Das Interview ist hier: Spiegel Spezial “Brennpunkt Türkei” – 1/2016
Spiegel: Die Türkei ist extrem enttäuscht darüber, dass kein europäischer Spitzenpolitiker das Land nach dem Putschversuch Mitte Juli besucht hat. Zurecht?
Knaus: Ja. Wenn der deutsche oder der französische oder der italienische Außenminister, am besten alle drei gemeinsam, in den Tagen nach dem Putsch gekommen wären, das Parlament besucht hätten, ins Spital gegangen wären, etwa den türkischen Botschafter in Deutschland, Avni Karslıoğlu, der ja von den Putschisten verletzt wurde, besucht hätten – dann wäre das ein wichtiges Signal der Unterstützung für die Demokratie gewesen. Dann wären auch Ratschläge, bei der Bewältigung der Putschfolgen nicht über das Ziel hinauszuschießen, heute glaubwürdiger. Das Misstrauen der Türkei, das es schon nach der schwachen europäischen Reaktion auf den Militärputsch in Ägypten gab, hat sich durch die Abwesenheit von hochrangigen Besuchern aus Europa noch verstärkt. Und viele Türken in allen politischen Lagern vermuten, das Ausland habe entweder auf den Erfolg der Putschisten gehofft, oder sie vielleicht sogar unterstützt. Da dies bei Putschen in der Vergangenheit – 1960, 1980 – tatsächlich der Fall war, fallen solche Theorien in der Türkei auf fruchtbaren Boden.
SPIEGEL: Was sollte Europa jetzt tun?
Knaus: Die EU sollte unbedingt an der Position festhalten, dass eine rechtsstaatliche Türkei ein sehr wichtiger Partner wäre. Sie sollte aber auch klare rote Linie ziehen die für alle Beitrittskandidaten gelten – das hat Brüssel bei der Todesstrafe gemacht, und es sollte auch für systematische Folter gelten, die man in keinem Europaratsmitglied tolerieren darf. Wir sollten nicht sagen, es ist hoffnungslos, wir geben auf, oder uns gar der Illusion hingeben, man könnte a la Trump, auf dem Balkan eine Mauer bauen und hinter der fänden in der Türkei dann Dinge statt, um die man sich nicht kümmern müsste. Gleichzeitig kann man den Beitrittsprozess, so wie er jetzt strukturiert ist, auch nicht einfach weiterführen ohne Änderungen. Verhandlungskapitel öffnen, ohne dass irgendetwas passiert, nährt nur Zynismus, in der EU und in der Türkei. Die EU müsste den Zustand der Justiz, und konkrete Prozessbeobachtungen, in das Zentrum ihrer Arbeit stellen. Denn was die Türkei am meisten braucht, ist ein Ausweg aus einer Welt des totalen Misstrauens, wo jeder immer nur einen Schritt vom Gefängnis entfernt ist.
SPIEGEL: Der österreichische Bundeskanzler hat den Abbruch der Beitrittsverhandlungen gefordert. War das ein Fehler?
Knaus: In diesem Moment auf jeden Fall. Erstens gibt es dafür in der EU keine Unterstützung, aus vielen guten Gründen. Man zweitens sollte man den Menschen in der Türkei, die sich weiterhin für Rechtsstaatlichkeit und Menschenrechte einsetzen, zeigen, dass die EU nach wie vor daran interessiert ist was dort passiert.
SPIEGEL: Kann das Flüchtlingsabkommen zwischen EU und Türkei angesichts der politischen Krise noch aufrechterhalten werden?
Knaus: Es gibt in Ankara weiterhin den Willen, daran festzuhalten, allerdings ist es schwieriger geworden, für beide Seiten. In der Türkei fragt man sich, wie die EU in dieser Situation eine Veränderung des Antiterrorgesetzes fordern kann. Und in der EU fragt man sich, wie man in dieser Situation die Visa-Freiheit einführen kann. Das wurde leider zu einer Frage der Würde stilisiert, als ob die EU ihre Werte verraten würde, wenn die Türkei nur 70 von 72 Forderungen erfüllt, die die EU am Beginn der Verhandlungen aufstellte. Es geht hier um Verhandlungen, wo beide Seiten Interessen haben. Als Serbien oder Mazedonien Visafreiheit erhielten stellte die EU nur 45 Bedingungen. Vor allem aber: wem würde es nützen, wenn man jetzt die Visa-Liberalisierung vom Tisch nähme, dann die Türkei das Rücknahmeabkommen aufkündigt und dann das Flüchtlingsabkommen scheitert? Würde das der EU und ihrem Einfluss in der Türkei helfen, oder Menschenrechtsaktivisten dort? Was bedeutet es für Griechenland und Bulgarien? Bei einem Scheitern verlieren alle. Das ist keine kluge Politik.
SPIEGEL: Erdoğan hat mehrmals damit gedroht, das Flüchtlingsabkommen platzen zu lassen, falls die Visa-Freiheit nicht bis Oktober kommt. Wie glaubhaft ist diese Drohung?
Knaus: Das Problem ist, dass in der EU missverstanden wird, was wir von der Türkei im Gegenzug für die Visaliberalisierung wirklich verlangen sollten. Damit das Flüchtlingsabkommen funktioniert, muss die Türkei zu einem nachweisbar sicheren Drittstaat werden für all jene, die jetzt auf den griechischen Inseln festsitzen. Wir brauchen nicht nur die erklärte Bereitschaft der Türkei, jene zurückzunehmen, die die Griechen schicken. Ankara muss auch klarstellen, dass dort, wo diese Flüchtlinge hingebracht werden, glaubwürdige Asylprozesse mit qualifizierten Asylbeamten, mit Übersetzern und mit transparenten Entscheiden und fairen Bedingungen existieren. Wenn das nicht klappt, wird Griechenland nie einen Asylantragsteller zurückschicken können. Dann verwandelt sich das Abkommen von selbst vom Merkel-Plan in einen Orbán-Plan, wo nur ein Element übrigbliebe, nämlich das unbegrenzte Festhalten von Flüchtlingen auf den griechischen Inseln. Das ginge aber höchstens noch ein paar Wochen gut. Man braucht Anstrengungen in der Türkei etwas aufzubauen, was auch in manchen EU-Mitgliedsländern nicht existiert, nämlich schnelle und glaubhafte Asylverfahren. Das muss sofort passieren. Man sollte der Türkei durchaus Bedingungen stellen, und diese mit der Visa-Liberalisierung verknüpfen, es müssten nur die richtigen sein.
SPIEGEL: Bislang wurden auch, anders als versprochen, so gut wie keine Flüchtlingen aus der Türkei nach Europa umgesiedelt. Warum nicht?
Knaus: Die EU und die Türkei sollten anerkennen, dass in den letzten Monaten die Zahl der Ankommenden in der Ägäis so stark zurückgegangen ist, dass man mit der freiwilligen Umsiedlung von Flüchtlingen jetzt beginnen müsste. Und dass die erste Phase, in der man das unselige Austauschprogramm hatte, wo für jeden zurückgeschickten Syrer ein Syrer aufgenommen werden sollte, beendet ist. Wenn man allerdings dazu übergehen will, eine größere Zahl von Flüchtlingen umzusiedeln, dann zeigt sich, dass die Verwaltungen auch in den bestorganisierten Ländern gar nicht drauf eingestellt sind. Auch nicht in der Türkei.
SPIEGEL: Man müsste diese Verwaltungen also erst aufbauen?
Knaus: Genau. Wenn die EU 100 000 Leute oder mehr im nächsten Jahr aus der Türkei umsiedeln will, dann muss das jemand organisieren. Denn man muss die Identität der Leute feststellen, Sicherheitsüberprüfungen machen und glaubwürdig zeigen, dass man bereit ist, die Leute aufzunehmen. Wenn man diesen Apparat nicht aufbaut, dann zeigt man, dass dieses Versprechen nicht ernst gemeint ist. Dabei gibt ja sicherlich zehntausende Flüchtlinge allein in der Türkei, die als Verwandte von bereits in Europa lebenden Asylantragstellern oder Flüchtlingen eine enorme Motivation und auch das Recht haben, einen Weg zu ihren Angehörigen zu finden, der nicht über die Ägäis oder über Schlepper führt.
SPIEGEL: Die griechische Regierung sagt, Europa brauche in der Flüchtlingskrise einen Plan B. Wie könnte der aussehen?
Knaus: Es gibt ja bereits eine Art Plan B, der bei immer mehr europäischen Regierungen auf Sympathie stößt, der allerdings um vieles aufwendiger, unsicherer und teurer wäre als das bestehende Abkommen umzusetzen. Davor warnt auch UNHCR eindringlich. Es ist der alte Plan von Viktor Orbán: eine australische Lösung, die darauf setzt, dass Flüchtlinge die EU zwar erreichen können, aber dann dort festgehalten werden, ähnlich wie das Australien auf der Pazifik-Insel Nauru macht. Der österreichische Aussenminister hat in den vergangenen Wochen immer wieder davon gesprochen, dass man von der australischen Erfahrung lernen könne, er hat allerdings nicht gesagt, ob das dann noch mit der Flüchtlingskonvention in Einklang gebracht werden muss. Oder wo diese Insel ist.
SPIEGEL: Das wäre dann ganz Griechenland, inklusive des Festlands.
Knaus: Ja. Die EU würde darauf setzen, dass die Bedingungen in Griechenland so schlecht wären, dass die Leute aus eigenem Interesse in der Türkei oder in Afghanistan blieben. Um das zu verstärken, würden noch die Grenzen auf dem Balkan militarisiert. Statt der Türkei ist die EU dann von Mazedonien und Serbien abhängig. Diese Entwicklung wird eintreten, wenn man sich vom EU-Türkei-Plan verabschieden sollte. Die Belastungen wären nicht nur für Griechenland, sondern für ganz Europa immens und in ihren Konsequenzen unüberschaubar.
In recent days German media reported on a dispute between Turkey and EU countries concerning the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Spiegel Online, ARD and others explained that Turkey proposed to the EU mainly “vulnerable cases” for resettlement, while hindering academics or Syrians with qualifications from leaving. The evidence is anecdotal, but it made headlines (It was also on German television last night.) In fact the story appears as a smokescreen for a real problem. And the crucial information missing in most of these reports is the number of people resettled from Turkey since the EU-Turkey agreement entered into force two months ago: 177.
The EU-Turkey agreement from March 2016 has a central promise: “In order to break the business model of the smugglers and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk, the EU and Turkey today decided to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU.” And yet, it is impossible to “offer an alternative” by resettling less than 100 refugees a month.
A little history is useful. On 4 December sherpas of a Coalition of Willing EU member states met in Brussels to discuss a proposal by the European Commission which asked how a resettlement scheme might be “effectively designed”. It suggested that its aim should be:
“expedited resettlement scheme or humanitarian admission that does not take longer than 3-6 months from the submission of the resettlement proposal from UNHCR to the Member state authorities to the physical transfer of the person concerned.”
This made fast resettlement impossible. At the time ESI proposed to set up a system starting from the assumption that the EU was in fact interested in resettling significant numbers of people, since this was key to making the EU-Turkey agreement work:
“The challenge is to find a quick way to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey to EU MS. The quickest way is to leave out all unnecessary intermediaries.”
We pointed to existing programs for lessons:
“When Germany resettled 20,000 Syrian refugees from countries neighbouring Syria as well as Egypt between 2013 and this year under its Humanitarian Resettlement Programme for Syrian refugees (HAP – Humanitäres Aufnahmeprogramm), it chose for the first contingent of 5,000 refugees the following criteria: “Firstly particularly vulnerable refugees, secondly refugees with a link to Germany, and thirdly refugees with special qualifications that could be useful for Syria’s reconstruction.”“
That German programme was less ambitious than what is needed now in terms of numbers, but the criteria are interesting: and with any larger numbers resettled there should be no conflict between these criteria. An EU protocol on how to implement the 1:1 scheme from 27 April 2016 gave the following selection criteria:
“women and girls at risk; survivors of violence and/or torture; refugees with legal and/or physical protection needs; refugees with medical needs or disabilities; children and adolescents at risk; and/or Members of the nuclear family of a person legally resident in a Participating State”
In this light, where is the scandal that Spiegel Online suggests? Is the problem not rather that each refugee is inspected and bargained over, like cattle on a cattle market, which makes substantial resettlement impossible? The Commission complained in its most recent report that some EU member states pick whom they want to take from Greece, as in the case of unaccompanied minors (whom they do not want):
“In line with the Council Decisions on relocation, Member States should prioritise the relocation of unaccompanied minors arriving in the EU. Since 12 April, no unaccompanied minor has been relocated.”
Unfortunately, relocation has been a failure of process: instead of 66,000 people relocated from Greece, as foreseen, the total so far stands at 909, in a process that started in July 2015. Now resettlement risks becoming a failure of process too.
ESI recommended a daily target of 900 resettlements some months ago. For this, processes would have to be streamlined. Do refugees pose security threats? Are they vulnerable, or families with children? Do they have relatives in the EU? Whether they have specific qualifications should not even be a consideration.
For this reason the media reporting diverts attention from the real problem: the central promise of the EU-Turkey deal – “creating legal routes to the EU for refugees” – is not being kept. 177 resettlements is a shockingly low number for two months. The key policy question should be when/if the EU will announce that it is preparing to act in accordance with provision four of the agreement. This stated:
“Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or at least have been substantially and sustainably reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated. EU Member States will contribute on a voluntary basis to this scheme.”
The numbers crossing have fallen dramatically and have remained low. The EU and Turkey should therefore declare the 1:1 exchange phase to be over. And the EU should radically review and change its guidelines and practices for both resettlement and relocation.
An internal document adopted in April 2016, setting out the “Implementation of the EU-Turkey 1:1 scheme” refered to a “Fast-track Standard Operating Procedures”, which is everything but fast. Its design precludes the resettlement of tens of thousands of people within the foreseeable future. It is failure by design.
This puts reports on the “haggling over Syrian academics” in context. The real news is not that the EU and Turkey do not agree on who should be resettled, but that a resettlement process has been designed which makes serious resettlement almost impossible and which – with 177 people resettled in more than two months – has not actually begun yet.
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
– 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.
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.
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.
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.”
This is the presentation I gave in Oslo at the Aspen Ministers Forum on 22 April (also available in PDF format) where I was presenter at a session on the “Geopolitics of refugees” to debate the refugee crisis and possible solutions.
This year’s speakers included Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director Frontex, and Fabrizio Hochschild, Deputy to the Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, United Nations, among others.
The meeting was chaired by former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. 20 former foreign ministers from around the world participated, among others, Joschka Fischer (Germany), Alexander Downer (Australia), and Abdullah Gül (Turkey).
There has been a lot of speculation about the (allegedly) surprising, for some even shocking, proposal Turkey made on 6 March in Brussels at a meeting in the evening at the Turkish embassy between Ahmet Davutoglu, Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte, on the eve of the European leaders discussing refugees with Turkey on 7 March. EU Observer wrote:
“The bombshell came during lunch when a new plan, to the surprise of many EU leaders, was put forward by Davutoglu. Only a handful had previous knowledge of the plan, and only a few moments before. It appeared that the plan – the quid pro quo mentioned above – has been discussed by Davutoglu, Merkel and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on Sunday evening at the Turkish EU mission in Brussels.
A source close to Merkel now says that she discovered the plan at the meeting and only discussed it with Davutoglu and Rutte to make it workable. But for most of the participants who discovered it on Monday, she was the brain behind the Turkish paper. “Stop saying it’s a Turkish plan, they haven’t written it,” an angry official from a small member state told a group of journalists.”
In fact, the official quoted here (and many others, including European leaders such as French President Francois Hollande) was wrong.
Turkish officials had discussed ideas similar to those Davutoglu presented to Merkel and Rutte – which were public since September 2015 – for a long time; ESI reports developing these proposals had been translated into Turkish many months before; and ESI analysts have presented these ideas in Istanbul and Ankara numerous times. In early 2016 we made another concerted effort to promote these ideas in Turkey. At the end of February we sent a series of letters to Turkish officials and ambassadors, followed by more meetings, arguing that it was in Turkey’s interest to adopt the Merkel-Samsom Plan. Letters like this one:
29 February 2016
Dear … ,
Please find a short paper with ideas, following up on the things we discussed. I hope it is useful.
Those in the EU who say Merkel has to give up on her idea to work with Turkey are growing stronger. Merkel remains strong in Germany. If there is a real breakthrough in the next days and weeks she could retake the initiative in Europe – but only if joined by Greece and Turkey. This would benefit refugees, a liberal EU, and Turkey all at the same time.
One additional issue we discussed was the paragraph in the paper “Key elements of a resettlement/humanitarian admission scheme with Turkey” that was not agreed upon yet. It would be much better to have a direct link to readmission from Greece, like this:
“The Member States participate in voluntary resettlement on the assumption that Turkey fully implements the existing readmission agreement, agrees to be considered a safe third cojntry by Greece, and that it will cooperate with Greece and the EU efficiently and speedily.”
These are not subjective criteria; they would depend on Turkey – assuming that Greece is helped now to handle readmission.
It would be great to talk soon. Lets hope the next week brings a breakthrough. The key for this lies in Berlin and Ankara.
Best wishes from Istanbul,
Together with such letters we sent policy makers the following short paper with concrete suggestions:
Suggestions for the Coalition of the Willing and Turkey
European Stability Initiative – 29 February 2016
There is a dramatic loss of trust around Europe in current policies on the refugee crisis. However, all the alternatives to close cooperation with Turkey –reducing the refugee flow in the Balkans as decided at the recent Balkans summit in Vienna or pursued already for a long time by the Visegrad group led by Hungary – will not work. Failure only benefits the illiberal, pro-Putin, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim coalition across Europe.
There is a need for a strategy that:
– turns a chaotic and disorderly process into an orderly one,
– supports Turkey immediately through humanitarian resettlements
– supports Greece for it to be able to readmit people to Turkey,
– gets a commitment from Turkey to accept readmitted people speedily from Greece,
– observes international, European and national legislation on refugees.
What has to take shape in March
– A process of orderly resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey, beginning in March, of 900 a day, every day (27,000 a month, 108,000 in four months, 324,000 a year). This will continue for the foreseeable future – like the Berlin airlift, which had no end date.
It is crucial that this process begins in March. The fewer intermediaries are involved, the better. Each nation that participates should examine its own legal provisions, see how they can be adapted to this emergency, and how soon they will be able to take people. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Reach agreement with Turkey that 900 a day for a year is the target but also the minimum goal; if there are further huge waves of refugees in the future from Syria it may be extended. It is a floor, not a ceiling.
– Readmission to begin, ending the movement along the Western Balkan route in the Aegean. Turkey to commit to take back (in principle) everyone who reaches Greece after the day on which the first group of 900 is resettled from Turkey.
Change the incentives for refugees. Readmission from Greece to Turkey and relocation from Turkey will make the crossing of the Aegean pointless and redundant. The better and faster it works, the less people Greece and Turkey would need to deal with four months from now.
What is needed:
– Greece prepares where to hold and process any claims of those to be returned to Turkey.
Setting ambitious/realistic goals, in a permanent working group supported by the coalition of the willing and with Turkey present. Can Greece manage to return all North Africans immediately in March? Can it do the same for all Pakistanis? And some from other groups for maximum impact?
– Strong and simple communication: “Greece considers Turkey a safe third country. Turkey accepts that it is a safe third country for Greece. Your asylum applications will be declared inadmissible. Do not risk your lives, or the lives of your children.”
Very important: images of significant numbers being returned from Greece to Turkey; and of people returning from Turkey to their home countries.
– Turkey does not want to readmit Syrians.
Agree instead that until the summer Greece will not send back Syrians. Then, by the summer, once Ankara (and Syrian refugees) see that the resettlement to the EU is serious and substantial Turkey will start taking back also Syrians. Turkey will want to first see that the EU does help with Syrian refugees directly and in a substantial way. This will coincide with visa free travel in place for Turkish citizens.
– Greece does not have the capacity to hold people and to process the asylum claims of those who decide to make one in Greece instead of being returned right away. This has to be build up.
– Turkey and Greece need to review the protocols and practices of their existing readmission agreement (for instance: it seems that the “accelerated procedure” of 7 days for Turkey to deal with Greek claims is only applicable to the land border; the normal procedure is 75 days. It should be 5 days for every case; etc.).
– Turkey and the EU need to develop a strategy to provide incentives to as many as possible of those who are returned to go on and return voluntarily to their home countries – vouchers for North Africans and Pakistanis to fly back right after they return to Turkey, etc …
– For those who decide to then apply for protection in Turkey and become asylum seekers there: Turkey needs to be ready to deal with this. And should get immediate support to build reception facilities.
Some issues to address
TURKEY: committing to larger and faster readmission from Greece is not easy politically. The history of negotiations over the Turkey-EU readmission agreement testify to this. And yet it is crucial: no resettlement is sustainable without such control in the Aegean.
There is, however, more that the EU can do to help Turkey – and convince the Turkish public:
– The European Commission begins right away the process of lifting the Schengen visa requirement for Turkey, launching the process to amend regulation 539/2001. This legal process always lasts a few months.
But the EU should hold out a concrete promise to Turkish citizens with concrete dates:
“If Turkey implements the existing readmission agreements with Greece in full and agrees to take back all new arrivals from 15 January 2016 and implements all requirements from the visa roadmap concerning the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey until 30 April, Turkish citizens will be able to travel without a visa to the EU as of June 2016.”
If this is backed by the Commission and Germany and others, this would be a powerful signal.
This should be targeted at the two key requirements Turkey must meet:
fully implement the readmission agreement with Greece,
be a safe third country and fully implement its 2013 law on foreigners.
There is no good reason at all to either link visa liberalisation to the EU-Turkey readmission agreement (rather than to effective readmission from Greece) or to delay it until October. The EU needs Turkish support now. And Turkey should get visa free travel as soon as possible.
– The EU offers to delink visa liberalisation and the EU-Turkey readmission agreement provision for third country nationals (which was supposed to enter into force only in 2017, and was then brought forward to June 2016).
The EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement is the worst of both worlds: Under this agreement in theory everybody who reached the EU from Turkey in the past five years could be returned. (Article 2 – Scope) There is no provision that says only people who arrive in the EU after a certain date qualify. At the same time the agreement does not work, beyond what already exists in the Turkey-Greece Readmission Agreement, since none of these people reached the EU directly from Turkey (they left Greece and re-entered the EU from Serbia).1
GREECE: For Greece to send larger numbers of refugees for readmission to Turkey is a major administrative challenge. In addition, most people in Greece do not believe Turkey will take people; many (including people close to Tsipras) doubt that the EU will resettle serious numbers from Turkey. I heard this many times in Athens recently.
Due to the above, for Greece the following is important:
– Greece sees resettlement from Turkey taking place.
– The EU will help Turkey concretely to improve conditions for asylum seekers and Syrians offered protection in Turkey (as part of the 3 billion package, or through direct bilateral aid).
– Germany, the Netherlands and others will strongly oppose any talk of Greece being suspended from Schengen.
– The European Commission and major EU members will not support any efforts to build a wall across the Balkans north of Greece to keep refugees from moving on.
– The strategic (and achievable) goal of German-Dutch policy is to have no Balkans route at all. But until the readmission-relocation scheme starts to work in the Aegean, the route should remain open.
On the key practical issue of preparing for and implementing readmission Greece will receive strong support from Frontex and EU member states.
The case to suspend relocation
Putting an end to the current relocation scheme from Greece (and Italy) would make all the above steps easier to reach. It would send a strong signal that Germany and the EU have learned from the experience of recent months. What is now proposed is different (and as opposed to previous relocation, it will work).
An early suspension of this would achieve other positive effects:
– The limited Greek administrative capacities are better focused on preparing for readmission – the same is true for technical help to Greece.
– This would make it easier to enlarge the Coalition of the Willing. Every country should be invited to take voluntarily at least the same number of Syrian refugees from Turkey as they would have taken from Greece.
So was the breakthrough on 6 March also a surprise for us? Yes, it was.
Since September 2015 ESI had argued – in presentations and meetings – that Turkey should offer to take back everyone who reaches Greece and that in in return the EU should resettle substantial numbers of refugees directly from Turkey. However, by early March we had concluded that Turkey was not in fact prepared to take back Syrians before summer 2016 and before there was serious resettlement and visa liberalisation was within reach. It was a surprise for us, therefore, to learn that on 6 March Turkey was ready to embrace the whole Merkel-Samsom Plan immediately … a bold move by the Turkish prime minister.
What was not a surprise at all was the fact that in return Turkey would demand that visa liberalisation be realised before summer 2016 … we had been arguing for this for months already in every one of our meetings in Ankara and Istanbul.
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
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’.
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. ”
EU-Turkey deal and the future of asylum – Part One
On 18 March, the European Union and Turkey reached an agreement, calling for “swift and determined efforts” to stop irregular migration in the Aegean. EU member states also asked the European Commission “to coordinate all necessary support for Greece.”
Ten days later, three things are obvious: first, no credible plans for implementing the EU-Turkey agreement had been prepared before 18 March; second, the steps announced by the European Commission since then to implement this agreement are inadequate: third, if all measures agreed on 18 March are adopted now then the EU-Turkey can turn out to be the breakthrough the EU has been trying to find for many months.
As Jean-Claude Juncker put it in his State of the Union speech on 9 September 2015, this is “not the time for business as usual”; there is a need for a genuine, bold European response; and “the first priority for the EU is and must be addressing the refugee crisis.” Here is a concrete suggestion how all of this might be done.
This essay – part one in a series of blog entries – outlines what needs to be done for the credible implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement. The next essays will look at other elements of the deal: prospects for voluntary resettlement from Turkey, the visa liberalisation effort, and finally how successful and complete implementation of the EU-Turkey deal can put down a foundation for a future EU asylum policy.
The first communication sets out six principles for EU-Turkey cooperation. The first principle puts human rights and legal safeguards of irregular migrants and asylum seekers at the centre of all EU policy. The Commission states, specifically, that concerning readmission from Greece to Turkey:
“it is self-evident that the arrangements for such returns, both of those in need of international protection and those who are not, can only be carried out in line with the refugee protection safeguards that have been put in place in international and EU law.” (page 2)
The report refers to the EU Asylum Procedures Directive, which “lays down the particular legal and procedural parameters to be respected. There is therefore no question of applying a “blanket” return policy, as it would run contrary to these legal requirements.” (page 3) And the Commission points out that in accordance with this directive:
“a number of safeguards need to be respected. Having first been duly registered and identified in line with EU rules, a person that has lodged an asylum claim in Greece should be given a personal interview when the responsible authority considers that the individual falls into one of these categories of inadmissibility. This allows a screening to occur to identify whether there are particular circumstances that arise. There is also a right to appeal against the inadmissibility decision.”
The report notes that this requires changes in Greece and in Turkey. What is required in Turkey in particular are “access to effective asylum procedures for all persons in need of international protection … and ensuring that protection equivalent to the Geneva Convention is afforded to non-Syrians, notably those returned.”
There is a gap, however, between the specification of WHAT should be achieved and the vagueness concerning HOW these commitments are supposed to be realised. The section on “Practical Aspects” is less than a page long. Two statements in this section stand out:
“The capacity of the Greek Asylum Service should be increased to enable expedited readmission to Turkey as well as rapid acceptance of asylum applications. Appeal Committees should also be able to rule on a high number of appeals within a short period of time.”
“The European Asylum Support Office EASO should also be called upon to support the Greek authorities in quickly and effectively processing applications and returns, if necessary through an additional and targeted call for assistance from the Member states.”
This is a striking statement, suggesting that two days before agreeing with Turkey on a strategy which relies completely on legally sound and efficient asylum procedures in Greece the European Commission barely acknowledges that the capacities of the Greek system are extremely limited. The Commission notes that perhaps – “if necessary” – readmission and fast asylum procedures might require an “additional” call for assistance to member states.
A similar disregard for the logistical challenges of managing asylum claims in Greece and readmission from Greece can be found in a power point presentation on “Managing the Refugee Crisis” which the European Commission made available on the day of the European Council on 17 March. This presentation has 30 pages. Only one refers to readmission between Greece and Turkey, and all it says is this:
Readmission – a Central Element of the
EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan
The Commission proposed operational arrangements to make the readmission procedure for economic migrants from Greece to Turkey more efficient
The Commission, supported by Member States, should further step up engagement with third countries to ensure easier readmission of migrants which are not entitled to international protection
Turkey and Greece have progressed in their discussions to establish much more effective readmission operational procedures, including the deployment of Turkish liaison officers to 5 Hotspots
This contrasts with 6 slides on the EU internal relocation scheme (from Greece to other EU member states), which complements a very long section (almost 14 pages) on relocation in the Commission’s First Report on Relocation and Resettlement, published on 16 March. Accelerating relocation, which the Commission admits failed to deliver adequate results with only 937 out of 160,000 people relocated as of 15 March is presented as a matter of urgency. No mention is made of the fact that relocation adds to the work load of the small staff of the Greek Asylum Office, and no indication why this should now work better in Greece, when it has also failed in Italy in recent months.
Reading the Commission documents prepared for the summit on 17/18 March it seems as if relocation –invented by the European Commission and presented as its flagship project in September – continues to be treated as a priority. And that readmission is considered above all else as a task for Greece, even if it might require a bit of help by member states. This competition for scarce resources between different priorities is not even acknowledged.
EU-Turkey deal, Human Rights and Human Resources
As a result, the European Commission could not answer the obvious question raised by the EU-Turkey Agreement on 18 March: how to implement it in line both efficiently and in line with the declared commitment to respect “relevant international standards.”
How would such a policy work without a sufficient number of case workers in the Greek asylum system, without sufficient people on appeal committees, without clear and credible guidelines? This lack of preparation recalls the experience with relocation: announced as a grand scheme in September 2015 by Commission president Juncker in the European Parliament it then became a constant embarrassment after it was decided. This is particularly problematic for Greece: once again an EU policy is developed with no regard to practical implementation, which is then delegated to the Greek administration, which will be held responsible for its failure.
It is also striking that the Commission did not learn from the experience with previous calls on member states to second personnel. In September, the European Commission and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) called for 374 migration experts and 1,412 border guards, along with liaison officers from all EU member states to both Italy and Greece. As of 18 March, almost six months after the deal entered force, only 201 experts and 356 border guards were made available. Seven EU member states – Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Malta and Sweden – did not appoint their liaison officer to Greece.
For Greece this has been the worst of all worlds. It was asked to implement a scheme that was not well thought through (and that for this reason also failed in Italy), which was badly prepared, and which has never received sufficient support from other member states. In the end, however, Greece was blamed for the failure.
On the day after the EU summit – on 19 March – the European Commission for the first time provided details about the human resources needed to implement the EU/-Turkey agreement:
„Around 4,000 staff from Greece, Member States, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and FRONTEX:
For the asylum process: 200 Greek asylum service case workers, 400 asylum experts from other Member States deployed by EASO and 400 interpreters
For the appeals process: 10 Appeals Committees made up of 30 members from Greece as well as 30 judges with expertise in asylum law from other Member States and 30 interpreters
For the return process: 25 Greek readmission officers, 250 Greek police officers as well as 50 return experts deployed by Frontex. 1,500 police officers seconded on the basis of bilateral police cooperation arrangements (costs covered by FRONTEX)
The Commission stated that the necessary EU support would be coordinated by Maarten Verwey, a Dutch economist and a Director-General of the Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service. Verwey is already been based in Greece in the context of the reforms needed for the disbursement of the Greek bailout. Once again the EU defines its role as providing support to Greece through secondments of officials by member states as the main tool. Once again the ultimate responsibility for success and failure depends on overstretched Greek public servants.
It is highly likely that again things will turn out as bad or worse than they did with relocation. To resolve cases quickly while upholding high legal standards requires sufficient human resources. It requires a huge effort on the part of civil servants who have seen their living standards erode for many years already. This would be a challenge even for a well-funded, well-organised and well-staffed asylum service.
The administrative challenge for Greece is huge. The political pressure is great. Many human rights organisations are certain to attack the efforts of the Greek asylum service if it fails to deal with applications in line with the standards foreseen and reaffirmed by the EU itself. At the same time Greece will be blamed if it fails to resolve cases quickly. At the same time Greece will be left alone with most of the refugees whom it is not able to return to Turkey – except for those, perhaps a few hundred (at the very best a few thousand) per month, whom it might be able to relocate. Add to this the problem, recognised by Greek officials, that the faster relocation works, the more of a magnate for refugees Greece might become. If case of failure Greece would make an easy scapegoat. This is a demotivating and inefficient way to proceed, and one that is almost certain to fail.
A Juncker Plan for an EU Asylum Support Mission
A better way forward would be for the Greek government to ask the European Commission to respond to an unprecedented and vitally important challenge with an extraordinary, and truly joint mission between the EU and Greek officials: to launch a first fully European Asylum Support Mission (ASM) where responsibility is shared, the effort fully funded by the EU all Greek and EU officials are paid the same, work together in mixed (multilingual) teams, under a joint double-headed leadership made up of one Greek official (the current director of the Greek Asylum Service) and a former or current head of an EU member state asylum office seconded to Greece.
These two would implement Greek legislation, report both to the Greek government and to the European Commission and manage a coherent European team of officials, whether case workers, interpreters and translators and other officials. The European co-head should also proactively push member states to second people with expertise from their administrations, paid for the duration of this work from the Mission’s budget; and if this fell short of needs, they would be able to hire people directly.
This European Union Asylum Support Mission could – if it works – also become an example for future EU asylum policy operations in all frontline states which face similar challenges. It would be a practical step towards a common European asylum space. It would put more than fine words behind the promise of due process. And the people who are granted asylum by this mission would be relocated to other EU member states.
In a recent issue of Forced Migration Review the Director of the Greek Asylum Service, Maria Stavropoulou noted that the time had come for a “major overhaul” of refugee protection in Europe. There she concludes with two suggestions:
Create meaningful management plans and budgets for refugee protection in the EU as a whole, rather than expecting individual member states to do so on their own: “it makes little sense to harmonise laws but not budgets …”
The EU’s member states must start to perceive Europe as a single asylum space and work towards these goals.
The current need to improve the capacity in Greece offers an opportunity to “work towards” the goal of a single asylum space, by creating an option for frontline states to share responsibility (and costs) fully with other member states in an emergency. To paraphrase one famous European
“Europe will not be built all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements …”
Reasons to be anxious, Monday morning after the deal was made
Since Friday many have asked ESI if we are confident about the refugee situations – now that the Merkel-Samsom Plan we have argued for so long has been adopted by the EU and Turkey. We are not confident. The opposite of a good plan is not only a bad plan, but also a good plan badly implemented.
No deal would have been the worst outcome for everyone – an EU in which solutions of the refugee issue come at the expense of one member (Greece) and where the leaders most committed so far to a humane solution (the Merkel government) are weakened is not going to find a good way forward.
But a good plan that is badly implemented is little better. And the signs from Brussels so far on implementation – since Friday’s agreement – are not encouraging.
We can be confident only once the first 50,000 Syrian refugees have left Turkey on planes to Europe; and once we see a credible administration in place in Greece to deal with asylum requests and readmission in line with the principles agreed last week.
It is clear that this administration has yet to be built. Would it have been better if efforts to do so had started earlier? Yes, but this is water under the bridge. What is a real cause for anxiety is looking into the near future: what we know so far about how this effort is supposed to be carried out in the coming weeks. It almost ensures failure.
And human rights organisations? Credible implementation of last week’s agreement in all of its aspects – due process readmission and resettlement – should be the focus of anyone who cares about a humane solution to the refugee situation. This is the time for constructive, tough debate. It is the time to say “yes, but”, not “no”, or “not this but that.” It is also a time for admitting, humbly, that policy makers and officals face incredible pressures and unprecedented challenges. The reason to be critical is not to be smug, but to help steer this in a good direction.
The next days (weeks) will be chaotic. This is inevitable; after all, a chaotic situation existed for months already. What is worrying is that bad planning of the implementation of the agreement ensures that chaos will continue for far longer than necessary.
What happens in the next months will decide how history judges the Juncker Commission. The stakes could not be higher for the EU, for refugees and for Greece.
Interview in Spanish: http://www.lavanguardia.com/internacional/20160321/40582387072/turquia-atiende-mejor-a-los-refugiados-que-grecia-las-llegadas-continuan.html
This morning on Australian public radio on the implementation challenge: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/eu-and-turkey-deal-to-tackle-refugee-crisis/7262338