The minutes of the meeting, which were leaked February 7 by the Greek newspaper Euro2day, recorded a conversation between the Turkish President and the EU officials concerning a €3 billion deal with Ankara in exchange for tighter controls on Turkish borders to curb the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe.
The conversation featured a frustrated Erdoğan criticizing the EU for its minimal contributions during the Syrian refugee crisis. At one point in the meeting, Tusk expressed surprise that the previous agreement of €3 billion over the course of 2 years had been rejected by Prime Minister Davutoğlu, who is now demanding €3 billion per year instead.
Erdoğan responded; “If the proposal is 3 billion euros for two years, we have nothing to discuss. We are not dependent on the EU’s money. We will just open our borders with Greek and Bulgaria, and send the refugees out on buses. Greece was given 400 billion euros during their crisis period. With even a portion of this money we could have set up a safe zone in Syria itself and solved the refugee crisis once and for all.”
At another point in the meeting, Erdoğan asked the two EU officials hypothetically how they would deal with an increased influx of Syrian refugees; “If there is no deal, how will you stop the refugees? Will you kill them?”
Tusk responded; “We can make the EU less attractive for refugees but this is not our desired solution.”
Erdoğan then elaborated the hypothetical scenario; “The EU will have more on its hands than just the boy drowning on the Turkish shores. It will be around 10, 15 thousand. How will you face this influx? The Paris attacks stemmed from poverty and a sense of isolation. These people are uneducated, they will continue to be terrorists in Europe as well.”
The meeting also revealed tensions surrounding Turkey’s potential membership to the EU and Turkey’s increasingly problematic human rights record. Speaking in the meeting, Juncker stated; “If the Schengen agreement falls apart, Turkey won’t be able to benefit from a visa exemption.”
The Schengen agreement is the agreement that ensures the free movement of EU citizens within EU member state borders. Some have speculated that a greater influx of Syrian refugees into Europe may lead to the suspension of the Schengen agreement for security purposes.
Juncker also revealed that the publication of the mostly negative progress report assessing Turkey’s potential EU membership prospects had been intentionally postponed till after the November 1st elections as a kind of favour; “I will remind you that we delayed the publication of the progress report till after the Turkish elections. We were criticized for this delay. Tusk and I are not in a position to toy with the numbers, we need to cement a deal within 1-2 weeks.”
On November 1st, Turkey held early elections after the June 7 elections failed to determine a majority party in the Turkish parliament. The outcome of the November 1st elections reinstated Erdoğan’s AKP party as the ruling majority.
Erdoğan responded heatedly to Juncker’s assertion, claiming; “The delay did not in any way help AKP win the elections. The report itself was an absolute insult. Who prepared this report? How could you write such things? This isn’t the real Turkey, you didn’t come to me to learn about the real Turkey.”
EU officials have declined to comment on the validity of the meeting minutes or release an official statement concerning the minutes. However, President Erdoğan publicly stood behind what was said at the meeting and reiterated his position stating;
“I’m sorry but we won’t be taken for fools. We’ve already packed busloads of people at Edirne, but we turned them back. This is once or twice. After that, we’ll open the doors and say ‘have a nice trip.’” Erdoğan further asserted that “Someone leaked these minutes with an intent to attack. But what did we do there? We defended the rights of Syrian refugees. These leaked minutes are not a source of shame for us, they are acquitting.”