EU-Turkey relations: a vicious cycle of regional conflict and forced migration

Greater collaboration rather than divergence is needed to address the root causes of migration and conflict at their borders.
Flags of the EU and Turkey | Source: Alamy

By Samuel Doveri Vesterbye

Samuel Doveri Vesterbye is Director of the European Neighbourhood Council (ENC)

12 Oct 2021

Despite years of difficult relations, the European Union and Turkey continue to cooperate across a range of areas, especially migration. Since the launch of the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRiT) as part of the 18 March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement, the EU provides substantial funding to Turkey to support refugees and host communities, as much as €6 billion by the end of 2020.

A further recently approved €149.6 million of funding under the EU’s multiannual financial framework is testament to the EU and Turkey’s partnership concerning migration management. This additional funding will be used to extend the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN), the biggest humanitarian programme in the EU’s history, which provides multi-purpose cash assistance to 1.8 million vulnerable refugees in Turkey.

Moving forward in the EU-Turkey relationship will inevitably require both partners to start tackling the root-cause (e.g. conflict mediation), including greater foreign-policy, development-policy and security-policy harmonisation.

“The current method of dealing with migration is like trying to put a plaster on someone who has had a severe accident: it is not sustainable, and it does not fix the root causes of the problem”

The current method of dealing with migration is like trying to put a plaster on someone who has had a severe accident: it is not sustainable, and it does not fix the root causes of the problem. This is what the EU and Turkey are destined to face for many more years, due to their intertwined geographies, economies, energy routes and populations.

The severity of the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan directly impacts Turkey as well as the EU. Due to the land-route connecting Central Asia, the Middle East, Turkey and the EU, it is likely that the EU and Turkey will have to continue cooperating on migration management for many more years.

Such conclusions are, firstly, based on the risk of continued conflict in the region, as well as basic factors of change over the past two decades including the decrease in internet costs and the exponential rise in broadband, mobile phone and GPS access.

It is, secondly, based on the fact that UN OCHA figures over the past decade (see Figure 2) confirm that internal displacement figures in Afghanistan experienced an extraordinary increase during May, June, and July 2021. When taking such data and comparing it with the context of Afghanistan during the summer period of 2021, it becomes clear that further migration and unrest is inevitable.

In Afghanistan, the push-factors for migration continue to be economic hardship, violence, human rights abuses and natural disaster. It is therefore only logical that the EU and Turkey shift their focus away from simply managing migration and towards cooperating more on development, security and foreign policy areas to tackle its root causes.

For example, the concept of harmonising EU and Turkish security and foreign policy remains difficult, but existing legal frameworks currently exist in the Turkish accession process, namely in chapters 31 (Foreign, Security and Defence Policy) and 30 (External Relations).

“Anything short of foreign policy cooperation between the EU and Turkey will be simply kicking the can down the road”

More importantly, an increase in inter-institutional cooperation between foreign, defence, and development ministries/agencies like the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships (INTPA) should be considered increasingly necessary for Afghanistan. This can be further extended and is likely to yield cost-efficiency and more effective security and migration management, while supporting distributional and humanitarian corridors needed to support and stabilise Afghanistan.

Anything short of foreign policy cooperation between the EU and Turkey will be simply kicking the can down the road. The risk of continued policy-divergence between the EU and Turkey is fast becoming a reality, despite their regional problems being all too similar: conflict, radicalisation and forced migration.


This op-ed is a brief summary of a longer research paper on migration and EU-Turkey relations, financed by the European Union under the framework of the civil society dialogue project “Strengthening Dialogue between the EU and Turkey in the Area of Migration and Security” led by Dialogue for Europe (DfE) in cooperation with the European Research and Global Research Association (ABKAD)


This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group

Share this page
Partner Content