well done!” Energetically he steps into the grey-brown BMW, on his way to The Hague.

This is a revolutionary deal, both supporters and opponents acknowledge this. It was born out of hard political and humanitarian realities: 2016 could and should not be a repetition of the traumatic 2015. Another 850 thousand refugees transiting through the Greek islands to the rest of Europe; again many hundreds of men, women and children drowning in the short stretch of a few nautical miles between Turkey and the islands; even more border controls, fences, protests and tent camps: leaders cannot deal with all of this. Let alone their parliaments, their voters and the EU.

What will cause problems eventually are Europe’s open borders and the lip service that member states pay to the already feeble return schemes for migrants from distant countries. The Turkey-EU action plan to stem the flow of refugees, agreed at end of November was filled with intentions that brought no results. “The migrants knew: today in Lesvos, tomorrow in Berlin,” as an EU official described the chaos at the end of the year.

THE STRATEGY

One word: “Readmission”. Rutte’s role in the agreement likely starts changing on Thursday, 17 December 2015. European leaders are, again, in the Justus Lipsius building and discuss again the migration crisis. Just before dinner they put the finishing touches to the final declaration. “I want only one word to be added to the text,” says Rutte. His colleagues are relieved, as Rutte is known to check the final conclusions line by line. Thus the word “readmission” lands in the text: not deportation, return or other non-binding terms, but a term that means: migrants who are not entitled to asylum must be “taken back”.

The Dutch delegation’s chamber gives out a suppressed cheer. “The hook that we wanted was put in the wall,” says one person involved. “The rest of the leaders didn’t notice anything. Our action was totally under the radar, also for Angela Merkel.”

That Rutte was prepared is due to PvdA leader Diederik Samsom. At the beginning of December he visited the Turkish town of Izmir, where in the markets and squares human smugglers meet their desperate customers, without much publicity. Overnight Samsom drove with a police patrol to the coastal town of Cesme and saw “two front crawl strokes away” the lights of the Greek island of Chios. Samsom understood: if the refugee stream was to be reduced “to zero”, as his coalition partner Rutte wanted, then a taboo-breaking approach was needed.

Samsom was inspired by some “reading material” that he received from the Dutch Embassy in Ankara, in preparation for his visit. In that folder was the plan of Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative, a European think tank. Knaus spoke wishfully of a Merkel plan, hoping that the Chancellor would pick up on it. Later, Rutte turns it into a Samsom plan: return all migrants to Turkey by ferry in exchange for a legitimate air bridge to Europe for recognized refugees.

On Monday, 14 December, the weekly discussions of the governing coalition are held in The Hague, with Samsom and Lodewijk Asscher for the PvdA, Rutte and Halbe Zijlstra for the VVD. Samsom talks about his visit and ideas and finds a surprising amount of understanding from the two liberals. They see similarities especially with the government’s previous letter on asylum policy and the VVD’s asylum plan by Malik Azmani, a deputy.

Three days later, prior to the EU summit, Rutte consults with the so-called coalition of the willing in Brussels. It is made up of about a dozen countries who want to make progress with the Turkish agreements. Rutte has the core of the Samsom plan sketched out on a piece of paper. He consults with Merkel who has been pressing for more generosity on legal migration from Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, also present, is startled: why take back all the refugees? A few hours later Rutte nails the take back hook in Brussels on the wall.

On Friday, 1 January, the Dutch EU presidency begins. Ministers and officials have been cramming gorgeous policy programs for eighteen months, but everyone knows: The Netherlands will be judged on managing the refugee crisis. For the VVD, the Presidency is not a burden that they cannot avoid anymore; Rutte, but also State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff (Security and Justice), are highly motivated.

Therefore, on Thursday, 14 January, Dijkhoff invites, in secret, the Greek Minister for Migration, Ioannis Mouzalas. They have lunch at the ministry in The Hague; fish with salad and sparkling water. Dijkhoff makes it clear that Greece may soon need to return all migrants, including Syrian refugees, to its archenemy Turkey. Mouzalas swallows, his leftist Syriza government abhors evictions, but finally nods.

Friday, 15 January, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, uses his comeback in the New Year for a political thunder speech. The euro, the single market, Schengen, everything will disappear if the flow of refugees will not be brought under control, Juncker warns.

A week later, Wednesday, 20 January, Prime Minister Rutte seizes the political launch of the EU Presidency by drawing a hard deadline. “The number of refugees must drastically go down in the next six to eight weeks,” he says in the European Parliament. A day earlier EU President Donald Tusk gave the Union two months. There is no way that they co-ordinated their statements, but both politicians share the feeling that something horrible is about to happen.

“We didn’t know what to do anymore” admits a Dutch official. It was not the Turkey action plan that determined the refugee stream, but the weather. An employee of Tusk holds up two iPads: on the one a graph with the wind force and direction of the Aegean Sea, on the other the number of refugees in the Greek islands. “The correlation was striking,” says the employee. Sometimes there are 4,000 immigrants per day, and that in January. “The sailing season had not even started yet,” says an EU official. “It was now all hands on deck: Help! Spring is coming!” Brussels fears in 2016 not one but two million applications for asylum.

Thursday, 21 January, the political and economic elite meets in Davos (World Economic Forum). Rutte is there, as is Davutoglu. Rutte makes his major concerns known to the Turkish Prime Minister. To draw a deadline for the action, Rutte suggests to put together a team of senior officials: two from the Netherlands, two from Germany, two from the Commission and some more from Turkey. Their task is pulling and dragging, to continue pushing when the leaders are home again. The company was named the “Ankara club” by the prime minister. It will be as important for the final deal as the politicians.

Crucial is also the letter that Juncker writes on Monday, 25 January, to the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar. Very straightforwardly the President announces that Member States and non-EU countries (Macedonia) may close their borders to immigrants who want to travel alone (to Germany) or who have no chance of obtaining a residence permit (economic migrants). In short: Greece may be sealed off.

“A turning point,” says a diplomat who did not forget how shortly before, Juncker was very critical of border controls. An EU official calls the letter the “Genesis of the solution to the problem of asylum”. Both speak of “cascading back”, allowing back flow of refugees to Greece and finally Turkey. Half a month later the closing of the Balkan route seems to be an effective means of pressure against Turkey.

Without explicitly naming the letter (which was never published) State Secretary Dijkhoff uses it as a crowbar at a meeting of European justice ministers on the same day in Amsterdam. Macedonia receives support for guarding its borders. The Greek minister Mouzalas responds bitterly. For dinner Dijkhoff has invited the Turkish Minister of the Interior Sebahattin Öztürk, and there he is informed of the Balkan dam raised by Europe.

 

THE BLUNDER

Germany furious about Samsom’s bad timing

Thursday, 28 January, Labour leader Samsom gives, through an interview with the Volkskrant, a glimpse of what is going on behind the scenes. He talks about the Ankara club and outlines the main features of the new agreement with Turkey which is being changed frantically: the returns by ferry and airlift for 150 to 250 thousand legal immigrants per year. In the afternoon, an employee of Rutte receives a text message from his German colleague: “What a terrible way to kill a good plan.”

Berlin fears that Davutoglu will back out. Turkey is home to 2.7 million refugees and the last thing that Davutoglu is expecting is the message from the Netherlands that there is still more to come. “It could not have come at a worse time,” says an official. Samsom admits later that the interview was “barely consulted” with Rutte. Or even with his own group. The effect is that the Samsom plan gets international attention. “It got fixated in the minds of European leaders,” says a diplomat.

On Sunday, 31 January, officials of Security and Justice, Foreign Affairs and General Affairs write their own action plan. It is named “Reducing the flows” in English because it was used as a guide to the Ankara club. The idea is simple: if from mid-March the refugee stream needs to be dramatically reduced, which measures are needed to achieve this? A division of work and labour is created: what will Rutte do, what will Merkel. “You should always prepare for the next question of your political boss”, a person explains the dynamic action plan.

On Thursday, 4 February, all the political protagonists are in London for the big Syria donor conference. On the margins of it, Merkel, Rutte, Tusk, Davutoglu and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann meet. The Turkish prime minister admits the failure of the old agreement from November. We need something new, something better.

Merkel is politically under increasing pressure domestically due to the massive influx of asylum seekers. The chancellor visits, in view of elections in three federals states (13 March), Davutoglu in Ankara on Monday, 8 February. The result is modest: a list of promises about cooperation and a joint request to NATO to deploy boats in the Turkish-Greek waters against smugglers.

Two days later (Wednesday, 10 February) Davutoglu comes to The Hague. He elaborately consults Rutte on how to break the deadlock. Davutoglu makes clear that he does not want to dry up the flow of refugees first and only then – perhaps, one day – to be released via a migration air bridge to Europe. “Immediate crossing”, is the message. This time it is Rutte swallowing, because he is the man of the “first to zero”.

“All the wheels had to turn at the same time,” an official characterizes the Turkish desire. A colleague has a more dramatic metaphor: “Hand in hand jumping off the cliff.”

The conversation goes on in a good atmosphere. Davutoglu appreciates the directness of Rutte. Hard but fair, he says. He calls to settle the refugee issue under the Dutch EU Presidency. Davutoglu has little confidence in the upcoming Slovak presidency – Slovakia refuses to accept any asylum seekers.

In the evening, Rutte is the main guest at the first Correspondents’ Dinner in Amsterdam. It is intended that, just as in the US, the prime minister, other politicians and commentators make fun of each other once a year. “If that fails, I’ll just call it the Samsom Plan,” Rutte jokingly says.

Thursday, 18 February, and Friday, 19 February, the EU leaders wait for another difficult summit: the one about Brexit. Tusk has worked for months on a compromise that Britain must remain in the EU and does not plan to disrupt his “party” with a headache from another file: migration. “Tusk wanted to show: the EU is capable of solving a large and complex problem. But not two at once,” says an EU official.

But he does not count on Merkel and Rutte. The chancellor lets Tusk know in advance that she has “complete confidence” in his Brexit approach and wants to talk especially about migration. Tusk yields. The dinner of the leaders Thursday evening is reserved for migration. Ultimately the discussion does not really work out, because Davutoglu does not come to Brussels due to the attacks in Ankara. Nevertheless, for the first time the leaders discuss Turkey’s “one-for-one”-wish. At Merkel’s request, an additional EU-Turkey summit is held on 7 March. She wants a breakthrough before the federal state elections of 13 March.

On Thursday, 3 March, Samsom airs his frustration in the Volkskrant. The PvdA fears that the momentum has evaporated for his plan because the EU and Turkey are waiting for each other. As a sign of “good will” the EU should take already at least 400 refugees per day from Turkey. Zijlstra immediately strikes the idea down: “First the zero, then the exchange, otherwise we are doubly screwed,” says Zijlstra.

The piece from de Volkskrant leads to a roaring argument between Samsom and Rutte. On the phone, the prime minister accuses his coalition partner that his timing is (again) disastrous. Ankara doesn’t do anything with the goodwill gesture, says Rutte. Wait and pull is his motto. Emotions are running high. “Screw it then!” Samson shouts through his mobile phone to Rutte. Before he hangs up, he calls on the prime minister to take the offer, if the Turks come up with one. The quarrel between Samson and Rutte is settled again quickly. The two call each other for weeks “almost every fifteen minutes”, says an official.

That Samsom says this just that Thursday is no coincidence. He knows – from Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative – that Ankara wants to move. Knaus, the man of the Merkel/Samsom Plan, has excellent contacts in Ankara, Berlin and Brussels. Tusk and European Commissioner Frans Timmermans also visit the Turkish Prime Minister in Ankara that afternoon. A little pressure won’t hurt, Samsom says.

Davutoglu makes an interesting offer to Tusk and Timmermans: he is willing to take back all economic migrants who arrive via Turkey into Greece. That would nearly halve the flow of refugees. The news gets a prominent place the next day. When Tusk and Timmermans ask if there is anything more to get, they get no for an answer.

The Ankara club also dines in Ankara that evening. There the atmosphere is quite different: the Turkish officials seem indeed willing to discuss matters further. Taking back Syrian refugees is explicitly discussed. “We will come up with a new proposal soon,” the Turks promise. Late in the evening Rutte receives a text message from one of his officials: the door with the Turks is opening, definitely try to get more.

 

THE BREAKTHROUGH

Turkish pizza for Merkel and Rutte

Sunday midday on 6 March the EU ambassadors in Brussels go once again through the final declaration for the EU-Turkey summit the following day. Everything is in it: Turkey takes the economic migrants back, the NATO mission in the Aegean can begin. Around 5 o’clock everyone goes home happy. “Prepared according to the handbook,” says an EU official about the summit on Monday.

The Dutch EU Ambassador Pieter de Gooijer and his German counterpart, however, do not go home. Another meeting awaits them, one that will put everything upside down.

Davutoglu has invited Merkel for coffee Sunday evening at the Turkish EU embassy in Brussels, Avenue des Arts. Merkel asks whether Rutte will come along, after all he is EU president and the two are pulling together for weeks now on the refugee crisis. Some Dutch officials mix up their names to “Ruttel and Merke”, so close is the bond.

The expectations on the Dutch side are low. “Relationship management” is what Rutte is told to do during coffee with Davutoglu; especially hold him to what is included in the draft final declaration. Rutte and Merkel come with small delegations, five men, the Turks welcome them with about 40 employees. “It was a bazaar,” recalls one participant. “Everyone ran into each other. I soon dropped our idea of a short session in a small context.” When Davutoglu arrives a little after 21 o’clock – he comes with some delay from Tehran – he immediately proposes a conversation just among the leaders.

The Dutch and German officials withdraw. Ambassador De Gooijer ends up by chance in the Turkish delegation room. “It is taking a long time”, he says after 20 minutes to the Turkish Ministers of Foreign and European Affairs. “More will come”, they answer. What then?, de Gooijer asks carefully. “Syrians” is the answer. “Take them back.” Then the ministers keep their mouth shut.

In the large meeting room on the street side, Davutoglu submits a paper for Merkel and Rutte: one page with twelve points, five for Turkey, seven for the EU. It is stated in clumsy English. The last changes were made during the flight from Tehran, then it had to be printed, which was not possible on the plane. Davutoglu offers to take back all refugees, exactly what Merkel, Rutte and the Ankara club want. But it has a hefty price: instantly 6 billion for the reception of refugees; for every Syrian Turkey takes back from Greece, Europe resettles one from Turkey; on 1 June lifting of visa requirements for Turks traveling to Europe; on 1 July opening of new policy areas (chapters) in the negotiations on Turkey’s EU membership.

After half an hour Merkel and Rutte come out. A joint delegation meeting of Germany and the Netherlands follows. Merkel and Rutte sit on one side of the table, officials on the opposite. The official language is English. Merkel takes the floor first and talks about a breakthrough. She is, albeit cautious, enthusiastic. Rutte – jacket off – calls the Turkish proposal a surprise and a turning point.

Some officials are perplexed, react in disbelief, searching for the viper in the grass. But often there is none. Davutoglu waits and so Merkel and Rutte work through the text point by point. Virtually all the criticism erupting on the proposal in the days after is already on the agenda: Are the rights of refugees guaranteed? Where does the money come from? Where does it go? What happens to the conditions for abolishing the visa requirements? What “additional chapters” can be opened without political damage?

A Dutch official sends a text message to a colleague in the European Commission: “Are you still awake? Need your help.” The Commission person is already sleeping. When he reads the message the next morning, he immediately knows what it is about. “The cake was there, even the icing, what comes now is a beautiful cherry.”

Around midnight, a Turkish official pokes his head around the corner: how long will the delegation’s consultation last? Fifteen minutes later, Rutte and Merkel join Davutoglu, a bit later the officials come. For hours the Turkish proposal is negotiated. Rights, money, visas – it’s pushing and pulling. At half past two Davutoglu has food brought in: Turkish pizza.

At 3 o’clock Davutoglu thinks it is enough. “The problems are obvious,” he says. “Let our advisors now continue.” He, Merkel and Rutte leave for their hotel. Led by the Dutch top official Jan Willem Beaujean – permanent member of the Ankara club – consultants bicker until five hours later. The Turkish delegation is trying to cram in new demands. Beaujean cuts it off: “That was not what our bosses agreed upon.”

Afterwards de Gooijer sends a text message to Piotr Serafin, cabinet chief of Tusk: “It looks different. Meeting as soon as possible!”

Monday morning, 7 March. It is early day for the Dutch and German delegations. They realize that the news about a new deal will strike as a bomb. Not only because it is far reaching and controversial, but because 26 other heads of government, Tusk and Juncker did not expect this at all. “They had an invitation to a different party”, says a diplomat.

Around 8 am de Gooijer and Beaujean walk to the Justus Lipsius building for consultation with Serafin, Martin Selmayr (the right hand of Juncker) and two senior officials from the European civil service. “It was a how-do-I-tell-it-to-my-mother talk,” said one of those present. The two officials sniff: their carefully constructed “choreography” for the summit lies in ruins. Serafin is silent. He thinks about his boss who knows nothing and soon has the EU summit to lead. He also thinks of the unprecedented opportunities that are on the table. Selmayr listens carefully and then uses the word “game changer”. It is the Commission’s message that day.

It is 9 pm when Merkel and Rutte sit around the table with Tusk and Juncker. They explain the plan. Rutte praises “Donald” for his outstanding work. “Without your efforts, this would not have been possible.” Tusk speaks of a “disruptive, very uncomfortable proposal that is too promising to ignore”. Juncker hesitates, especially on the enforceability.

What follows is “Code Red,” as one official puts it: to do everything so that the frustration and annoyance of the now arriving – and waiting – leaders is restricted to a minimum. Merkel rushes to French President Francois Hollande. Rutte takes care of the Greek and Cypriot prime ministers, key players in the refugee settlement.

As expected, a storm of criticism rages over Merkel and Rutte. Their colleagues speak of a “robbery” and “sell-out”, warn against millions of visa-free Turkish tourists and against Turks in general (the Bulgarian Prime Minister: Never trust a Turk). Rutte and Merkel listen and explain, but also ask their colleagues: What is your alternative?

Diederik Samsom is in Brussels that day, for consultations with his Socialist colleagues. He smiles broadly: the ball is rolling in the direction desired by him. In the afternoon the Dutch delegation is bursting into the Justus Lipsius building: Rutte is there, Merkel, Hollande, David Cameron, Alexis Tsipras, EU Foreign chief Federica Mogherini and Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades. The Cypriot vetoes the Turkish demand to open five “enlargement chapters” that Cyprus had frozen earlier. Dutch-German pressure leads nowhere. Anastasiades knows he can never come home if he says yes. It would be the destruction of the promising talks on reunification for his island – the opportunity of this century. “The unity of Cyprus is above that of the EU”, the Cypriots lets us know.

Only in the evening does Davutoglu join. He negotiates for hours with Merkel, Rutte, Tusk and Juncker on a new text, the basis for an agreement. The tension sometimes runs high, Juncker and Tusk smoking. Davutoglu complains that EU leaders delay their promised billions. Again it is late, again there is pizza, Italian this time.

Around one o’clock in the morning there is a compromise outlined; a total agreement was not possible yet. The billions for Turkey come later, the visa freedom shifts from early to late June, the rights of refugees are not yet insured, but the core of the proposal launched Sunday night remains: Turkey takes back all migrants. In ten days, in accordance with the deadlines set by Tusk and Rutte, the agreement must be signed.

“We now have a week to save the reunification of Cyprus and to rewrite the Geneva Convention,” an EU official notes cynically. Tusk takes over the lead from Merkel and Rutte and travels to Nicosia on Tuesday, 15 March. He assures Anastasiades that his island will not be sacrificed on a Turkish chopping block. “Cyprus is not for sale,” Tusk announces indoors. In his pocket he has a solution to the controversial five chapters demanded by Ankara. Turkey gets another chapter, number 33, which deals with how Turkey – if it ever becomes a member of the EU – should contribute financially to the Union. “A completely empty gesture,” said an EU official.

Then Tusk flies to Ankara. After his meeting with Davutoglu, Tusk says that there is still a lot of work to be done.

At midday on Thursday, 17 March, the EU leaders arrive in Brussels for their spring summit. During dinner they give Tusk and Rutte a mandate to negotiate with Davutoglu the next day. Hard conditions: hands off Cyprus; no cheating with the visa requirements; no infringement on the rights of refugees. Before the meeting closes, Tusk calls on all leaders to cancel any separate agreements with Davutoglu. He does not feel like new surprises.

In the morning of Friday, 18 March, Tusk, Juncker, Rutte and Davutoglu sit around the table once again. During the first round of talks, the Turkish Prime Minister puts everything up for discussion; his interlocutors are afraid of a new night-time summit. Panicked tweets continue to appear on Saturday. But from the second round it goes in a straight line towards the agreement. Tension hardly arises. The only hassle arises when Davutoglu pulls at the Belgian authorities that allow PKK supporters to demonstrate in Brussels.

A little before five in the afternoon Tusk tweets: “Unanimous support for the EU-Turkey deal.” The hook, which Rutte on 17 December nailed to the wall, supports the agreement; Turkey takes the migrants back, may close borders, must guard borders. The turnaround in asylum policy is a fact. “This was the easiest part of the deal,” an EU official notes blithely. “Now comes the execution.”

Marc Peeperkorn

 

 

Filed under: Netherlands,Refugees — Gerald @ 4:32 pm
30 March 2016

Interesting interview in Dutch daily paper NRC with the leader of the Labour Party, Diederik Samsom. He was one of the key players persuading the Dutch EU presidency and his coalition partner Mark Rutte to back the Merkel Plan and talks with Turkey … and thus it became the Samsom plan as well. Samsom explains how this happened, and what should happen next. 

The original interview (in Dutch) is here: http://www.nrc.nl/next/2016/03/29/ik-verzoen-me-met-de-schade-het-resultaat-is-bi-1604109

 

“I reconcile myself to the damage, the result is in ‘

Interview with Diederik Samsom

(translation ESI)

Samsom called the European agreements to stem the flow of migrants across the sea “hard and humane”. The Labour leader looks back at his role in the deal with Turkey and at the fierce criticism he received for it.

From our editors Stéphane Alonso and Annemarie Kas, The Hague.

Reach your goal, reap no appreciation. The recently concluded refugee deal with Turkey has, politically, cost PvdA (Party of Labour) leader Diekerik Samsom more than it brought him for now.

His appeal to start with an ‘air bridge’ from Turkey angered his coalition partner VVD and his proposal to send refugees back to Turkey is opposed by humanitarian organizations and legal experts. Now there is a deal with precisely these two elements: fewer illegal migration (return) in exchange for more legal migration (airlift). This should discourage refugees to make the dangerous crossing and at the same time offer them a safe alternative in Turkey. “Hard and humane,” Samsom calls the agreement.

What role did Samsom actually play in this story? According to Gerald Knaus of the think tank European Stability Initiative he was “very important”. Knaus is the spiritual father of the deal. But his ideas, he says, only took off when Samsom and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made them political.

Next weekend Samsom will go to Lesbos to see how, and if, the agreement is being implemented. The challenge is enormous: from the 20th of March refugees are no longer allowed to travel on to the Greek mainland, but the first readmissions are schedule for around the 4th of April. The administration is now preparing for the new procedure. However, aid agencies withdrew last week because shelters on the Greek islands are said to be turned into ‘detention centers’.

 

SAMSOM

 

Do you understand that aid agencies have withdrawn their support?
“I do not understand what it is that they no longer want to be a part of. Aid organizations were not involved in the asylum procedure and neither should they be. They help and support the refugees. I am sorry if this withdrawal remains: the critical eye of Save the Children is an added value on those islands. And of course the asylum procedures must comply with international treaties, that is my starting point. ”

What is your first impression: does it work?
“There was not enough shelter during the first days, but now there is work to create better care for women and children. The inflow is declining. Not to zero, but passing from 2,500 a day to around 200 is a significant decline. Whether this decline continues remains to be seen. ”

When will the EU start to take refugees in from Turkey?
“As soon as Turkey starts with taking back refugees. Ideally, the same hour, the same minute even. ”

The images of refugees that have to be returned will be quite shocking. Do you find that difficult?
“That this is uncomfortable is indisputable. But the point is that no more people drown. ”

Who still dares to cross to Greece, forfeits his chance of legal migration to Europe. Is such a harsh punishment necessary?
“That is not literally what is put in the agreements. We want to help the most vulnerable, people in eastern Turkey who have nowhere to go, have nothing and are dependent on food aid. The people who cross are still those who can afford it. This form of Darwinism is what we oppose. We are investing 6 billion euros in improving the situation for refugees in Turkey. For that reason I would avoid the word punishment.”

Non-Syrians have less protection in Turkey. According to Amnesty, Afghans are harshly deported. Can you return these refugees to Turkey?
“We (the Netherland) also deport people back to Afghanistan.”

Not without an asylum procedure. Aren’t these deportations alarming?
“There is reason to be alert. If refugees do not receive protection in Turkey, they do not go back. That is clear. However, this creates a gap and the concept falls to pieces, which is also not what you want. Turkey must therefore give everyone the same protection. This is also what is agreed upon. ”

Turkey thinks differently about fundamental issues such as press freedom and human rights. Did you sell your soul?
“No. I will not let 2.7 million Syrians become victims in Turkey because Erdogan does not behave as we want him to. We also can refuse to talk to Turkey: we did that for ten years and that certainly did not improve the situation. ”

The EU previously signed an agreement with Turkey, in November last year. The country then promised to stop refugees in exchange for 3 billion euros. Nothing came of it. Samsom realized during a visit to Izmir in December that the Turkish guards would never win the cat-and-mouse game with refugees. On the plane back to the Netherlands Samsom read the plan of Gerald Knaus: a Eureka moment. He discussed it at the coalition meeting and on the 17th of December Rutte presented it at a mini-summit of EU leaders in Brussels as the ‘Samsom Plan.”

Why on earth did they use this name?
“It was a smart move by Mark Rutte, directed at the Austrian leader Werner Faymann, like me a Social Democrat. He thought: if I say that it comes from Samsom, Faymann has to listen. Typically Mark. ”

Chancellor Angela Merkel was already working on it by then?
“Yes, much earlier. Only she put emphasis on the legal migration, while the plan only works if you also tackle illegal migration. Knaus needed someone who could take this policy to the next level. He himself was convincing civil servants, but the impact of this is limited. ”

What did Rutte report to you from Brussels?
“It was well received, but as a sort of Plan B. The original plan was still just to stop everything.”

The first time you spoke publicly about this plan, you said that people would be returned “by returning ferry”. That was perceived wrongly, also by the European Commission.
“That’s right. We could have done things better along the line. On the other hand, I felt inclined to explain the plan as well as I possibly could to everyone. ”

You visited European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos (Migration) and President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission.
“The three of us talked about the plan for 20 minutes, in every detail. I realized again how strong Knaus’ idea was. ”

On March 3rd you added something else: Europe had to start soon with resettlement from Turkey. You received strong criticism.

“Angela Merkel was just before state elections then, so she simply could not say this. It would have been much better if she would have done it, because, who am I? But someone had to say out loud that the EU wants make legal immigration possible. There, the Turkish negotiators were stuck. They thought: we do not want to be an open-air prison “.

You got Mark Rutte angry.
“Mark made a different assessment of the negotiations. He said: as of yet we are not prepared for an airlift. I do not know his definition of “as of yet”, but three days later it was on the table. ”
Thanks to your statements in the press?

“I do not know. I only know that on Thursday the cabinet still said nothing happened in the diplomatic area, and on Sunday the Turks were on board.”

Turkey suggested that for every refugee they accepted back from Greece, they could send one Syrian to the EU. Who came up with that?
“I did. Given their mistrust we had to find a way to be on an equal footing. That was difficult. Mark thought: then they will let a million people go to Lesbos and we will have one million refugees. Various formulas came along, “one plus five minus two,” it seemed like mathematics. ”

In the Parliament and the Dutch public opinion your efforts were not appreciated.

“I was not concerned with what should have happened here in terms of publicity. That was not important enough to pay much attention to. ”

You still have a parliamentary group and a political party you need to take into consideration? Elections are only a year away.
“This is all true. I am not taking this lightly. But I reconcile myself to it, because the result is in already. If you think with everything you do “I want to do this, but without damage to the party” then nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. I am ready to tell my supporters that there are uncomfortable parts to this story. That there is a limit to what we can handle as a country. That refugees should be manageable. ”

Wouldn’t it be better if you started working in Brussels, far away from the village mentality of the Hague?
“I do not see it like that. Often enough I do not enjoy my position, but this time I coincidentally found myself in a place where I could do the right thing. Certainly I was not alone. If Angela Merkel had not pulled hard, and if Mark had not been so hyperactive, it would not have been successful. Somewhere along the way Mark made this joke: gosh, I need to call this the Rutte plan, because it seems to be successful after all. ”

More here: www.esiweb.org/refugees

 

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Filed under: Netherlands,Refugees — Gerald @ 8:31 am
29 January 2016

Dutch Newshour interview - Screenshot Gerald Knaus - 28 January 2016On Dutch news show Nieuwsuur on 28 January 2016

“Is this a game changer?”, Dutch Newshour asks yesterday night, as it interviews Social Democrat leader Diederick Samsom about the proposals he presented on how to address the current refugee crisis. On the one hand, he notes, there has to be readmission from Greece to Turkey. On the other hand there has to be an effective coalition of willing EU members to take refugees directly from Turkey.

The interview is here (in Dutch). I explain the thinking behind our plan (in English):

 

A short history of the Merkel-Samsom Plan

  • 5 October: both Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung write about impact of ESI plan on EU policy debate:Süddeutsche Zeitung – 5 October 2015“Die Kernpunkte des europäischen Angebots stützen sich auf Ideen von Experten der “Europäischen Stabilitätsinitiative”. Ihr Präsident Gerald Knaus sagte im ORF, die Zusammenarbeit mit der Türkei sei die einzige Möglichkeit, die Krise effektiv zu bekämpfen. Die Initiative dazu müsse aber von Deutschland ausgehen, nur dann werde sie von Erdoğan ernst genommen, der angesichts des russischen Vorgehens in Syrien nach Partnern suche.”Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – 5 October 2015“As soon as mid-September, ESI had already proposed a solution to the refugee crisis, which in large part has now been adopted by the European Commission. At the core of ESI’s proposal is the idea that the German government should take the lead and commit to resettling 500,000 Syrian refugees directly from Turkey to Germany … In return, Ankara should immediately readmit all migrants reaching Greece via the Aegean or the Turkish-Greek land border in Thracia. Substantial elements of this idea apparently are part of a plan that the EU Commission says it has negotiated with Turkey, but there is no official confirmation from Ankara about the existence of such an agreement. Before Turkish President Recap Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Brussels this Monday, ESI continued to advocate for a “package deal”: readmission of a number of refugees to be determined in return for the immediate application of the readmission agreement between the EU and Turkey.”
  • 7 October: Angela Merkel on German TV (Anne Will) where she explains her plan:“We must better protect our external borders, but this is only possible if we reach agreements with our neighbours, for example with Turkey, on how to better share the task of dealing with the refugees. And this will mean more money for Turkey, which has many expenses because of the refugees. This will mean that we will accept a set number of refugees, in a way so that the human traffickers and smugglers in the Aegean will not earn money, but in an orderly way … “
  • 15 October interview in Die Zeit with Gerald Knaus: ZEIT: The plan that Angela Merkel will bring to Ankara comes close to a proposal you made already weeks ago – and now it became EU foreign policy. What exactly did you propose?”
  • 20 November: Articel in Der Spiegel by German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier:

    “If Turkey is ready to make a big contribution to securing the common border with the EU and, at the same time, will readmit refugees who try crossing that border, then the European Union has to actively support Turkey in return … then Germany should – in return – resettle contingents of Syrian refugees within the framework of a European effort as it already did in the case of other civil wars. The people on these contingents shall be safely brought to Europe and Germany. Instead of chaotic and uncontrolled immigration on dangerous routes as it is now, orderly and safe resettlement of civil war refugees.” 

  • 24 November: Financieele Dagblad: Nu de EU faalt moet Duitsland apart met Turkije onderhandelen over vluchtelingen (“Now that the EU fails, Germany must negotiate separately with Turkey on refugees”)
  • 5 December Diederich Samsom travels to Turkey
  • 11 December: ESI presents plan in Paris
  • 21 January: more presentations and meetings in Berlin
  • 28 January – reports in Dutch press on Samsom plan

The Guardian writes on 28 January 2015:

“The new Dutch proposal was hailed by the thinktank that first proposed a version of the scheme, the European Stability Initiative, who published several papers on mass resettlement in September and October. Gerald Knaus, the head of the ESI, said: “What we have seen this week is a race between two ideas – the Hungarian idea of building a fence, and the German and now Dutch idea of making a deal with Turkey that works.” Knaus added: “It’s much too early to say that this is a breakthrough, but it’s much better than the other ideas that have been proposed.”

EU Observer notes the same day:

“The Netherlands is gathering support among a group of EU countries for a plan to accept “a couple hundred thousand refugees per year” from Turkey, in exchange for sending back all illegal migrants that arrive in Greece. The plan was revealed on Thursday (28 January) by Dutch social-democrat leader Diederik Samsom in an interview with newspaper De Volkskrant, and has the support of prime minister Mark Rutte. The Netherlands currently holds the rotating six-month EU presidency. “I think there is a realistic chance that by this spring a leading group of EU countries will have an agreement with Turkey about a legal migration route for a couple hundred thousand refugees per year, in exchange for [Turkey] accepting back everyone who enters [the EU] via Greece,” Samsom told the paper’s Brussels correspondent. The idea is to distribute “between 150,000 and 250,000” refugees among EU countries who voluntarily take part in the plan. A first meeting about the plan took place in December, with Rutte, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Swedish prime minister Stefan Loefven, and Dutch EU commissioner Frans Timmermans. Samsom noted he has been speaking “intensively” with Germany, Austria, and Sweden “because they have social-democrats in the government”. “In the worst case scenario, only these countries plus a few like France, Spain, and Portugal take part,” he said, adding that France has been “dodging” the issue.”

We will from now on call this the “Merkel-Samsom Plan”; a German and a Dutch, a Christian Democrat and a Social Democrat: a grand European coalition of the willing. This a very promising development indeed.

Filed under: Border revolution,Greece,Migration,Netherlands,Refugees — Tags: — Gerald @ 8:01 am
Find here a first (rough) translation from Dutch of the key and very interesting article in De Volkskrant, 28 January 2016, by Marc Peeperkorn.
SAMSOM
Diederik Samsom

‘Ik was in Izmir en zag: we hebben geen tijd meer’ 

I was in Izmir and saw: we have no time anymore

The article explains how Diederik Samsom [leader of the PvdA, the Dutch Labour party], on a trip to Turkey that started on 5 December 2015, went on a patrol with the Turkish coast guard and realized that things had to be done differently. From this emerged his new plan to stop the flow of refugees. Prime Minister Rutte immediately called it “Plan Samsom”, with Samsom commenting in response: “Mark does this always very smartly.”

The article notes that it is the height of the waves at sea that determines how many people cross, “not our action plans”. He writes, summarising Samsom’s view, that “we need to move towards a system where the crossing is pointless”.

The article continues that “the district of Izmir in Turkey where refugees and smugglers meet” is a small Syria. Diederik Samsom realised that  “this is totally uncontrollable. The squares, the bazaar, the restaurants and the shops, they form a single market for illegal travel to Europe elusive to police control.” The same night Samsom met motivated and frustrated police and border guards in Cesme, opposite the Greek island of Chios. The article quotes Samsom about the island: “You can almost touch it, it is so close”. There is a 20 kilometer-long coastal road. The author quotes Samsom:

“A beautiful coastline with little beaches, with the same scene on each of these beaches. Refugees come running down goat paths, carrying folded rubber boats and luggage. On the beach, [the boats] are inflated quickly, by hand or with air cartridges. Within 10 minutes they leave. The only one that can stop them is the coastguard. But it cannot be everywhere at once.”

“The night when I was there, twenty boats left. We did not manage to catch even one of them. The following day there was a picture in the newspaper of two drowned children, on one of the beaches where I had been.”

When Samsom returned to The Hague he realized that the long-term idea – that asylum claims are handled outside Europe – had to be brought forward dramatically. Samsom elaborated:

“For me it was clear: we do not have years. This should be put on track before the new refugee season, this spring. On the Turkish coast, a kind of highway to Europe has been built. With a complete infrastructure of smuggling networks and – since the Turkish authorities have banned the import of Chinese dinghies – illegal boat factories. This attracts more and more people, especially North African men. The refugee stream will double easily.”

A few days later, Samsom was sitting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

“I told him, it is an illusion to think that if we deploy the coast guard, Frontex in the middle and if we pay the Turkish police, a solution will be found. All these measures contribute, they are needed, but they are not sufficient. The height of the waves at sea determines how many people cross, not our action plans. We need to move towards a system where the crossing becomes pointless. As long as the crossing offers a chance, however small, people seem willing to even lose their children on their way.”

The article notes that the plan that Samson put to Rutte has the charm of simplicity:

“The asylum request of everybody that arrives on Chios, Lesvos, Kos or any other Greek islands is declared inadmissible because [the refugees] come from Turkey, which is a safe country for refugees. They will be returned back there by ferry. However, Turkey will accept them only if large numbers of recognized refugees can go to Europe from Turkey in a legal manner. [There must be] a legal asylum route for a couple of hundred thousand refugees per year. Of this I [Samsom] convinced Mark [Rutte]. On the same day, he called it immediately the Samson plan. Mark does this always very cleverly, in this way we commit to each other.”

More excerpts from the interview with Samsom:

How many refugees can go yearly to Europe from Turkey?

The Turkish say 500,000, as many as possible, but that’s not going to happen. Between 150,000 and 250,000 per year …

Will EU countries receive compulsory quotas?

That was the next issue and we worked on it last month. At first you think: of course everyone has to contribute. However, we did this experiment in the EU last summer with the redistribution plan for 160.000 refugees who were already in Italy and Greece. I remember that I thought at the time: good, those who were not ready to cooperate were outvoted. No single country can block the solution anymore. However, they can actually undermine it and they managed to do so. Compulsory quotas do not work.

So it will happen on a voluntary basis?

Yes. There will be a little table with all the Member States and then there will be many empty spaces after their names. There may be 18 empty spaces, and in ten spaces there will be numbers. I am in intense contact with some of these ten because there are Social Democrat in government. These are Germany, Austria and Sweden, all countries that, just like the Netherlands, have large numbers of refugees. Countries that are convinced that the current influx is unsustainable. The welfare state, which all Social Democrats promote, will collapse if we do not control the refugee flow. In the worst case scenario, only these countries will cooperate with others such as France, Spain and Portugal. If there will be 250,000 legal refugees, Netherlands will have to accept 20,000-30,000. This is considerably fewer than the 58,000 who came last year.

So, even if only a small group of Member States participate, the number of 150-250,000 refugees coming to Europe must be respected?

The leading group that participates will have to accept this number. Otherwise, Turkey will not cooperate.

Then the rest will just lean back (and do nothing).

The risk is enormous. You could also lean back, but this does not work. Germany is convinced that a leading group has to step forward, this is how the EU makes progress. Gabriel (leader of German Social Democrats and Vice PM) said to me: ‘Imagine that we take 300,000 refugees from Turkey every year and we Germans are the only crazy ones to do this – we will still be better off than with the more than one million last year.

Thus, the countries that receive the most refugees will continue to do so?

Yes, but the numbers will be lower and more controllable. Now the refugee stream is Darwinism at its best, the law of the jungle. Look at all the men coming from North Africa. If we make an agreement with Turkey on a legal route, it will be only families coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.”

Nonetheless: you reward the countries that disrespect European agreements.

But we will lead a European project. Because the financing will be done with EU money. The costs that the leading group will incur by receiving the refugees will have to be shared by everyone, because this will become the permanent asylum system. I do not have endless patience, even Poland will have to accept it.

You negotiate with Germany, Sweden and Austria. Why not with France, there is also a Socialist government?

France is dodging the issue. PM Valls says ‘intéressant, très intéressant’ when I call and then hopes that I will not inquire further. What I notice is that the French are hoping that this problem will pass them. However, in the meantime Calais is on fire! Paris will need to participate, however, for this some German pressure is needed.

You accept division in the EU on a crucial proposal: that does not look good.

Even if everyone participated, it would not influence the numbers much, the ‘refusers’ are mostly small Member States. It is more a principle than a necessity that ten Syrian families should soon be able to go to Latvia or Czech Republic. We could accommodate these ten families also in the Netherlands, really. What matters is that big countries such as Italy and the UK participate. Receiving refugees and the preservation of the welfare state are fundamental issues. You resolve them only if you dare to look at them from a practical point of view.”

Why will Turkey agree? Now 1.5 million leave for Europe, soon it will be only 250,000.

Turkey knows that the situation is unsustainable. It is like a business deal: If you pull someone’s skin over their ears [meaning: paying someone way too much], then that is immediately the last deal. We need each other. The 3 billion Euros that EU has promised to Turkey will otherwise disappear fast.”

Turkey is not a safe country, according to the UN you cannot send refugees back there.

The developments go fast. I see Alexander Pechtold (leader of the D66, whose party supports the ruling coalition) still stand in the debate on the asylum letter, with such a dismissive gesture: who invents this, what nonsense, this will never happen. No one could foresee back then, not even Pechtold, that Turkey would give Syrian refugees the right to work, that their children are even sooner allowed to go to school before they get asylum status. We are not far from the moment that Turkey will receive the status of a safe [third] country. Then it is possible to return refugees to Turkey under the UN convention. Will this be on time? The puzzle pieces need still to be put, however, we have them all in our hand.

Rutte said in January in the European Parliament that the refugee flow will be reduced in eight weeks. Is the Samsom plan a European policy by the end of March?

I consider the chance realistic that this spring a leading group of EU countries will have an agreement with Turkey over a legal migration route for a couple hundred thousand refugees per year in exchange for the direct readmission of everyone that enters via Greece.

What is Rutte doing this week to put forward the plan in Brussels?

The same as me, but with more executive power. Rutte… spends many hours every day working on. He is very hands-on, almost un-European, where often the meeting is the message. Rutte is well placed in order to solve this problem … When Rutte sees that the time is right he will present it in Brussels.”

And if that time never comes?

That is unacceptable. Then every country puts their own fences which will become a meter longer every passing month. Then all Member States set ceilings for the influx of refugees. The result is the worst of the worst: humanitarian dramas and a still more uncontrollable refugee stream. People will not get discouraged by fences, on the contrary: they will be more motivated to pass them with all the bad consequences. Not long ago we thought people would not be crazy enough to go with their small children in wrecked boats. But they so, even in winter. Refugees deserve a safe haven but the people who live here deserve that we protect their welfare.

If the Turkey-Greek route closes, migrants will choose another way.

The flow will not disappear. Europe is a destination for life. For this we must be proud, but it has also disadvantages. Migrants will indeed try to find another way, however, this Turkish-Greek “highway”, which by now all of North-Africa has discovered, needs to be closed. Let us start with that. I don’t understand how we can put up with an illegal migration of this magnitude.”

 More background on this plan: www.esiweb.org/refugees
Filed under: Germany,Migration,Netherlands,Refugees,Turkey — Gerald @ 7:51 am
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