OPINION

Beware the refugee talks

beware-the-refugee-talks

If there was one issue that would justify a briefing and discussion of Greece’s political parties at the so-called leaders summit on the weekend, that was the refugee crisis, which threatens not just the unity of the European project but that of Greece even more so.

It was ostensibly on the agenda of the meeting convened by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on the urging of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday, but the premier preferred to get into an argument with the others over the social security reform – even though everyone knew there would be no consensus on this front – rather than discuss an issue about which there was a European Union summit the following day.

Tsipras had obviously been informed of the deal between the EU and Ankara beforehand. Weeks earlier, Europe had concluded that Turkey could play a key role in stemming the flow of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and beyond into the EU, and that therefore a negotiation needed to take place as a result of recent developments. This of course strengthened Ankara’s hand. The offer of 3 billion euros so that Turkey could build reception centers for million of refugees, mainly from Syria but also Iraq and Afghanistan, was also well known. As was the relaunch of membership talks with Brussels, as Tsipras admitted following his meeting with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

On Sunday, Ankara officially secured – in exchange for good behavior – the 3 billion, membership negotiations with summits on the issue held twice a year, the reopening of chapters in the talks that had stalled and visa-free travel in the Schengen zone for its citizens from October 2016. All of this is in the framework of a “road map” that includes expectations from Turkey vis-a-vis the refugee flows and respect for human rights. Doubtless it was preceded by the necessary assurances from Athens to Nicosia.

As was expected, the deal struck on Sunday was not well received in Greece, as political parties and analysts saw Turkey as coming out the winner once again, but we still need to see how everything pans out because it is one thing to agree to a deal and quite another to implement it. Without doubt, Turkey holds the key to the refugee flows but it is not at all certain that Europeans want it in the Union. What is sure is that a lot of problems will arise along the way. For us, the big issue is the meeting between Athens, Berlin and Ankara that is coming up, and this is where the government will need to be especially cautious.