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Changes in Turkey's Irregular Migration Management: Why the EU Still Matters

Alexander Bürgin

In view of the fading credibility of Turkey's EU membership bid, the impact of EU conditionality on policy change in Turkey seems to be weakening. However, Turkey has recently tackled three key demands of the EU related to migration policy: Ankara negotiated a readmission agreement with the European Commission, drafted a law on border management and passed a law on foreigners and international protection. Based on four series of interviews that I have conducted with officials of EU member states, Turkey and the European Commission I argue that the EU still has an important transformative influence on domestic policy change in Turkey. There are three main reasons for this: First, as the interviews indicate, the membership incentive is still considered as an important motivation for reform by government officials dealing with the EU acquis. This is partly explained by the interviewees' belief in the EU's responsibility to reward Turkey with accession once the necessary conditions have been fulfilled. Second, the European Commission was able to incorporate a visa liberalization process as an additional incentive for reforms. Finally, twinning projects financed by the EU's Instrument for Pre-accession contributed to the creation of new institutions and to the socialization of actors, both leading to a more conducive environment for reform. However, the influence of the EU has two limitations. First, costly changes such as the lifting of the geographical limitation to the Geneva Convention are used by Turkey as a bargaining tool, and it is unlikely that such changes will be realized without a more secure membership perspective. Second, while the abovementioned twinning projects clearly influence middle and highly ranked bureaucrats, they have a considerably more reduced influence on major political actors.

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