MICHAEL BURLEIGH: The EU’s migrant €6bn deal with Turkey’s despot isn’t just shabby – it’s terrifying
After some political dust-up or another, David Cameron may occasionally wish he could send riot police into the offices of the Daily Mail and have the Editor dragged out.
Of course, he would never be allowed such an appalling abuse of power, yet that is exactly what another national leader — one with pretensions to join the EU — has just done.
Last Friday, an edict from the Turkish courts — with the blessing of the all-powerful President Recep Erdogan — saw police storm into Turkey’s biggest-selling daily paper and use tear gas as they rounded up the staff.
The reason? The paper had run disobliging stories about the despotic premier, such as a focus on the £400 million he has spent on a 1,000-room ‘White Palace’ for his own use, or the fact that a radio DJ was arrested for insulting the president on Twitter.
But then there is a statute in Turkey called Article 299 which decrees that insulting the head of state is an offence.
Which is why a schoolteacher was sentenced to almost a year in prison for making a rude hand gesture at a political rally, and a former Miss Turkey was prosecuted for ‘insulting’ the leader by posting a satirical poem online.
Meanwhile, opposition satellite television stations have been taken off air and 20 journalists jailed. It may sound like a banana republic as portrayed in a far-fetched Hollywood film, but this is the reality of life in a nation which is this week in the process of blackmailing the entire European Union.
In short, Erdogan and his prime minister are demanding $6 billion from the EU — no less than £500 million of which could come from Britain — to check the relentless flow of largely Muslim migrants making their way across the Aegean Sea to Greece and further west.
The implicit message is clear: if the money is not forthcoming, the floodgates will be opened, and the social and religious fabric of Europe could be changed for ever.
Not only that, a vital part of the deal is that from June onwards 77 million Turks will be given the right to travel all over the so-called Schengen open borders area of the EU without a visa.
The effrontery is breathtaking. Yet Germany’s Chancellor Merkel and her Brussels stooges appear to have caved in to a regime whose human rights abuses and contempt for democracy should make it a pariah state, not the recipient of billions in European aid.
But as I will explain later, there are even more sinister reasons, involving the Syrian war and the rise of Islamic State, which should give us all grave cause for concern over the EU’s dealings with the appalling Mr Erdogan.
First, we need to recall that Turkey was originally promised a package of three billion euros by the EU last November, to help Ankara cope with the 2.5 million refugees who have streamed across its borders, mostly from the Syrian civil war.
Of course, the quid pro quo for those billions was that Turkey had to check the flow of illegal migrants, but four months later it appears that the Turks have made no effort to meet their side of the bargain.
Fifty-six thousand migrants have arrived in Greece so far this year, courtesy of Turkish smugglers, and corrupt police who collude with them.
Turkish coastguards also turn a blind eye to enable smugglers’ boats to reach Greek territorial waters just a few miles away.
To the backdrop of this double-dealing, Erdogan’s tame prime minister turned up in Brussels on Sunday night and invited Chancellor Merkel to a five-hour dinner at the Turkish embassy — where he delivered a bombshell.
Instead of fulfilling the existing deal, he said, he wanted double the money — $6 billion, no less — as well as that visa-free travel by June for all Turks, and the immediate opening of new discussions to accelerate Turkey’s membership of the EU.
Indeed, what Erdogan and his nation really want is the right to join the EU.
They have been agitating for it for a quarter of a century, and in the migrant crisis they see the perfect opportunity to bargain and threaten their way into the club. At a summit the next day, what the Europeans would get in return became clear.
Turkey agreed to take back every single illegal migrant in Greece, provided the EU agreed to take refugees from camps in Turkey — one for every migrant returned from Greece.
This, so the thinking goes, would give a chance to women, children and the old, rather than the desperate young men we have seen barging over frontiers across Europe.
There are, of course, huge obstacles to this bizarre plan of one for one. As we all too painfully know, most attempts to repatriate failed asylum seekers have failed.
It is therefore highly unlikely that having established a toehold in Europe, these tens of thousands of migrants will accept being bundled back to Turkey.
The fact is, even those who are legally admitted by Greece and the EU will encounter the point-blank refusal of several states (especially in central Europe, but also France and the UK) to participate in the national quota system for refugees that Germany has been trying to foist on its partners since Mrs Merkel triggered the catastrophe by saying migrants were welcome in Europe.
Significantly, David Cameron had to deny this week that Britain would have a quota of asylum seekers foisted on it by the EU.
The whole deal is a squalid mess. One consequence of this plot by Brussels to include Turkey would see the European Union directly bordering active war zones in Syria and Iraq.
That’s why Erdogan is so keen to involve Nato and the EU in policing the sea between Turkey and Greece, in the hope that they will be more inclined to support Turkey’s nefarious role in the Syrian civil war.
But more pertinently, European leaders are pretending that Turkey is just like any other state — which ignores the fact that most people in Europe do not wish to add 77 million Turkish Muslims to the EU.
Not that that will quash the ambitions of Erdogan, who became his nation’s first Islamist president in 2014. Since then, he has become increasingly authoritarian. He’s used charges of subversion and treason to smash the power of the secular armed forces.
He’s exploited draconian libel laws to crush critics and has not hesitated to utilise brute force on those who protest against him.
He has also launched a vicious new military campaign against the rebel Marxist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) who have been engaged with the government in 30-year conflict — over its desire for an independent Kurdistan — that has cost 40,000 lives.
Attempts to investigate the corruption that permeates his regime have resulted in judges and prosecutors being fired, and detectives being transferred to traffic duty in remote cities. Both judicial independence and Press freedom have been crushed.
Having lost his parliamentary majority last June, he oversaw a re-run of the election which put him back on top. Just to make sure, his supporters burned the offices of the main liberal Kurdish opposition party, and reignited the war with the PKK.
He is desperate to thwart any bid to established a sovereign Kurdish nation on his borders, so much so that he has bombed Kurdish forces in neighbouring Syria, even though the Kurds have the support of both the U.S. and Russia as an effective ground force fighting Islamic State.
Such is Erdogan’s loathing for the Kurds that he has done nothing to stop thousands of foreign jihadis joining ISIS by travelling through Turkey to Syria. Worse, Turkey’s support for Islamist rebels fighting against President Assad’s Syrian government troops has exacerbated that country’s civil war.
Such largesse does not extend to Russian forces operating against Islamic State in Syria: last year Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane which it claimed had strayed over its air space.
As Erdogan threatened to invade northern Syria, Vladimir Putin talked darkly about using tactical nuclear weapons against Turkey. This, then, is the man to whom European leaders have just promised six billion euros — and whom they have trusted to stop the tidal wave of migrants overwhelming the EU.
It is a terrifying state of affairs that simply beggars belief.