THE extraordinary Turkey-EU summit takes place in Brussels on Sunday with the aim of persuading Ankara to co-operate with Europe in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. Turkey is believed to be hosting some two million Syrian refugees the EU has decided to offer Turkey big incentives to keep them there. The arrival of some 700,000 migrants (not all refugees) in the EU this year had caused deep divisions among the member countries some of which decided to close their borders in order to stem the flow.
Faced with a major crisis, Brussels eventually decided that the best policy would be to offer Turkey strong incentives to keep the Syrian refugees in the camps it set up for them and thus help reduce their influx into Europe. Apart from financial support – some €3 billion will be given to improve conditions in the refugee camps – the EU has also offered to discuss visa-free travel for Turks as well as resume accession negotiations which had stalled. For the negotiations to resume it proposes to unfreeze five chapters that have been blocked by Cyprus since 2009. This proposal, according to reports, is expected to be included in summit’s joint communiqué on Sunday.
Since the possibility was raised last month, the Anastasiades government, very unwisely, has been declaring the opening of chapters was a ‘red line’ and would never agree to it, as long as Turkey refused to honour the Ankara agreement and recognise the Cyprus Republic. This grandstanding over the freezing of the chapters goes a long way back, with the Cyprus government taking credit for it and boasting about its tough stance. The reality, however, was that many of the leading EU member-states were not keen on Turkey membership and blocking the opening of the chapters by Cyprus suited them.
What the Anastasiades government has not understood is that Brussels’ stance has changed because of the refugee crisis and now it wants accession negotiations to be given a push. This was one of the demands made by Turkish PM Davutoglu when he met Chancellor Merkel in Ankara last month and the latter agreed. Against this background, Nicosia’s grandstanding about red lines is very difficult to understand, as it is setting itself up for a diplomatic humiliation.
What chance does President Anastasiades have of keeping the chapters frozen when the powerful states of the EU had decided to open them? What is the likelihood he would be allowed to scupper a deal that is expected to help tackle the biggest refugee crisis facing Europe since World War II and is supported by the overwhelming majority of the member-states, including those that call the shots? Is there nobody pragmatic in the government to realise that our grandstanding would not be allowed to threaten the agreement and any objection voiced by Anastasiades would be unceremoniously swept aside by our partners?
The best the government could now hope for, after making such a fuss is that a face-saving note would be included in the joint communiqué about Turkey’s intention to honour the Ankara protocol in the future. And one day we may learn that we are too small and inconsequential as a country to call the shots in the EU.