Noontime Scholars Lecture: Karol Kujawa, “Migration Crisis: Implications for Turkish-EU Relations”

On February 14th, REEEC Visiting Scholar Karol Kujawa gave a Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “Migration Crisis: Implications for Turkish-EU Relations.”  Kujawa is a Kosciuszko Foundation Fellow and Assistant Professor at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. His lecture was co-sponsored by the European Union Center.


Karol Kujawa

For the past several years, the EU has been facing a refugee crisis. Turkey, traditionally a “gateway to Europe,” plays a key role in this migration process.  As a result of the Syrian Civil War, Turkey has become the site of political asylum for over 2.8 million Syrians.  Turkey currently hosts more refugees than any other country on Earth.

According to Kujawa, Turkey decided to host these refugees for several reasons.  First, Turkish authorities initially believed that Bashar al-Assad’s regime would fall—and their “guests” (as the Turkish prime minister called Syrian refugees) would return home—within a year.  Second, the Turkish people were in favor of helping refugees, due to a cultural tradition of “welcoming people from the Ottoman Empire, the Caucasus, Crimea… all of them are refugees, and the society is very cosmopolitan.”  Additionally, “Turkish people really love children,” and over 50% of Syrian refugees in Turkey are minors.

Since the migration crisis began, however, the number of terrorist attacks within Turkey has risen dramatically.  The crisis has led to an increase in “anti-European feelings” among the Turkish people, which is “one of the main purposes of this terrorism” (most of which is perpetrated by ISIS).  Since 2015-2016, popular support for Turkey’s potential accession to the EU has waned, and nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise within the country: “even the seculars are nationalists… there is currently no moderate movement in Turkey.”  On the European side, “we have seen almost the same process”—after an earlier more welcoming attitude toward migrants, “Europeans gradually started changing their minds about the refugees.” This has also coincided with a rise in nationalism throughout Europe.

An “EU-Turkey Statement” was released on March 18, 2016, outlining a new agreement between Turkey and the EU with regard to the migration crisis.  According to this statement, “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands… will be returned to Turkey,” but “For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.” The EU also agreed to accept more refugees, liberalize the visa process, help improve conditions for refugees on Turkish soil, and to speed up the disbursement of 3 billion euros allocated under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.  As a result of this agreement, the number of refugees coming to Greece decreased, although according to Kujawa, “that was mainly the result of stopping [migrant] smugglers on Turkish soil.”  Stronger borders have also been established in the Balkans.  However, Kujawa stressed that this is just a temporary solution: Syrian refugees will continue to migrate to Europe, and “there are still too many refugees in Syria, and too many coming to Turkey. To be honest, the only way to stop this problem is to stop the war in Syria.”

Kujawa noted that the EU and Turkey need each other, so they must try to cooperate. The EU needs Turkey’s help to stop the flow of refugees into Europe, and the Turkish economy relies on trade with the EU: over 50% of Turkish exports go to Europe.  However, many member states would oppose Turkey’s accession to the EU, due to human rights issues (“states like Austria and Luxembourg are very sensitive about the question of freedom and human rights, and will oppose integration with Turkey”), increasing levels of xenophobia (“anti-Islamic demonstrations… in Hungary especially”), and the rise of nationalist movements that threaten the integrity of the EU itself (“we don’t even know if the European Union will survive”).

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian. 

A Reflection on “The Polish Presidency of the EU: What it Means for Europe and Transatlantic Affairs”

Consulate General of the Republic of Poland standing with graduate students

Maciej Pisarski poses for a group photo with EUC & REEEC students and faculty

Maciej Pisarski,  Deputy Chief of Mission of the Republic of Poland, gave a presentation on Poland’s place and future in the European Union.  The presentation, titled “The Polish Presidency of the EU: What it Means for Europe and Transatlantic Affairs,” was given Friday at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.   In the presentation, Pisarski highlighted the challenges facing Poland with its continuing integration into the European Union.  Before explaining Poland’s exact role as President of the European Union, Pisarski gave a quick historical timeline of Poland’s economy and political situation before and after communism:

Late 1940’s – Communist party consolidates power in war-torn Poland
1951 – European Coal and Steel community formed
1957 – Treaty of Rome, establishes European Economic Community
1958 – Riots in Poznan, Hungarian Uprising
1968 – Invasion of Czechoslovakia, suppression of student movements in Poland
1981 – First Mediterranean enlargement, Solidarity movement in Poland.  Martial law, economic meltdown, massive foreign debt.
1987 – Single European Act
1989 – Communism ends in Poland
1993 – Treaty of Maastricht establishes European Union
2004 – Poland becomes full member of the European Union

Consulate General of the Republic of Poland standing with REEEC staff and faculty

Consulate General of the Republic of Poland standing with REEEC & EUC staff and faculty

This timeline briefly describes how Poland eventually shook off the yoke of communism and transformed itself into the economic powerhouse it is today.  This successful transition gave Poland much legitimacy and led to its warm welcome as the current European Union President.

Poland has taken a particularly defensive approach to stabilizing the EU’s economy.  They are active in designing stability measures to curtail the economic meltdown of other EU members.  In order for Poland to effectively meld its economy with the EU’s, they must eventually adopt the Euro.  Avoiding a detailed explanation of why Poland has abstained from the Euro Zone, Pisarski simply remarked, “We will adopt the Euro when the time is right.”  However, as countries like Italy and Greece continually sink into debilitating debt, one has to wonder whether Poland sharing a currency with them is a wise decision.  The Polish zloty is serving its purpose and keeping Poland’s economy secure from the uncertain future of the Euro.  Keeping the zloty seems to be in Poland’s best economic interest considering its GDP grew by over 30% between 2004 and 2010 under the zloty.  Pertaining to other EU economies, Poland seeks to lessen the amount of bureaucratic red tape hurting small businesses and increase female and youth employment.

Poland’s presidency of the EU consists of leading the EU parliament in day-to-day operations involving drafting and voting on legislation, as well as resolving economic and security-related matters.  In addition to its regular duties as president, Pisarski explains that integration with Poland’s European members is crucial for future growth and stability.  This makes integration a top-priority for Poland as it directs a region of the world which prides itself on travel and business friendly borders.  European security is also a top priority for Poland.  Since its induction into the European Union in 2004, Poland’s eastern border with Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia has become increasingly well defended.  This defense has led some former Eastern Bloc countries to refer to Poland as the “Great Fortress of Europe,” characterizing it as more of a bulwark than an actual country.  In a way, this characterization is not too far off.

Poland’s Presidency of the European Union has put it in a very unique and new position.  A country that technically did not exist 100 years prior is now leading one of the largest unions of nation-states in history.  Poland has taken the role of European Union leader and continues to strive for betterment domestically and in the European sphere.

Mat Jasieniecki currently serves as REEEC office assistant.  An Iraqi war veteran, Mat is now pursuing his BA at the University of Illinois majoring in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia studies.  He plans on furthering his study of the polish language by attending an oversees language program in Poland during the summer 2012 term.