The ordinary meeting of the European Council that took place yesterday in Brussels was almost exclusively dedicated to the ongoing refugee and migration crisis. This was the fourth European Council that focused on this specific topic in 2015. European leaders, apart from reaffirming the conclusions of the 23rd September Council, agreed to further strengthen EU’s cooperation with Turkey, to stem the flows of refugees.
This is not the only issue on the table of negotiations with this country. In the beginning of the week, a statement by the German government spokesperson Mr. Seibert, urging Greece and Turkey to start joint patrols along their maritime border in order to prevent human smuggling and stop the wave of refugees to Europe, provoked a series of reactions in Greece. The country immediately rejected this idea and called on Chancellor Merkel to stop the accountability game and focus on the solution to the problem. On Wednesday, President Juncker, speaking at the European Parliament ahead of the summit, asked Athens to rethink its position, as the cooperation of the two countries’ naval forces “under European auspices” would be “very useful” in the Aegean.
Yesterday Prime Minister Tsipras replied to President Juncker that Greece is ready to cooperate with Turkey on the basis of international law and Turkey’s accession process to EU. He called on the EU to find solutions to stop the influx of refugees and take decisions to solve the crisis in Syria. This statement was in line with the position expressed by the foreign affairs Ministry that Greece is willing to cooperate with Turkey on the basis of the exchange of information and readmission of refugees by Turkey.
Bold move or panic wave?
For those who are familiar with the Greek-Turkish relations, Greece’s position is not a surprise. Especially when considering that the area of the Aegean Sea has had a large effect on the relations of the two countries, over the last 45 years. The Aegean dispute has led to crises coming close to the outbreak of military hostilities, in 1987 and in early 1996. Even today, when the two countries have come closer through diplomatic negotiations during the accession process of Turkey to the EU, there are still many issues unresolved over the Aegean Sea.
In this context, calling a Member State to open its borders to a non-EU Member State, and to allow its vessels to enter its territorial waters, is a move indicating panic and lack of strategic planning on such a crucial and complex issue. Especially, when none of the involved partners is in position to guarantee that such a move will not have any long-term consequences.
The situation in the Aegean has been out of control over the last months and Greece does not have the administrative capacity, the financial means and sufficient human resources to effectively tackle the flow of refugees into its territories and by extension into the EU. As President Juncker highlighted, the ongoing migration and refugee crisis is neither a Greek problem nor an issue of the Greek-Turkish relations. It is a European issue. And this is the right approach that the EU should have if it wants to find solutions.
It seems that, yesterday, the EU leaders took some important decisions that can give a permanent solution to the migration and refugee crisis. The agreement with Turkey, the agreement to work on an integrated border management system that will go beyond the Frontex mandate and will make it a more operational and proactive agency, certainly are some positive steps. Because, overall, as President Tusk said on his press statement after the meeting, if the EU is not able to find humanitarian and efficient solutions, then other will find solutions, which are inhumane, nationalistic and for sure not European.