When Turkey bussed thousands of Syrian refugees to its border with Greece having decided it would no longer stop them from trying to enter the EU, President Erdogan was accused of blackmail by some European leaders. Greece, which used security forces to repel the entry of refugees into its territory, said Erdogan was exploiting the refugees for his political ends.
Subsequent events have shown that the blackmail had worked. On March 9 Erdogan was invited to Brussels to discuss his demand for more cash for playing host to 3.7 million refugees, and, although no agreement was reached, a summit was arranged in Istanbul, a week later. This could not take place because of the coronavirus but there was a video call in which France’s president, Germany’s chancellor and the British PM discussed the refugee issue with Erdogan.
Humanitarian assistance for Idlib and the refugee issue were on the agenda said the Turkish presidency, while President Macron’s office said there was a convergence of views on the need to step up humanitarian aid for Idlib. On the refugee issue and relations with the EU a number of clarifications were sought from Erdogan by the European leaders, said Macron’s office. Ankara it was reported, hoped there would be a deal on the refugees by next week’s EU summit.
The deal had been on the cards. Even when there were clashes on the Greece-Turkey border and the President of the European Commission visited the area to express EU solidarity with Greece, Chancellor Angela Merkel was speaking of the need for talks with Turkey. It could be said that the blackmail had produced a result, but the reality was that the EU was ready to seize the opportunity to improve relations with Turkey after Erdogan’s falling out with the Russian Federation over Idlib.
Having failed to secure any concessions from President Putin on Idlib, Erdogan had used the refugees to secure more cash from the EU, which he claimed still owed about half of the €6bn it had agreed to pay Turkey for keeping the refugees on its soil. The EU, together with Nato, sees this as an opportunity to pull Turkey out of Putin’s clutches and Erdogan has been a master at playing one side against the other.
Greece, meanwhile, had welcomed the Erdogan-Merkel-Macron-Johnson summit. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told The Guardian in an interview, it was an opportunity to “set the record straight,” and he did not object to the agreement on the refugees being improved. He said Erdogan would eventually accept that “there is a win-win solution going forward, that we need to go back to the agreement, improve it in certain aspects.”
Erdogan will most probably get what he wants from the EU, which could lead to improved relations between Turkey and Greece that would be good for both.