The conflict in Syria leaves the Europeans on the flank. A hybrid threat from the Southeast

(B2) What is happening at the borders between Greece and Turkey is not trivial. Ankara's use of asylum seekers and migrants as a civilian strike force looks like a hybrid threat

The Turkish government is doing so, on a 'small scale', what Bashar al-Assad did, on a 'large scale' in Syria, putting pressure on neighboring countries by pushing back its civilian population, and what Vladimir Putin tested in the north Finland by sending migrants by bus to arrive from the north of the country.

A deliberate policy...

Political pressure has been clearly expressed (1). She was then executed. Buses have been made available to foreigners indirectly, notably in municipalities held by the AKP, the ruling party. Turkish border guards let the flow of people pass without verification. Ditto at sea where the coastguards have (it seems) accompanied a few inflatable boats to their territorial limit.

… aimed at obtaining European support in Syria

The Turkish political objective is clear: to obtain from the Europeans unconditional political support and military support (intelligence, air defense, even no-fly zone) for its action in northern Syria (2). However, Athens has blocked any overly firm declaration of support from the Atlantic Alliance. The reply was not long in coming on the Ankara side. We thus have a clearly constituted hybrid threat according to the definition given by the European Union (3).

Europe at the bottom of the trap

Europe, however, has only itself to blame. By signing the agreement in 2016 with Turkey, the European Union took an urgently needed safeguard measure. It's been almost four years. And Turkey has so far respected this agreement rather well. It has hosted more than three million refugees from the Syrian war. But the Europeans fell asleep on this agreement. By relying totally on this agreement, by refusing to open their doors ajar, they not only entrusted the care of guarding Europe's borders to the Turks, they gave them the keys to the door. In doing so, they are at the mercy of any pressure from the Turkish government.

Pick up the keys to the door

If they had agreed to take, in a controlled way, more asylum seekers from Turkey — what we call resettlements — the balance could have been reversed. The key to the door would be in the hands of the Europeans who could decide whether or not to open the tap depending on the orientation of Turkish policy. Europeans have no choice now. They must review this 2016 agreement not in all its aspects, but in a policy of restriction of reception. It is a decision that is not particularly popular. It will require patience, pedagogy and many explanations. But it is better to have a supervised, fluid reception system than this permanent psychosis and threat.

The crash test of the 'Geopolitics' Commission

Ursula Von der Leyen saw in this Greek-Turkish crisis her first test of the Geopolitical Commission. What is happening in Syria, and in Libya, and real crash test of the new team. No more words, now we have to act (4). With audacity if possible, measures and not just media gesticulation and a few good words. A 'geopolitical' Commission cannot be decreed. It can be seen… or not.

The first hundred days of the new team did not dazzle us. If they do not succeed, the Geopolitical Commission will have lived. It will once again become — what perhaps it should never have left — the bosom of the economic and political initiative of the European Union.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Europe on Saturday (February 29) with a new wave of migration. He repeated his remarks on Monday (March 2), threatening to keep "Europe's doors open" and calling on the European Union to "fairly share the burden". “Since we opened our borders, the number of those heading to Europe has reached the hundreds of thousands. Soon, this number will be expressed in millions,” the Turkish president said on Monday.
  2. A reaction to the death of 34 Turkish soldiers, killed in the Idlib region by an aerial bombardment by the Russian-Syrian air force.
  3. 'Hybrid threats combine conventional and unconventional, military and non-military activities that can be used in a coordinated manner by state or non-state actors to achieve specific political objectives.'
  4. An extraordinary council of foreign ministers should be held at the end of the week.

Read also: (report) In Greece, at the external borders of the EU


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).