The EU has never stood still – as its core maxim maintains, it is about “ever closer union”, after all. This is why it is untrue to present the forthcoming referendum as a choice between a change and the status quo – there is no status quo on offer, and a Remain vote will mean opting to join the EU on a journey which carries with it many costs and risks.
We highlighted some of these risks – higher costs, more uncontrolled immigration and further loss of democratic control – in our recent series on the Risks of Remain. Communicating these and other serious risks of staying in the EU will be crucial to a successful Leave campaign.
Last night, the EU itself helpfully presented yet another example of the risks involved in continued membership, through its proposed deal with Turkey.
The arguments over Turkey’s place in Europe more generally and in the EU specifically have raged for years – its position was strategically crucial in the Cold War, and is so again today; it holds the distinction of being one of a very limited number of predominantly Muslim-majority democracies; but its government has in recent times become disturbingly autocratic, as can be seen in the seizure of the country’s leading opposition newspaper last week.
The solution to this debate has historically been an uneasy standoff, and the EU has tended to put accession negotiations on ice due, bluntly, to popular opposition to letting a Muslim-majority country into the EU, particularly in countries such as Austria and France.
Now, though, Ankara has the EU over a barrel. The chaos caused by the migration crisis has spread from the streets into the corridors of the EU institutions, which suddenly find that all their high-flown rhetoric about Schengen, free movement and abolishing internal borders counts for very little in practice. Turkey has realised the obvious: that it can demand a high price for its co-operation in stopping refugees and other migrants crossing the Aegean, or failing that it can extort a high price by threatening to effectively wave even more migrants through.
Erdogan is not known for passing up opportunities to get what he wants, and he has grabbed the chance eagerly. The draft deal, hammered out with the full backing of Angela Merkel, proposes that:
- Turkey receives an additional €3 billion in aid from the EU;
- Turkey will accept all migrants who are intercepted trying to cross the Aegean to Greece;
- For every one migrant turned back in this way, the EU will accept and resettle another direct from Turkey;
- In return, the EU will grant all Turkish citizens visa-free access to the Schengen zone by June, and reopen the stalled talks on Turkish accession to the EU.
How the one-for-one deal on migrants will turn out is the first interesting point. Donald Tusk declared “the days of irregular migration to Europe are over”, a remarkable statement that could one day ring as hollow as George W. Bush’s claim in 2003 that the US had “prevailed” in the Iraq War.
It is undoubtedly preferable to take migrants from camps in a controlled way – Britain’s policy since last year – rather than simply acquiescing to hugely dangerous illegal migration, which was Merkel’s original approach. But it remains to be seen whether this actually reduces the flow of boats to Greece. Under this scheme, Turkey wouldn’t have any incentive to stop the boats at their point of origin, given that any which depart would either directly take migrants off Ankara’s hands or, if intercepted, the EU will merrily take an equal number off Turkey’s hands anyway. If the boats continue to come, then the EU would have to accept a potentially vast number of migrants.
This is a reminder of the disastrous failure of the EU’s migration policies. We may not be a Schengen member, but we still gave up control of our immigration policy to Brussels, and Brussels is proving singularly incapable of managing the main issue in 21st century migration.
The price to be paid in return for the agreement is the real sting in the tail, though, highlighting the further costs of remaining in the EU.
First, there is an instant cash cost to Britain – our direct aid payments will double from £250 million to £500 million, and we may also be liable to fund part of the cost of Turkey taking back returned migrants. As David Davis argues in The Times, this is effectively a bailout of the failing Schengen Zone, even though we wisely chose not to be part of it. Yet again, British taxpayers bear the cost of failing EU policies.
Second, the reopening of Turkish accession talks raises the prospect of yet more longer term costs for Britain. We are already the second largest net contributor to the EU budget. The arrival of a very large, very poor new member would mean billions upon billions in subsidies and grants flowing from our pockets to Turkey.
Third, the extension of visa-free access to Schengen to every single Turkish citizen undermines the pro-EU campaign’s claim that remaining is good for security. This proposal is effectively for free movement of people between Calais and the extremely porous border between Turkey and Syria. Terrorists travel from Turkey into Syria with relative ease – others travel back again. How confident can we feel that there are no dangerous individuals among the 75 million people who would gain visa-free access to Schengen in June, allowing them to come right to our doorstep? Preventing terrorists from getting into our country is hard enough – this would make it even more difficult, and present those who wish us ill even more opportunities.
The deal itself is set to be agreed in just over a week. Some member states may have doubts, but Angela Merkel backs it and she remains the most powerful EU politician. Even if it is delayed (until conveniently after our referendum, for example) it is now officially on the table. Its presence their reminds us that there is no status quo on offer – staying in the EU means more costs and more risks.