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 [email protected].

Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

A fresh perspective on EU-Turkey relations: still a possibility?

Examining the mutual benefits of a EU-Turkey customs union.

Speakers: Zeynep Bodur Okyay, André Sapir, Sinan Ülgen and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: October 3, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

GNI-per-head rankings: The sad stories of Greece and Italy

No other country lost as many positions as Greece and Italy in the rankings of European countries by Gross National Income per head, between 1990 and 2017. The tentative conclusion here is that more complex, country-specific stories – beyond the euro, or the specific euro-area fiscal rules – are needed to explain these individual performances.

By: Francesco Papadia Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 18, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

ΕΥΡΩΕΚΛΟΓΕΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΟ ΜΕΛΛΟΝ ΤΗΣ ΕΥΡΩΠΗΣ

Είναι γεγονός ότι οι τωρινές εκλογές λόγω της ανάπτυξης των κομμάτων του λαϊκισμού είναι κάπως διαφορετικές από τις προηγούμενες. Αλλά πιστεύω ότι όλες οι εκλογικές διαδικασίες, εθνικές και ευρωπαϊκές, έχουν πάντα πολύ μεγάλη σημασία γιατί θέτουν μια ατζέντα για τα επόμενα πέντε χρόνια και εμείς ως πολίτες καλούμαστε να επιλέξουμε τις σωστές προτεραιότητες και να δώσουμε την εμπιστοσύνη μας στους κατάλληλους ανθρώπους.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 28, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

External Publication

Can emerging markets be a source of global troubles again?

According to popular perception, emerging-market economies have not experienced serious macroeconomic and financial turbulence since the beginning of this century. This perception was not entirely correct because it disregarded spill-over effects of the global financial crises of 2008–2009, the consequences of the decline of oil and other commodity prices in 2014–2016, economic and financial troubles caused by violent conflicts and regional political instability.

By: Marek Dabrowski Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 9, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Working Paper

Estimating the cost of capital for wind energy investments in Turkey

Wind power represents a key component of Turkey’s national energy strategy. Based on data collected on 138 installations in the country, this paper provides an estimation of wind power’s cost of capital in Turkey. This analysis finds that the cost of capital for wind power in Turkey compares with the one of South-east European countries. On this basis, continued governmental commitment to current support schemes for wind power must be considered as crucial to further promote wind power deployment in the country, even if the recent devaluation of the Turkish lira raises the feed-in-tariffs cost for the government.

By: Gustav Fredriksson, Simone Tagliapietra and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: May 7, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Considering intra-EU migration and countries’ net inflows

The authors here review the latest EU migration figures. Southern, eastern, and central Europe have broadly experienced net losses in cumulative intra-EU migration, while western and northern Europe have experienced gains. Spain and Italy, however, have still experienced gains in net migration inflows.

By: Jan Mazza and Akira Soto Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 28, 2019
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
Load more posts