Furious Erdogan Lashes Out, Threatens To Let 3 Million Refugees Into Europe
When reporting yesterday on the abrupt deterioration in European-Turkish relations, in which the European Parliament voted Thursday in an overhwleming majority to impose a temporary, non-binding freeze on talks for Turkey’s accession into the EU, we said that it “remains unclear if Turkey will proceed with releasing the nearly three million Syrian refugees allegedly contained within its borders as a result of the European Parliament vote.” Today we have an answer: as the FT reports, Turkish president Erdogan warned Brussels on Friday he would allow 3 million refugees to cross over to Europe unless the EU softened its criticism of Ankara.
The furious Turkish leader lashed out a day after the European Parliament called for a pause in Turkey’s EU accession talks in protest at Ankara’s “repressive” and “disproportionate” response to a violent coup attempt earlier this year.
“We are the ones who feed 3m-3.5m refugees in this country,” he said. “You have betrayed your promises. If you go any further those border gates will be opened.”
To be sure, this is not the first such gambit by Erdogan, who has previously warned that he could put refugees “on buses” to Europe. However, in the past Europe had never escalated to the point where the vast majority of the EP made it clear that unless Erdogan backs off his authoritarian ambitions, the key negotiation in progress with Turkey would end. As such, it puts Erdogan in a tight spot: concede domestically, and be seen weak, or push on hoping that his threat will force Europe to de-escalate.
Earlier in 2016, in exchange for a series of promises, including accelerated membership talks and steps towards visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU’s Schengen zone and billions in promptly embezzled funds, Turkey agreed to crack down on smugglers and to accept migrants and refugees returned from Greece. The agreement and other measures have dramatically reduced the numbers crossing the Mediterranean, but it has been complicated by growing anti-EU sentiment in Turkey and fears of increasing authoritarianism that have only deepened since July’s aborted coup attempt.