When the Arab Spring first kicked in, the EU’s “democracy promotion” was put to test. To our bitter surprise, words didn't match actions. The initial responses of the EU were circumspect and lukewarm. France’s foreign minister went as far as offering Tunisia French assistance and expertise in crowd-control.
A year after the Arab Spring broke out, Štefan Füle, the former EU commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, came before the European Parliament to admit that the EU’s “policy in the region had not always been right.” That was the polite way for saying that the EU policy was outright wrong at certain times.
YEARS AFTER Füle’s statement the EU still couldn’t get its foreign policy on track. In his opening statement, Jean-Claude Juncker, the new president of the European Commission, noted in regard to the Middle East that the EU “cannot be satisfied with how our common foreign policy is working at the moment.”
As the conflict in Syria escalated, the EU role came into light whenever a boat carrying desperate refugees capsized in the Mediterranean Sea sending dead bodies to the shores of Italy.
In October 2013, a boat carrying more than 500 refugees, mostly from Syria, sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa. The tragic incident highlighted the need for the EU to take action – and that’s exactly what it did.
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"That was the polite way for saying that the EU policy was outright wrong at certain times"
But Brussels didn't mobilize its resources to help bring an end to the conflict, it didn't organize a humane migration scheme to better manage the flow of immigrants and refugees and share the burden with Syria’s neighbours. Instead, the EU decided to do something else.
Two months after the Lampedusa tragedy, in December 2013 the EU and Turkey signed a “Readmission Agreement”. The agreement would enable the EU countries, in the words of EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, “to swiftly return persons who are irregularly residing on their territories (to Turkey).”
On the same day the EU signed the Readmission Agreement, it initiated the EU-Turkey Visa liberalization dialogue. The dialogue will lead to visa-free travel of Turkish nationals to the EU territories. The EU linked the liberalization of visas for Turks wishing to enter the EU to the “full and effective implementation of the Readmission Agreement.”
IN ORDER TO have the effective implementation, the Turkish authorities are asking Syrians residing in Turkey to register with residency centers where they are also asked to give their data including fingerprints, so once those fingers land in Europe, they would be sent back to Turkey.
Commenting on the Agreement, Turkish president Mr Erdogan said, “We are not a country that is a burden (to the EU) but one that takes away its burdens.”
The Readmission Agreement is unlikely to have a major impact on the refugees’ influx into the EU since only a minority of those refugees comes through Turkey. However, the Agreement reflects the disinterest of the EU to engage and share the burdens of its neighbourhood, as Mr Erdogan straightforwardly put it.