Keep them out at any cost? Reconsidering the EU-Turkey deal in light of reason, norms and rhetoric

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Keep them out at any cost? Reconsidering the EU-Turkey deal in light of reason, norms and rhetoric

Lorenz Neuberger

Ph.D. Candidate
Cluster of Excellence “Cultural Foundations of Social Integration
Chair of Internal Politics and Public Administration (Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Seibel),
Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Konstanz

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By examining the EU-Turkey deal, this study links the studies of regional enlargement and the externalization of migration governance. It argues that supply-state-centric theories may not adequately grasp situations in which accession candidates enjoy enhanced bargaining power: Due to Turkey’s strategically important position for the EU’s ‘migration management’, a revival of dialogues was promised despite adverse conditions. Arguably, the paramount objective of outsourcing border control ‘at any cost’ demonstrates the real-political submission of ‘European values’ to domestic pressures in the supply-states: An almost consensual imperative of ‘relieving migratory pressures’ prevailed over concerns about democratic conditions and human rights in the aspiring country. The present case further serves as a telling example for ‘humanitarian’ lip service payed to the aims of refugee protection, used to increase the pact’s viability. Existing theoretical accounts may thus benefit from better accounting for the interdependent influence of external shocks, internal developments and accompanying rhetoric on the cost structure of multilevel ‘games’.

Key-words: migration policy, EU enlargement, Turkey-EU relations, Turkey’s accession process, conditionality, framing

1 Introduction

“The EU […] is based on a European and liberal collective identity. The belief in and adherence to liberal human rights are the fundamental beliefs and practices that constitute the community.” (Schimmelfennig, 2001, p. 59) 

“The EU should decide whether it wants to continue its future vision with or without Turkey.”

(Turkish prime minister Yildirim, cited by Rankin and Shaheen (2016))

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, it would be rather unlikely to observe openly proclaimed cooperation between democratic and despotic governments. But ‘normal’ circumstances seem to become rarer every day. Instead, ‘crises’ shape our perceptions (Coombs and Holladay, 2009), as well as the ways in which politicians driven by a sense of urgency try to manage[1] public fears and expectations for their own benefits (Bauman, 2016). It is against this background that the 2015 Joint EU-Turkey Action Plan and the 2016 Aegean deal (EU-Turkey Statement) have to be seen: At first glance, it seems puzzling how the European ‘community of values’ could offer the revival of accession talks and visa waivers to a country infringing its core principles in exchange for outsourcing parts of its ‘migration management’. Examined in detail, this however appears to follow a well-established logic (Yıldız, 2016): In order to reduce ‘irregular’ migration to the EU, offering concessions[2] to the Turkish government despite adverse conditions was seen as the only feasible strategy for EU decision-makers facing pressures on the domestic and supranational levels. By framing the cooperation as inevitable, a far-reaching consensus for the otherwise unlikely pact’s necessity was reached. From an international relations perspective, the bargaining situation surrounding this deal arguably serves as a telling example for sensitive real-political balancing acts between rationalist calculus and normative prerequisites, to which at least lip service is paid. By revisiting the context in which the agreement was reached and providing starting points for a thorough analysis of this outstanding case, this study links the debates on EU enlargement and the externalization of ‘migration management’ in light of this new evidence: It emphasizes the necessity of taking into account the influence of both internal and external developments when assessing the cost structure of enlargement ‘games’.

[1]It is under this aspect that I use the term ‘migration management’ despite its problematic mechanical and dehumanizing connotation (Barnett, 2015; Yıldız, 2016, p. 44).

[2]As Yıldız (2016, pp. 83-85) argues, the fact of Turkey being a membership candidate may have allowed the EU to provide incentives that would be less applicable to other countries, e. g. those associated under the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). However, another question upon which this study can only touch regards the credibility of the concessions offered: To this date, except for financial support, none of the concessions have actually been made. Moreover, it might be argued that the EU only continues accession dialogues for the sake of not abandoning long-standing negotiations at all, whereby it would forfeit hopes in Turkey’s compliance with strategic aims.

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