The leaked transcript shows how fierce the debates were between the Turkish leader and European leaders, mainly on how Turkey’s offers were not listened to before the Syrian crisis turned into a “refugee burden” for the 28-bloc union.
While currently hosting over 2.5 million Syrian refugees at home, Turkey spent around 10 billion dollars and only received some 400 million dollars from international donors. Commenting on EU’s pledge to give 3 billion euros in return for Ankara to accept the readmission agreement, Erdogan tells Tusk that offering 3 billions for two years is not acceptable and Turkey didn’t need the EU’s money anyway. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses. If you say 3 bn for two years, no need to discuss further,” Turkish president reportedly said during the meeting.
However, the whole heated debate was not about money for Erdogan. After completing his sentence on the EU’s financial assistance, he went on criticizing the Brussel’s loose Syria policy. “Greece got more than 400 bn euro during the euro crisis. We should have invested some of that money into a safe zone in Syria, which would have solved all problems with refugees,” he told the EU leaders. Transcript shows both EU bosses could not say much when replying Erdogan’s criticism.
Turkish leader later mentions that Turkey embraces a “humanitarian approach” and explains how EU officials were impressed with the treatment Syrians receive in Turkey and Tusk intervenes and says he has “visited one of the camps and could testify that they were indeed impressive.”
There is much more going on in the meeting, including Turkey’s bid to join the bloc, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and Ankara dissatisfaction over EU progress report; however, Erdogan’s anger over EU’s reluctance to pay attention to Turkey’s call for a safe-zone in northern Syria seems to be the most important topic of the meeting.
Facing continuous aggression from ISIS, regime and its allies and now the YPG, Turkey is sure that a safe-zone is necessary to stop indiscriminate killings of Syrians. Even if it fails to establish a safe-zone on its own, it is determined to not allow YPG, ISIS or the regime to control the opposition held regions in northern Syria.
The leakage of the crucial meeting comes at a meaningful time. When the document was publicized by the Greek news-portal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Ankara to hold talks with Turkish leaders to finalize their plans to tackle the biggest crisis that the Europe faces after the WWII.
One may interpret Erdogan’s words on getting refugees on buses to help them reach Europe as a threat, but this is the language and level of negotiations the EU adopted and pushed Turkey into. Doing all its best for its neighbors fleeing the war in their country was what Turkey had done in the past five years and it has no problems with spending money, but it is highly frustrated with the world not seeing the cause of the chaos: Bashar al-Assad’s regime. By using the refugee card, Erdogan could be attempting to make Europeans take an action for Syria and find a solution while Russian intervention pushes the war into a total nightmare for those who have a little bit of hope left for the future.