In a report published today, the Home Affairs Committee says that it has real concerns about the implications of Turkish accession to the EU for the security of the EU external border, noting that Turkey’s membership would extend this up to Iran, Iraq and Syria. Turkey must be required to "clearly and objectively" demonstrate that it has met stringent criteria set by the EU for border management prior to accession.
However, the committee also believes that the risks posed in relation to organised crime are "considerably outweighed" by the potential benefits—partly in terms of the standards that Turkey will be required to meet to become an EU Member, but largely owing to the opportunities it will bring for increased cooperation.
The land border between Greece and Turkey constitutes the main loophole for irregular immigration into the EU. Thousands of migrants are entering the EU through Turkey every month, many aiming to reach the UK, and the Committee makes a number of recommendations to improve the current response.
The presence of a team from Frontex, the EU border agency, at the land border between Greece and Turkey since November 2010 was associated with a reduction in the number of irregular crossings (from 7,607 in October 2010 to 1,632 in February 2011), largely through the political message it sent to Turkey.
However, Frontex is unable to turn back migrants. The Committee suggests that it might therefore be more effective for the agency to work alongside Turkish border agencies and recommends the EU amends the Frontex Regulation accordingly.
The proposed border fence may have a limited deterrent effect but is no solution to illegal migration in itself: disrupting the criminal networks which facilitate people smuggling is the key, and improved intelligence-sharing across national and agency boundaries is critical to achieving this.
The committee urges the EU to make special arrangements for Turkey to take on some of the attributes of EU membership prior to full accession, in order to tackle organised drug and immigration crime more effectively. In addition to people smuggling, 75-80% of the heroin trafficked from Afghanistan to Western and Central Europe comes via Turkey and seizures in Turkey of cocaine bound for the EU are increasing.
Close and successful working relationship
The committee is impressed by the close and successful working relationship between the UK and Turkish law enforcement agencies and calls for this to be replicated within EU agencies such as Europol.
Finally, the Committee urges the Home Office to carry out an impact assessment of the likely scale of legal migration of Turkey nationals to the UK following EU accession, given the lack of an official estimate. Available forecasts for the EU as a whole have varied widely at between 0.5 and 4.4 million arrivals in the period up until 2030. Current migration of Turkish nationals to the EU has declined to below 50,000 a year but population trends and the gap in living standards could make easier migration within the EU an attractive option for Turkish citizens.
Given the UK's experience after the 2004 enlargement, when many thousands more migrants arrived than expected, the Committee is cautious about allowing Turkish citizens full freedom of movement and supports the Government’s commitment to applying "effective transitional controls as a matter of course" for all new Member States.
Chair of the Committee, Keith Vaz MP said
"It was clear from our visits to Turkey and Greece that, despite the willingness of the authorities to tackle the problem of illegal migration into the EU through this region, much more needs to be done. In particular, we require a collective commitment from Greece, Turkey and the European and international law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and work together to bring down the criminal gangs who are responsible for bringing thousands of migrants into the EU each month.
I am concerned that, if action is not taken now, it will become even easier for migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Iran to enter the EU once Turkey is a member. The UK Government and its EU partners must therefore do everything they can to assist Turkey in tightening its border controls."