The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Elettra Di Massa, EU Politics postgraduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Since the EU hammered a deal with Turkey in March 2016, EU officials and national governments have been under the impression that it was a success in dealing with the refugee crisis, given the decrease in numbers of crossings from Turkey to Greece. Yet, while these measures may have momentarily reduced the number of deaths in the Aegean Sea, this also effectively reopened the Central Mediterranean route, which is once again the deadliest route to Europe. In 2017, already 254 people have died along this stretch of sea, setting a new tragic record.

So it is no wonder that managing migration along the Central Mediterranean route is the new priority for EU Heads of State in Malta. Already in the early days of his Council Presidency, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has clarified his intention to address the refugee crisis by replicating the EU-Turkey deal with other countries along the EU’s southern borders, Libya in particular. The European Commission is also on board: The Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs met with Libyan PM Al-Sarraj and the two had “fruitful discussions to step up cooperation on migration.”

Stepping up cooperation with Libya on migration is particularly high up on the political agenda of Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni. Since Gentiloni took over the reins after his Democratic Party colleague Matteo Renzi stepped down following a stunning defeat in the Constitutional referendum, getting tough on migration control has been his primary objective. Libyan PM Al-Sarraj was in Palazzo Chigi signing a memorandum committing both parties to reinforce cooperation on migration control. Clearly, Italy is determined to “act as a pioneer” in this policy area.

But if the EU-Turkey deal has proven anything in the past year, it is its unfeasibility. Not just because of the sheer human rights violations stemming from the readmission agreement and ineffectiveness of the ‘one in one out’ relocation policy, but also because it has locked the EU in a situation of interdependence with Turkey, at a time of increasing nationalism and instability. Turkish President Erdogan’s priorities are increasingly domestic. Although he won the referendum, his victory was so narrow (51.3%) that it is likely that he will still aim to maintain the support of the ultranationalist MHP.

In line with this increasingly anti-democratic trajectory, EU relations and complying with EU rules predictably takes a backseat, all while the EU becomes more and more dependent on the migration deal. Of course, Erdogan knows this well and has multiple times threatened to “open the gates,” unless there is progress on the visa liberalization dialogue. This effectively puts the EU in a bleak situation, becoming overwhelmingly reliant on the country it is supposed to be influencing.

This could only get worse if this type of deal was replicated with Libya, given the instability that has afflicted the country since the Arab Spring. If Turkey’s nationalist U-turn is cause for concern, the lack of functioning government which led many to dub Libya a quasi-failed state should make us think again about training Libyan border guards and increasing political dialogue with the country. And let us not forget that, while Turkey is at least a signatory of the Refugee Convention (although not the Protocol), Libya has signed up to neither. Political instability, the lack of a functioning asylum system, and documented cases of abuse – a video popped up online a few days ago documenting Libyan border guards whipping asylum-seekers – should automatically write off Libya as an unsafe country for refugees, by the EU’s own standards.

The EU must be wary of using the EU-Turkey deal as a blueprint. Not only because of the devastating humanitarian consequences, but also because the EU already faces an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy which is partly due to the failed response to the refugee crisis. But entangling itself with and becoming dependent from authoritarian governments or semi-failed states is not the answer; if anything, it will continue to highlight the EU’s inconsistencies and withdrawal from the liberal democratic values it professes to be founded upon.

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