Turkey and the European Union achieved a Herculean feat, finally sealing a deal that has been in the works since October. According to the agreement, Syrian refugees fleeing to the Continent via Turkish-Greek waters will be sent back to Turkey. With this, European leaders hope to put a stop to the hitherto unstoppable influx of asylum seekers from the Syrian civil war. However, now comes the hardest part, one at which the European Union has in the recent past proven incredibly inept: actually executing the agreement.
Starting this Sunday, Syrian refugees reaching Greek shores will be processed in Greece and then sent back to Turkey. From there, the deal stipulates, the European Union will take refugees and redistribute them among the member states that are willing to accept them. This will happen according to the so-called 1-for-1 rule demanded by Ankara: For each refugee taken back by Turkey, another one will be taken in by an EU member state.
The goal of the deal with Turkey is to stem and regulate the flow of asylum seekers. The deal should also allow the European Union and Turkey to better distinguish proper war refugees from migrants fleeing economic and social hardship in other countries.
Once Syrian refugees understand that there is no point in fleeing to Greece, as they will be sent back to Turkey anyway, they will stop undertaking the perilous journey to Greece -- so goes the reasoning. On paper, this should turn Turkey into one big, EU-financed refugee camp. Of course, this assumes the erratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not use refugees as a tool to blackmail the European Union into accepting new demands.
Right now, such concerns lie in the future. The immediate problem now facing the European Union is whether its member states actually will follow through on their promises.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte -- the temporary chairman of the Council of Ministers of the European Union -- recently lamented that the Union's biggest problem has always been the delivery on promises made.
The very reason why the Syrian refugee crisis became a sudden, massive problem for the European Union was that member states in the past decade simply refused to put their money where their mouth is. Former European Commission chairman Jose Manuel Barroso on Dutch television criticized EU member states for refusing to commit themselves to an EU-wide border regime and delivering the goods for it: money, personnel, and ships to monitor and guard the Mediterranean Sea.
Properly enforcing a tight border regime along the Mediterranean shoreline and the Bulgarian Black Sea shore will be paramount to preventing smugglers from finding new routes to herd refugees into Europe.
If the member states again fail to live up to their promises, the expensive deal with Turkey will have been for naught.