Ongoing Political Incentives but no Responsibility-Sharing for Turkey in the EU’s New Pact


The EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum intends to sustain EU-Turkey partnership with same old political incentives rather than new responsibility-sharing mechanisms. The Pact will thus promote securitisation in the Mediterranean without generating meaningful change.

Border Patrol Seen Against the Turkish Coast, Chios, 4 June2016
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Border Patrol Seen Against the Turkish Coast, Chios, 4 June 2016

This commentary is part of our dossier on the New EU Pact on Migration and Asylum.

Renewal of Old Commitments

Due to its focus on returns and borders, the implementation of the EU Commission’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum relies on cooperation with the EU’s neighbourhood. Accordingly, on the day the Pact was announced, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held a videoconference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to discuss a renewal of the 2016 statement and implementation of its terms, including an update on the customs union and visa liberalisation.

Turkey’s opposition parties chose their angles: the Republican People’s Party responded by emphasising the accelerated returns, the People’s Democratic Party with a critical note on externalisation. Turkish media announcements highlighted the abolition of the quota system, accelerated deportations and the Commission’s intention to maintain collaboration with Turkey against smuggling and on readmission. While Turkish civil society responded cautiously, news agencies reported statements from international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Caritas stressing its securitised nature and the human rights violations it may cause concerning assessment, detainment and return of asylum seekers.

Responsibility-Sharing and Political Issue Linkages

For Turkey, refugee resettlement is the most direct and sustainable responsibility-sharing mechanism. To maintain its claim for resettlement, and despite international pressure, Turkey maintains the geographical limitation clause of the 1951 Geneva Convention, whereby non-European individuals under international protection cannot be granted refugee status in Turkey and will be hosted temporarily until they are granted resettlement in a third country.

Despite its significance, this Pact lacks concrete assurances for refugee resettlement from third countries and offers limited financial and technical assistance for the relocation within the EU. It abolishes the quota system and vaguely suggests that the Commission will “invite” member states to make pledges. Additionally, the Pact introduces “returns sponsorship” as an alternative or additional form of solidarity. Accordingly, member states may show solidarity through both or either.

This option for solidarity through return sponsorships increases the significance of the EU’s external dimension, whose most significant policy tool is the readmission agreements. In the EU-Turkey relationship, the tools of externalisation were founded upon negotiations on political issue linkages, not sustainable responsibility-sharing mechanisms. The links established between visa liberalisation and financial assistance for Turkey and the implementation of EU measures to prevent irregular migration have been the most prevalent of these.

The Pact reintroduces visa liberalisation for third countries as a carrot for good cooperation. However, for Turkey, its reliability as an incentive has been declining as an unfulfilled commitment initiated in 2005, included in the 2013 readmission agreement and then in the 2016 statement, without any concrete steps taken. While the financial incentives are still relatively reliable, the project-based nature of the assistance in the 2016 deal received criticism from the Turkish government. Thus, although the EU intends to continue responsibility-shifting rather than responsibility-sharing, it will not achieve this by renewing old commitments. It must establish new, reliable and politically viable incentives in return for Turkey’s cooperation in migration management.

Intra-EU Solidarity and Externalisation

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum is an overtly politicised document, responding to the domestic concerns of its member states, with a fixation against smugglers, false asylum claims and failing irregular returns. The Pact clearly distinguishes between “good migrants” and “bad migrants”, praising the former for taking safe journeys and contributing to the host country and criticising the latter for paying smugglers.

This ignores the fact that seeking asylum is a human right which often requires irregular entry. The Pact offers legal pathways for labour migration as a means of curbing irregular migration, to incentivise host transit countries for preventing irregular movements through their soil, to keep the legal pathways open.

The Pact will not give the EU international normative legitimacy as-soft-power union. It is an attempt at ensuring the sustainability of the Schengen area and the EU itself, whose basic premise of free movement was stricken by non-solidarity after the 2015 refugee mobility. However, for any migration management instrument to be sustainable, its external dimension must be supported by a technical rather than a political approach, not only with linkages to voter-pleasing issues, but with sustainable forms of responsibility-sharing to benefit migrants and refugees.