Opinion

Making the EU-Turkey refugee deal work

The EU deal with Turkey reached on 18 March is problematic, but without a deal the EU’s external borders would have collapsed completely. Now the EU needs to support Greece and increase the number of refugees taken directly from Turkey.

By: Date: April 11, 2016 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

A version of this op-ed was originally published in Politico Europe. It also appeared in Hurriyet, Capital, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Kathimerini and  Vasarnapi Hirek.

lrg-logo-politico

Hurriyet

Capital (Bulgaria)

Suddeutsche Zeitung

Dziennik-Gazeta-Prawna-2011_ok_CMYK_bez_cienia-300x65

Kathemerini

Vasarnapi Hirek

 

 

Critics have called the EU-Turkey deal on refugees immoral or even illegal, but it is an improvement on the status quo, which risked a humanitarian disaster in Greece and a collapse of not just the Schengen zone. Now Europe must focus on implementation, offering technical assistance and political stability in Greece, and finding ways to make resettlement work, while insisting on addressing some of the shortcomings of the deal.

In negotiating with Turkey, the EU aimed to reduce the number of refugees arriving in the EU and to break the business model of smugglers. The essential element of the deal is an agreement to return all migrants arriving illegally in Greece to Turkey and accept an equivalent number of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey. In many ways, this arrangement echoes the UK’s approach to the Syrian refugee crisis, which takes refugees straight from Turkey to the UK while refusing entry to those who have crossed Europe.

The UNHCR and various NGOs have announced they will no longer work in Greek refugee camps. They consider the return of migrants to Turkey to be an illegal ‘mass expulsion’, Turkey not to be a safe country and the camps in Greece akin to ‘detention centres’. Others criticise the terms of the deal with Turkey. These critiques are justified in part and the EU should take them seriously. In particular, the EU needs to improve the conditions in the camps in Greece and it needs to insist that Turkey treats the returned migrants in accordance with international law.

But the critiques fall short of proposing alternative approaches. Distribution of refugees across the entire EU had been decided in accordance with EU law, which would have made it possible for the EU to deal with large numbers. But many national leaders refused to implement this decision, and few refugees have been resettled. Continuing to accept almost all refugees in Germany, Sweden and Austria had become politically impossible. This could be seen in the border closures in Sweden and Austria and the marked gains of anti-immigration parties in German regional elections.

The status quo before the deal was therefore one of increasingly closed borders in the Balkans, in Central Europe and towards Italy. This would have provoked a de facto shift of the EU’s external borders, with Greece and Italy outside a functioning free movement zone. As a result, a huge number of refugees would have remained in Greece and other countries on the EU’s external borders – a highly unsatisfactory outcome.

The deal is therefore an improvement, but the real issue now is implementation. The priorities are to support Greece, the weakest link in the chain, and to make the resettlement scheme work.

The deal is an improvement, but the real issue now is implementation.

The EU has promised Greece technical assistance with processing migrants. It is urgent that this support is delivered rapidly, especially as the UNHCR and NGOs wind down their support. The Commission estimates that the practical implementation of the agreement will cost around €280 million over the next six months, which is a surprisingly low amount.

More important is general political stability in Greece. The return of the Troika to Athens to negotiate the terms of financial assistance should go hand in hand with a more generous approach on Greek debt repayments – while remaining tough on all the necessary structural reforms (pension system reform, land registry, public administration and proper competition policy) that Greece urgently needs to undertake. In particular, it is time to soften the requirement to drive up primary surpluses to 3.5%. This goal is objectively too high and it risks destabilising the Greek economy and political system.

The return of the Troika to Athens to negotiate the terms of financial assistance should go hand in hand with a more generous approach on Greek debt repayments.

In fact, research has shown that there are only very few historical examples during which countries have sustained primary surpluses above 3 percent. Belgium managed this before euro accession and Norway when it used abundant oil revenues to build up a sovereign wealth fund. But Greece starts from a situation in which its GDP has contracted by some 25% and in which the global economy is growing much less vigorously. Moreover, its debt repayments are to be done to external creditors. This is unique as debt is typically not held outside of country. As a consequence, such a large primary surplus would also require a sustained and large current account surplus. A lowering of the primary surplus target makes good economic sense. It is ultimately also in the interest of creditors as it improves political stability in Greece and thereby the prospects of debt repayment. The added tension of the refugee crisis makes this even more important.

Another vital aspect is refugee resettlement, both from Greece and from Turkey. The current resettlement agreement foresees at least 20 000 relocations from Greece to the rest of the EU by mid-May 2016. This is too few given that around 50 000 refugees are currently in Greece, most of which have arrived before the EU-Turkey agreement has entered into force. The process should be accelerated, not least to improve the conditions for those refugees.

Likewise, an effective start of resettlements from Turkish camps is vital if refugees in Turkey are to believe the EU’s claim that they are better off waiting there for asylum. The larger the number of people directly resettled from Turkey to the EU, the more the EU will be effective in undermining smugglers’ attempts to find new roads via Libya or the Caucasus into the EU.

The initial allocation of 72 000 refugees is certainly too low to undermine the business model of smugglers searching for alternative routes.

Unfortunately, there is still no detail on how resettlement from Turkey is to be implemented. As of Monday 4 April, Germany has begun receiving small numbers of Syrians directly from Turkey, but no further details are known regarding other EU countries. Moreover, the initial allocation of 72 000 refugees is certainly too low to undermine the business model of smugglers searching for alternative routes. EU member states need to fulfil their commitments and should increase them with voluntary relocations offers. Turkish authorities, in turn, would also like to see larger numbers leaving their country given the more than 2 million refugees already in Turkey.

This deal with Turkey is difficult to implement. However, without a deal, the EU’s external borders would have collapsed completely and Greece and other border countries would have been left alone to deal with the refugee crisis. The focus now needs to be on supporting Greece generously and on increasing quickly the number of refugees taken directly from Turkey to undermine the smugglers. Without these actions, the moral compromises made in a deal with Turkey will have been in vain.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to communication@bruegel.org.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Backstage: Reforming the European asylum system

This episode of 'The Sound of Economics' features Bruegel visiting fellow Elina Ribakova in conversation with Marc-Olivier Padis and Jean-Paul Tran Thiet about the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 7, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Saving the right to asylum

How to improve the European asylum policy?

Speakers: Karen Mets, Nicolas Bauquet, Marc-Olivier Padis, Elina Ribakova, Jean-Paul Tran Thiet and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 5, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

After the ESM programme: Options for Greek bank restructuring

With the end of the Greece support programme, authorities now have scope to focus on the legacy of NPLs and excess private-sector debt. Two wide-ranging schemes are under discussion. They should be assessed in terms of required state support, likely investor appetite for problematic bank assets, and institutional capacity to manage a complex new organisation tasked with debt restructuring.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 29, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

EU-Turkey energy and climate dialogues 2019

What is the cost of capital for wind energy investments in Turkey?

Speakers: Massimo d`Eufemia, Gustav Fredriksson, Can Hakyemez, Pelin Oğuz, Canan Ozsoy, James Rizzo, Umit Sahin, Simone Tagliapietra and Mehmet Erdem Yasar Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Istanbul Policy Center, Bereketzade Mahallesi, Bankalar Cd. No:2, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey Date: January 17, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic More by this author

Essay / Lecture

A new statistical system for the European Union

Quality statistics are essential to economic policy. In this essay, Andreas Georgiou demonstrates the existence of fundamental risks inherent in the European Statistical System. He argues that a paradigm shift is necessary and sets out a model that would deliver the quality statistics the European Union needs.

By: Andreas Georgiou Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 12, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Immigration: The doors of perception

Surveys show that people systematically overestimate the share of foreign-born citizens among resident populations. Aligning people's perceptions with reality is vital to the betterment of public debate and proposed policies.

By: Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: December 12, 2018
Read article Download PDF More by this author

External Publication

A new strategy for EU-Turkey energy cooperation

Cooperation over energy and climate issues could be one of the components of the EU-Turkey Positive Agenda. Simone Tagliapietra proposes a new strategy for EU-Turkey energy cooperation, which envisions a shift of focus from gas and electricity to fields such as renewables and nuclear energy.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: December 5, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

The great macro divergence

Global growth is expected to continue in 2019 and 2020, albeit at a slower pace. Forecasters are notoriously bad, however, at spotting macroeconomic turning points and the road ahead is hard to read. Potential obstacles abound.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: December 5, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Director’s cut: What Syrian refugees need to return home

This episode of the Director’s Cut features a conversation between Bruegel’s director, Guntram Wolff and Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: November 15, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Is this time different? Reflections on recent emerging-market turbulence

Since the beginning of 2018, currencies of two large emerging-market economies – Argentina and Turkey – suffered from substantial depreciation. Other currencies also recorded losses. Which factors are determining macroeconomic and financial stability in emerging-market economies? And what can be done to prevent a crisis and avoid its economic, social and political costs?

By: Marek Dabrowski Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: November 14, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Backstage: How think-tanks can make themselves heard in an information-rich world

Think-tanks have come a long way since their organisational blueprint was first conceived, but they have work to do in order to adapt to meet the needs of both policymakers and the general public, and transmit their signals above the noise of the modern age.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: November 8, 2018
Read about event

Past Event

Past Event

Global Think Tank Summit 2018

The public session of the Global Think Tank Summit will discuss trade and fair global competition

Speakers: Edward Kofi Anan Brown, Aart de Geus, Zhao Hai, Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, Cecilia Malmström, Catherine McBride, James McGann, Jan Mischke, Izumi Ohno and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Location: Bozar, Rue Ravenstein 23, 1000 Bruxelles Date: November 7, 2018
Load more posts