The EU-Turkey Refugee Deal Sounds Like a Plan, But it Won't Work

09/03/2016_Turkey Refugees
Syrian refugees wait on a roadside after Turkish police prevented them from sailing off to the Greek island of Farmakonisi by dinghies, on March 9. Umit Bektas/Reuters

Another week, another EU summit on the migration crisis. These meetings are often marked more by their pageantry than their outcomes, with a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting that is often forgotten by most leaders by the time they step on the plane home.

That is, until the EU summit last week. For the first time, EU leaders actually sat down and worked on an agreement with Turkey that sought to stem the flow and cut the link between boarding a boat and finding a new home in Europe. The details will be decided at Thursday's summit, but the outline of a deal has been agreed.

Finally, some concrete ideas. But many of them just won't work.

The draft EU-Turkey agreement is predicated on the assumption that Turkey can do much of our work for us, in exchange for a very high price.

We will return everyone who lands in Greece—refugees and economic migrants alike—and for every person we send back Turkey will give us a genuine refugee in return. On the face of it, it sounds plausible. But how will it work in reality? What happens when border guards try to put lots of people back on boats? How long before we see pictures of people jumping overboard with children? Do we really have the stomach for it? It's hard to see how the European Courts will not see this as a major violation of our own laws.

For those being "swapped" from Turkey, how can we be sure that Turkey will carry out the necessary checks and process each individual refugee application based on our own standards?

In theory, this method should stem the flow of economic migrants, but what if it doesn't? Frankly, economic migrants have risked everything already so why not have a go at trying to enter the EU? Surely our policy should be based on the number that we can cope with accepting and integrating, not the number that we can send back to Turkey.

Questions of the practicality of this agreement are enough to send it back to the drawing board; but this agreement is not being handed to the EU. It is being bought by the EU at great cost.

Firstly, we are pledging to speed up visa liberalization with Turkey. It is a gift to people like Nigel Farage, leader of the right-wing U.K. Independence Party, who can now spend the next few months saying that 70 million Turks are coming to Europe (and to Britain, despite the U.K. having an opt-out). We all know that this is hyperbole, but the prospect of stemming one kind of economic migration and then supplanting it with another from Turkey needs to be thought through.

Likewise the EU is speeding up membership talks with Turkey. Personally I am not against eventual Turkish membership, but I believe both membership talks and visa liberalization should be determined by clear criteria already set down that countries must meet. We cannot just throw our own rules out of the window, especially when there are genuine concerns about freedom of speech in Turkey.

On top of this, we are handing 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) to Turkey with little need for evidence that the money will be used for the purposes intended. It's like giving someone their year's salary in January and hoping that they will turn up for work in December.

Of course you trust people—and I believe we should trust Turkey—but this is not our money that we are trusting them with, it's taxpayer money. A lot of it. I believe we would be better off spending this money within Europe, but if it must be handed over then it should be in tranches, with clear targets and goals set for each tranche to be released.

Before Thursday, EU leaders need to take a long, hard look at this agreement and ask if it is really the solution or just an act of desperation.

We should work closely with Turkey as a central strategic ally. However, I believe that an agreement with Turkey must be part of a much bigger and ambitious U.N.-led program of resettlement of people directly from conflict zones, based on what EU states are prepared to accept.

With that scheme in place, we can strengthen the existing readmission agreement with Turkey and use the funds that are being offered to strengthen our own border controls, increase the capacity of areas where people can be processed (known as hot spots) and focus our efforts on processing people, targeting traffickers, and providing more dignified conditions for refugees already here.

EU leaders should not make a mistake of believing that Turkey can offer a solution to all of our problems. Instead of one "silver bullet" agreement that will unravel by the summer, EU leaders should focus on the dozens of actions that can be taken in cooperation to help reduce flows of people, and that are actually workable.

The key to managing this crisis is not a single agreement with Turkey, nor a set of promises that are soon forgotten. The key is finding a clear, practical plan that brings together all EU countries and is actually delivered on the ground.

Timothy Kirkhope MEP is the Conservative Home Affairs spokesman in the European Parliament and a former immigration minister.