(c) TCCI

The Refugee Deal – more risk than gain? Opening Speech by Arzuhan Doğan Yalçındağ

On 26 February 2016, the Dahrendorf Forum and the Turkey Culture of Change Initiative (TCCI) and TÜSIAD organized a Dahrendorf Panel Discussion “The Refugee Deal – more risk than gain? EU and Turkey striking new paths in cooperation”. The opening speech was held by Ms Arzuhan Doğan Yalçındağ, the Co-President of the TCCI Advisory Board:


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you all to our panel organized as part of Dahrendorf Forum and particularly in cooperation with the Hertie School of Governance, one of the most significant German academic institutions working on the EU-Turkey relations and the refugee deal. I hope that this panel will help all of us clarify the current uncertainties in our destinations (or maybe the opposite).

Let me start with Europe’s dual crises…

It is clear that Europe faces the dual crises of Euro and Schengen with the same dilemma: In the Euro case, the economic steps necessary to preserve Euro in a federalist direction are politically unpopular and meet with resistance of “populist backlash” and Euro-skepticism.

In the Schengen case, any moral and workable immigration policy will not have a democratic legitimacy; while any policy that has popular support is likely to be immoral and unworkable. Unfortunately, contrary to the optimistic predictions we are in a state of “Disunited States of Europe”.

Prof. Claus Offe has been one of the most important German and European political sociologists who was at the Hertie School of Governance until recently as far as I know. In his latest book (entitled Europe Entrapped) published last year, he describes the situation as a trap where you cannot move forward or backward and where current conditions are unbearable and the forces- that are capable of overcoming it through the institutional overhaul of the European institutions- are largely paralyzed. We share his insightful views and find it applicable to the current situation as well.

While there is still a long way for the structural resolution of the Euro crisis in the direction of fiscal union, the following tide of the migration crisis demonstrated once again the deficiencies of the European integration.

The situation is complicated by the ineffectiveness and lack of unified actions among the EU members. Newly enforced internal border controls, razor-wire fences, hardening asylum rules, the confiscation of the valuables of the refugees, even the discussions to suspend Schengen have become the “norm” in most of the member states.

This is an act of self-denial of the open, dynamic and multicultural values upon which the EU has built itself. Common responses should be in the reformist direction building upon the previous achievements of the EU, not in the direction of undoing them.

“Schengen Europe” as an isolated welfare continent cannot remain secure and prosperous if its surrounding region is destabilized and poor. Instead of closing its borders, the EU should contribute more to solve the political and socio-economic “push factors” of migration in its origin countries: The restoration of peace and the conditions of a decent life. As this is a global problem, neither the flow of economic migrants nor that of the political refugees can be curbed with readmission procedures, aid packages, naval patrols, burden-shifting strategies or the creation of buffer-zones.

The survival of Schengen system cannot be accomplished if its protection is just outsourced to the third parties. Under these conditions the proposals to stop immigration flows will be futile attempts. The priority should be given to the regularization and legalization of the illegal migration in the long-run with a new single and inclusive European asylum procedure.

The German Chancellor Merkel is right when pursuing a relatively open immigration policy given the demographic deficit of Germany and the EU. What she misses, this cannot be realized at the expense of the negative will of the European partners and to the detriment of Turkey’s European accession perspective that necessitates democratic reforms.

Chancellor Merkel visited Turkey in October just before the general elections to discuss the deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees in exchange for some concessions on some blocked chapters ten days after she reiterated her preference for privileged partnership for Turkey with the EU.

She also recently said that “there is a long way to go for Turkey’s membership” implying that even a ten-year perspective is not realistic. In her last visit this month, no reference was made to Turkey’s accession. These demotivating approaches will blur the engagements of the European side.

The issue of refugees should not eclipse and shift the axis of Turkey-EU relations. It is very important that our bilateral relations should not be reduced to any single domain of cooperation, (privileged) partnership, neighborhood or dialogue. These concepts fall short of a concrete accession perspective and are related to the relations with the third countries. Any relation model that sees Turkey as the buffer zone of the “Fortress Europe” vis-à-vis the refugees is unrealistic and doomed to fail.

The EU should not lose its normative references by behaving as if Turkey’s candidacy is just nominal. We disagree with the idea that Turkey-EU relations can continue on the economic or refugees issue without the aspect of democratic reforms. So, Turkey’s EU accession process should not be a bargaining chip for cooperation on refugees. Rather, cooperation on refugees should be seen as Turkey’s contribution to solutions to Europe’s common problems.

One of the main arguments against Turkey’s EU membership was the fear of being neighbor with an unsecure Middle East. However, as we see, an outsider Turkey is not a remedy to that fear. The best way of cooperation between Turkey and the EU on the issue of refugees necessitates an insider Turkey, not an outsider “strategic partner”.

Before leaving the floor, I would like to ask some unanswered questions so-far that might prompt some lively discussions today.

  • How can “the Maastricht Europe” as the proponent of the open economies based on four freedoms, anti-protectionism and global integration reconcile this stance with the vision of “Fortress Europe” in case of immigration, which is also a direct result of globalization?
  • How can the EU survive if it undermines its own normative standards and attractiveness both internally and externally?
  • How can we envisage the membership of Turkey to the EU if it conceived as just the buffer-zone of the introverted Fortress Europe which implies the end of enlargement?
  • Finally, in case of visa liberalization, how can we hope the removal of visas to Turkey when the EU is discussing the suspension of Schengen or the temporary exclusion of Greece from Schengen on the grounds that it does not protect its Turkish borders?

I believe that any relation of cooperation should be based on mutual trust and an understanding of common future, not just on bargaining on money.

Thank you again for this opportunity.

The opinions expressed in this blog contribution are entirely those of the author and do not represent the positions of the Dahrendorf Forum or its hosts Hertie School and London School of Economics or its funder Stiftung Mercator.