ANNE MARIE WATERS’ SUNDAY COLUMN
What’s Really Happening at the Greek Border?
A battle between the EU and Turkey.
Sunday April 5th 2020
For every story, there must be a starting point, so let us start with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey.
A former Prime Minister, Erdoğan has been President of Turkey since 2014. Hoping to join the European Union, he made moves towards improving human rights, but when this stalled, things began to reverse. Turkey dropped in the Press Freedom Index. In what the New York Times called “a political purge of the governing party’s critics”, the numbers of journalists in prison began to rise.
The erosion of Turkey’s renowned secularism would follow as Erdoğan began targeting women and children with Islam. In January 2020, Erdoğan made his second attempt to provide amnesty to child rapists if they married their victims. Erdoğan’s government reportedly said that the move was an attempt to “deal with Turkey’s widespread child marriage problem”.
But it is his dominant relationship with the EU that has given him much of his power – by revoking on his promise to keep migrants away from the Greek border, Erdoğan unleashed yet another wave of migration in to Europe – something he had previously threatened to do. He warned of a “war between the crescent and the cross” in 2018, and no doubt mass migration from the Muslim world to Europe would help such a war on its way.
Let’s start the EU story in 1987, when Turkey applied to become a member of the European Economic Community (EEC). It has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1949 and of NATO since 1952. It allied itself with the United States during the Cold War. However, its 1987 application for the EEC was deferred citing Turkey’s economic and political circumstances as well as its strained relationship with Greece.
Throughout the 2000s, accession negotiations went to and fro, back and forward. In 2012, on a visit to Germany, Erdoğan stated that he expected his country to be a full member of the EU by 2023.
A year later, in 2013, Germany blocked new talks with Turkey following a crackdown on anti-government protests (this seems somewhat hypocritical given Germany’s own silencing attempts that would later follow). As of 2019, accession talks have been blocked; the European Parliament suspended these in February of that year.
Erdoğan’s current relationship with the EU, and with Germany, is therefore somewhat strained, with worse likely still to come.
Migrant Crisis of 2015
More than one million migrants (the vast majority Muslim) entered Europe in 2015. The vast majority arrived by sea and entered Greece. While described as “refugees” and “asylum seekers”, evidence suggests vast numbers qualified as neither. Afghans, Somalis, Eritreans and others passed in to Europe freely and sought asylum across the continent, most notably in Germany. Suspending protocols that refugees seek asylum in the first safe country they enter, German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited them to Germany. Her government stated that “Germany will become the member state responsible for processing their claims”.
Since this time, Germany has transformed. Terror attacks, widespread rape, illegal cultural practices, have all rocked Europe’s richest country and led to the rise of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland). This party has pledged to end mass immigration and protect native German culture.
Having been formed only in 2013, AfD now holds 94 seats in the country’s national parliament, the Bundestag. The migrant crisis of 2015 had therefore changed the political landscape in Germany. The success of AfD occurred despite Merkel’s attempts to quash criticism of her policy (for example, she pressured Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to censor critical posts).
Worried about this political backlash, the EU negotiated an agreement with Turkey that would stipulate as follows:
- Returns:All “irregular migrants” crossing from Turkey into Greece from 20 March  will be sent back. Each arrival will be individually assessed by the Greek authorities.
- One-for-one:For each Syrian returned to Turkey, a Syrian migrant will be resettled in the EU. Priority will be given to those who have not tried to illegally enter the EU and the number is capped at 72,000.
- Visa restrictions:Turkish nationals should have access to the Schengen passport-free zone by June. This will not apply to non-Schengen countries like Britain.
- Financial aid:The EU is to speed up the allocation of €3bn ($3.3 bn; £2.3 bn) in aid to Turkey to help migrants.
- Turkey EU membership:Both sides agreed to “re-energise” Turkey’s bid to join the European bloc, with talks due by July.
Crucially, this agreement would mean that Turkey would gain visa-free access to the Schengen area, would receive billions of Euros, and its application to join the EU would be revisited. In other words, to prevent one wave of immigration, the EU agreed to another, and paid billions for the privilege. It’s clear that this was not intended to stem immigration, merely to provide the political pretence of doing so. Proving itself to be utterly inept at negotiating in Europe’s favour, the EU had handed Turkey its trump card.
Turkey Opens the Border
Fast-forward to late 2019 and Erdoğan threatens to reopen the floodgates to Europe if the EU and US do not do more about the Syrian crisis. He claimed that the 6 billion euros paid by the EU as part of the agreement to stem the flow of migrants was not nearly enough. He said the cost to Turkey had been nearer 40 billion. Having decided the EU had not kept its side of the bargain, Turkey opened the door, and the Greek border would soon resemble a war zone.
Chaos visited Greece and it has remained. Since the start of 2020 political diplomacy has also disappeared. In March, only days after the borders were open, Turkey accused Greece of killing three migrants, which Greece furiously denied. In turn, Greek Prime Minister Kyriákos Mitsotákis called Turkey the “official trafficker of migrants“.
Also in March, EU Commission President Ursula van der Leyen visited a town in Greece where police were using teargas to stop migrants entering the country.
Van der Leyen offered EU support to Athens in the form of 700 million euros and:
This is all the EU has to offer to a country defending its territory from 10,000s of illegal entrants who had amassed at its border in a matter of days. Once again proving itself entirely inept, the EU failed to recognise the significance of what was happening.
The United Nations, as one may expect, demanded that countries not use force and “maintain systems for handling asylum requests in an orderly manner”. In order words, to accommodate all who arrive.
Greece didn’t agree however, and postponed asylum applications.
Meanwhile in Turkey, Erdoğan states:
“Since we have opened the borders, the number of refugees heading toward Europe has reached hundreds of thousands. This number will soon be in the millions.”
Then came coronavirus. The world’s attention is focused on this outbreak and things have changed at the border to Greece. As Deutsche Welle put it “Erdogan was forced into retreat. The virus, it seems, has solved the troubling situation at the border — at least for the moment.”
The latest crisis at the Greek border is now of course the spread of COVID-19. Greece, along with the rest of Europe, has closed its borders. Some migrants however have already tested positive for the virus on the Greek mainland.
The future for Greece, as everywhere, is now entirely unpredictable. Much of the world, including the entire Western world, is on lockdown, our economies ground to a halt.
Great crisis however can bring about great change, and this unprecedented scenario will inevitably do the same.
The world’s attention is now on China, and that’s a very good thing. China is an extremely powerful country. It’s so powerful because our leaders have sold our assets in the name of cheap labour and mass production. China’s manufacturing dominance is so great that a study has shown 97% of antibiotics in the United States originate in China.
This is an extraordinary and frightening figure because as Gary Cohn (former adviser to President Trump) has stated, “If you’re the Chinese and you want to really just destroy us, just stop sending us antibiotics.” He warned against a trade war with China on these grounds.
China is also hot on the heels of the US in terms of world’s largest economy. Some predict it could overtake the US by 2030. If it then becomes the world’s most powerful military, our planet is likely to change. America-haters of the Left would of course welcome such a development, China is a communist country after all, but for the rest of us it would be a dark day.
If there is a positive to emerge from these coronvirus crisis, it will be an increased awareness and a new relationship with China. The Chinese government must be aware that the world is watching as calls for its notorious ‘wet markets’ to be banned has attracted widespread support.
China’s treatment of animals is under the global microscope, and one city has now banned the sale of meat from cats and dogs.
For now everything is uncertain, we are in a period of wait-and-see, but there is reason to hope for a growth in the demand for borders in the wake of this crisis. One thing is for certain, whatever happens now, those amassing at the Greek border must be sent home, and this ‘refugee’ free-for-all brought to a permanent end.
If we build up our borders, reinforce them, and most importantly, replace the politicians who opened them, we stand a good chance of restoring Europe.
Great crisis brings about great change, that great change will include political change.
As for Erdoğan, if Europe reclaims our borders, what moves can he make? If we no longer agree to be blackmailed by him, and simply refuse to play the game, what exactly can he do? The Greek border has been Erdoğan’s golden ticket, its his cold war with the EU. European nation-states should now bring that war to an end by asserting its superior position – it is far wealthier and militarily powerful than Turkey, it has the means to defend its borders… Europe is not without power despite how its leaders currently behave.
We’ll close our borders now and keep them closed. We’ll assert some strength and defend the continent. It’s up to us to make that happen.
Anne Marie Waters