Turkey has threatened to back out of an agreement to stem the flow of migrants to the European Union if Turkish nationals are not granted visa-free travel to the bloc by October.
Although Turkish officials have repeatedly threatened to renege on the March 18 EU-Turkey deal, this is the first time they have set a deadline.
If the EU approves the visa waiver, tens of millions of Turks will gain immediate and unimpeded access to 26 European countries. If the EU rejects the visa waiver, and Turkey retaliates by reopening the migration floodgates, potentially millions of migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East could begin flowing into Greece this fall. Europe is trapped in a no-win situation.
The migration deal, which entered into force on June 1, was hastily negotiated by European leaders desperate to gain control over a crisis in which more than one million migrants poured into Europe in 2015.
Under the agreement, the EU pledged to pay Turkey €3 billion ($3.4 billion), grant visa-free travel to Europe for Turkey's 78 million citizens, and restart accession talks for Turkey to join the bloc. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take back all migrants and refugees who reach Greece via Turkey.
Turkish officials have repeatedly accused the EU of failing to keep its end of the bargain.
In a July 25 interview with the German television broadcaster ARD, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey had so far received only €2 million of the promised €3 billion: "European leaders are dishonest," he said. "We have stood by our promise. But have the Europeans kept theirs?"
The EU insists that the €3 billion must be transferred through the United Nations and other international aid agencies in accordance with strict rules on how the money can be spent: "Funding under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey supports refugees in the country," the EU said in a statement. "It is funding for refugees and not funding for Turkey."
In a July 31 interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu stressed that the Turkish government wants the EU to set a "specific deadline" for lifting the visa requirements: "It can be early or mid-October but we are waiting for an exact date," he said.
Cavusoglu said that his words are "not a threat," but added that "if there is no lifting of the visa restrictions, we will be forced to abandon the agreement struck on March 18."
Under the agreement, European officials promised to fast-track visa-free access for Turkish nationals to the Schengen (open-bordered) passport-free zone by June 30, and to restart Turkey's stalled EU membership talks by the end of July 2016.
To qualify for the visa waiver, Turkey had until April 30 to meet 72 conditions. These include: bringing the security features of Turkish passports up to EU standards; sharing information on forged and fraudulent documents used to travel to the EU and granting work permits to non-Syrian migrants in Turkey.
European officials say that although Turkey has fulfilled most of their conditions, it has failed to comply with the most important one: relaxing its stringent anti-terrorism laws, which are being used to silence critics of Erdoğan, especially since Turkey's failed coup on July 15.
European Commissioner Günther Oettinger recently said he did not believe the European Union would grant visa-free travel for Turkish citizens this year due to Erdoğan's post-coup crackdown.
Turkish authorities have arrested more than 15,000 people in connection with the coup attempt, and at least 60,000 civil servants, teachers, journalists, police officers and soldiers have been fired or suspended from various state-run institutions.
Turkey's EU accession talks also have run aground after Erdoğan threatened to reinstate the death penalty in Turkey. Oettinger said: "The death penalty is irreconcilable with our order of values and our treaties. No country can become a member state of the EU if it introduces the death penalty."
Erdoğan has indicated he is no longer interested in EU membership: "We'll go our way, you go yours," he said.
Meanwhile, Greek officials report a significant increase in the number of migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey since the coup attempt. Observers say Erdoğan is using the migrant flows to pressure Greece to extradite eight Turkish officers who participated in the coup and fled across the border to Greece. Athens has refused to hand them back.
As the migrant deal unravels, European officials are discussing a "Plan B." The German newspaper Bild recently reported a confidential plan to house all migrants arriving from Turkey on Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Public transportation between those islands and the Greek mainland would be cut off to prevent migrants from moving into other parts of the European Union.
The plan, which Bild says is being discussed at the highest echelons of European power, would effectively turn parts of Greece into massive refugee camps for many years to come. It remains unclear whether Greek leaders will have any say in the matter.
The European Union now finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. Large numbers of Muslim migrants will flow to Europe regardless of whether or not the EU approves the visa waiver.
Thousands of newly arrived migrants, the vast majority of whom are men, crowd the platforms at Vienna West Railway Station on August 15, 2015 -- a common scene in the summer and fall of 2015. (Image source: Bwag/Wikimedia Commons)
Critics of visa liberalization fear that millions of Turkish nationals may end up migrating to Europe. The Austrian newsmagazine, Wochenblick, recently reported that 11 million Turks are living in poverty and "many of them are dreaming of moving to central Europe."
Other analysts believe Erdoğan views the visa waiver as an opportunity to "export" Turkey's "Kurdish Problem" to Germany. According to Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, millions of Kurds are poised to take advantage of the visa waiver to flee to Germany to escape persecution at the hands of Erdoğan: "We are importing an internal Turkish conflict," he warned. "In the end, fewer migrants may arrive by boat, but more will arrive by airplane."
In a refreshingly perceptive essay, Wolfram Weimer, a well-known German journalist, wrote that Erdoğan is exploiting Europe's strategic weaknesses to advance Turkish imperialism and his goal of Islamizing the continent:
"A few days ago Erdoğan said: 'No matter how uncouth, how merciless, how unscrupulous Western countries act, they have no chance of keeping the migration flows under control.' In short, he sees mass migration as a political weapon to put Europe under pressure. In diplomatic and military circles, the word that has been circulating for months is 'migration weapon' because the Turkish secret service has been deliberately and massively promoting the migration of Muslims to Europe.
"Turkey now earns tremendous amounts of money on all sorts of migration services and has allowed the refugee industry to blossom. At the same time Erdoğan is openly pursuing the Islamization of Europe. With its religious authority Diyanet [a branch of the Turkish government's Directorate for Religious Affairs that runs hundreds of mosques in Europe], Europe (and especially Germany) are being Islamized in a planned manner; the refugees play a key role, as do mosques, to give a 'home' to the faithful in a foreign land.
"Erdoğan's favorite quote comes from a poem by Ziya Gökalp [1876-1924, a father of Turkish nationalism]: 'The mosques are our barracks, the minarets are our bayonets.' Erdoğan sees himself both domestically and internationally as a religious cultural warrior — as the patron saint of Islamist expansion."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in 2016.