Finland's Rehn Urges Deeper Ties With Turkey Amid Refugee Crisis

Turkey’s 3 Billion Euro Offer to Stem Refugee Flow
  • Rehn sees no obstacles in opening Turkey accession chapters
  • Turkey is key to solving the migration crisis, Rehn says

The European Union needs to strengthen its ties to Turkey to solve the refugee crisis and return the country to a path of membership in the bloc, said Olli Rehn, a former top EU official and now a Finnish minister. 

QuickTake Europe’s Refugee Crisis

It’s important to “revitalize” the relationship because the two sides need each other “more than ever,” Rehn, who has served as the EU enlargement and economy commissioner, said in an interview in Helsinki on Friday.

EU leaders this week failed to reach a final deal with Turkey on helping to stem the inflow of refugees from the Middle East. In Istanbul on Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany will work with Turkey on visa liberalization and on moving forward on EU accession talks, as she prepared to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the refugee crisis.

The EU is struggling to cope with the influx, with more than than 1 million migrants set to reach the region in 2015 and now Russian bombing raids on Syria threaten even greater flows for next year.

Rehn, now Finland’s economy minister, said he expects a deal with Turkey in the “coming days or weeks” to help the country with its financial burden from the refugee inflow as it’s also going through tense political times ahead of elections on Nov. 1.

Political Tension

“I just visited Turkey after long time and I could witness political tension myself,” he said. “I hope that Turkey will be able to continue with political and economic reform after the elections and thus contribute to the revitalization of the relationship with the EU.”

Turkey hasn’t met expectations, in particular in its reforms in civil rights and media freedom, according to Rehn. There would be significant economic, political and human advantages from closer relations. Visa liberalization and modernization of the customs union would boost trade benefiting both the EU and Turkey, he said.

There are in many policy areas "no obstacles" in opening some chapters in the accession negotiations, Rehn said. 

“The two parties need each other more than ever," he said. "From the European view, Turkey is the key to solving the migration crisis."

Missed Opportunities

As part of a proposed deal last week, the EU is ready to resume talks on Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the EU. The plan could spur progress toward a “road map” for dropping EU’s visa requirement for Turks, the leaders said after the summit.

Rehn said that after 2010, the year he left the post of enlargement commissioner, there has been a “certain deterioration” of the relationship between the EU and Turkey, which has suffered from “missed opportunities.”

"The accession negotiations aren’t really moving forward today while they were moving forward four to five years ago still," he said. ”Some European leaders have not considered EU-Turkey relationship as important as it should be.”

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