Europe in the World

Europe's refugee/migrant crisis: can 'illiberal' Turkey save 'liberal Europe' while helping Syrian refugees?

19 February 2016
Kemal Kirişci (TUSIAD Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution)



Turkish democracy today has lost much of its shine. As the Turkish government continues to backtrack on reforms and infringe on basic freedoms, the country is beginning to look more and more like an ‘illiberal democracy’ at best. Ironically, as one of the most important destination and transit countries for Syrian refugees, it is also still uniquely positioned to help the EU deal with the current refugee crisis. In November 2015, the EU and Turkey signed a Joint Action Plan to better manage the situation, but both parties have fallen short of their promises. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the biggest supporters of closer EU-Turkey cooperation, had hoped that this would allow for the refugees to be admitted into Europe in a more controlled and orderly manner. But it seems she is standing alone in a Europe that is becoming increasingly more hostile towards newcomers, drifting further and further from the liberal values it stands for. In this Policy Brief, Kemal Kirişci discusses the ways in which Turkey, Germany and the EU in general could all benefit from closer cooperation on this issue: “With the right frame of mind and will, the current ‘illiberal Turkey’ could indeed help ‘liberal Europe’. In the long run this would be a ‘win-win’ for Germany, Turkey, and the EU – but most importantly, for the Syrian refugees.”

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Researcher in EU energy and climate policy, Institute of European Studies, Free University of Brussels

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