Saturday, April 30, 2016

What's That in Erdogan's Hand? Oh Yeah, It's Europe's Balls.

You gotta give him credit. Turkish strongman, Recep Erdogan, knows it doesn't matter how much he's reviled so long as he has his critics by the balls. In this case that would be Europe.

The Euros may look down their noses at the Ottoman thug but they know that they need Erdogan to staunch the tsunami of refugee/migrants desperate to escape the Middle East for the safety of, okay let's face it, western Europe. That's where the good jobs are, so they think.

And so the EU and Erdogan have reached a deal but it's one in which Turkey holds all the aces.

Erdogan is unpopular at home. Turkey stands on the brink of its own civil war. Recep needs goodies to hand out to his supporters and that comes in the form of visa-free travel to Europe.

Ankara's logic is simple: Given that Turkey is solving Europe's refugee problem, the country's 79 million people must be provided with visa-free travel to the EU, even if Ankara hasn't yet fulfilled all 72 of the conditions set out by Brussels. That's the price. Europe must turn a blind eye.

It's likely that it will do so. On Wednesday, the European Commission is expected to make a decision on whether to move forward with the visa liberalization process and there is much to suggest the EU executive will decide in favor. During a meeting on Wednesday of this week, members of the Commission agreed that if Turkey fulfilled as many of the 72 conditions as possible between now and then, that it will make a favorable recommendation. Sources with knowledge of the Commission proceedings said the number of outstanding conditions would have to be single digit in number. "The count will take place on Wednesday." So far, Turkey has met around 50 of the demands.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Merkel and other western leaders are in a double bind. The concessions to Erdogan may be their best, perhaps only hope of staunching the wave of migrants and refugees but the arrival, even if on "temporary" terms, of large numbers of Turks could play into the hands of extreme rightwing groups.

The question now is how far Europe is willing to go in its self-denial. It's likely the European Commission will provide an answer next week. "It's not possible for Turkey to fulfill the criteria 100 percent. We know that," says one German official with knowledge of the negotiations. The official says the situation will not ultimately be black or white -- it will be gray. "It's like when you tell your kids that you will take them on vacation if they great straight A's," says another EU diplomat. "Are you really going to cancel if they get a B?"

But what if there is also an F or two in there? One of the points of contention is a Turkish anti-terror law so broadly defined that it makes it possible for Erdogan to go after anyone he decides to label as a terrorist, even journalists who report critically about him. Inside the European Commission, some believe this law gives a "blank check" to Turkish security agencies to do as they please. Parts of Turkish law are also inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Erdogan's strategy is that of agreeing to many of the conditions. But he has done little in a few, decisive areas. It is a course of action he hopes will make it as difficult as possible for the Europeans to turn away from their visa pledge. When a 20-person EU delegation traveled to Ankara to negotiate the details of the visa deal, around 60 well-prepared Turkish specialists were waiting for the Europeans. They addressed issues like combatting corruption and altering laws against money laundering. For the last four days, there has even been a daily video conference between Commission representatives and Turkish government experts in order to clarify problems.

This is one case where "the devil you know" might not be the preferred default option.

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