The dreadful state of the European Union’s Turkey policy

The dreadful state of the European Union’s Turkey policy
Source Date: 03/08/2020
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by Cengiz Aktar: EU’s policy of appeasement with totalitarian Turkey is irrelevant

The European Union’s newly elected and appointed officials are slowly but finally getting back to business after the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and a compromise on the EU’s 2021-2027 budget.

Like their predecessors, they want to demonstrate their differences, if not superiority, in dealing with a multitude of internal and external challenges.

One such challenge is certainly the so-called “common foreign policy” which the incoming European Commission had unusually ambitious designs about.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talked about a “geopolitical commission” to strengthen citizens’ trust in foreign policy. And her deputy in charge of foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, declared prematurely and clumsily that the EU should relearn the language of power. As though it ever learned it!

Actually, the European Union, as an institution, never had such an ambition as its member states never allowed a supranational – thus common – foreign policy, even less a security policy, which is principally performed by NATO.

The European bloc certainly won’t develop a common foreign policy anytime soon. The role of the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy consequently consists of reporting back to the foreign ministers of 27 EU states, his real bosses. And “common” policies that stand at that heading are “a minima” like “the world turns around the sun”.

Moreover, more than five commissioners are in charge of various policies which all have an external dimension, from external trade to international partnerships, from enlargement to “promoting the European way of life”. 

Nevertheless, this non-job hasn’t impeded successive High Representatives since 1992, to congratulate themselves or to fool around as the “Foreign Policy Tsar”. Borrell is no exception, though with less humility than his predecessors. 

One invention of his is actually the new “Turkey policy” doomed to fail like his “Libya policy”. 

The new Turkey policy contains some outstanding catchwords: “keeping the channels of communications open”, “double track approach”, “engaging with Turkey”. In reality, it consists trivially and banally to find ways and means of appeasing and cajoling a totalitarian regime by invoking imperious necessities to engage with that “key partner”.

The High Representative derives its legitimacy from the actions – or rather non-actions – of three large member states, Germany, Italy and Spain, next to some minor, but openly pro-Erdoğan, members like Hungary and Malta.

There are three reasons for this contemptuous behaviour. Westerners are obsessed with keeping Turkey within NATO at all costs. Secondly they are terrified at the prospect of Turkish refugee influx in case of implosion. And they are not ready to curtail their trade with Ankara, especially in arms. 

Yet these concerns seem pointless in terms of results. Ankara is openly flirting with Moscow and doesn’t hesitate in challenging allied solidarity, as seen with Greece but also vis-à-vis the Baltics. 

The anxiety regarding Turkish refugee flows is useless as Turkish citizens will leave anyway a country which guarantees less and less their personal and material security. Official figures and estimates from Western intelligence services already show 1.8 million departures from Turkey since July 2016. There is no use fearing the inevitable as Turkish refugees will leave, exactly like Iranians after 1979.

As for trade, Western companies are becoming increasingly vulnerable to a Turkish debt default, which can happen anytime now.

I should also mention a fourth reason behind the European Union’s appeasement policy and the empty rhetoric of “engaging Turkey”; it is about the so-called necessity to care for Turkish citizens who still value Europe and what it represents. I call it “the ethical fig leaf” which excuses all deals, including the arms sales to Ankara, which in turn may be used to kill the very Turkish citizens Europe is supposed to care for.

EU countries and institutions have maintained the appeasement policy for years. It is not surprising to note that the policy has grossly failed, but it is astonishing to point out that no European policy maker has taken due note of this as they continue to engage with Ankara. They continue to apply the same botched tools to obtain results.

For instance, the EU keeps talking about waving the Schengen visa and the revision of their customs union with Turkey, on the condition that it behaves. Not only will Ankara not behave now more than before, but some member states are utterly against any move towards the waiver and the revision. Not to mention the recommendation of the European Parliament in late October 2019 – by a huge majority – to completely suspend the existing customs union as a retaliatory measure following Turkey’s assault on Syrian territory.

But by insisting on engaging with Ankara despite all odds, the EU is artificially prolonging the lifetime of the regime. Today, the regime’s first and foremost sponsor is the West, with the exception of France.

Appeasement is failing because today’s Turkey has nothing to do with the country the bloc dealt with until a decade or so ago. It has changed profoundly and, probably for a long time, to become an Islamist dictatorship, bellicose at home and abroad, unconcerned with Western – even international – norms, standards, principles and values. The country is de-Westernising at a vertiginous speed, reversing a two centuries-old western path and becoming a liability for all its neighbours and Europe.

The country’s domestic and foreign policies are overtly militarised. Concretely, the regime is positioning itself as the leader of a magma of Salafist movements and groups, ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to Al-Qaeda, from the Islamic State to the Nusra Front; organic military and financial bonds with these non-state actors are steered and masterminded by Ankara.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to deal with such a country with the classical tools of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy – be it containment, conditionality or dialogue. On the matter, the Turkish Foreign Ministry is not in charge of policy making and has been overtaken by presidential cronies for a long time now.

The dreadful state of the European Union’s Turkey policy lies in the general lack of understanding of the new Turkish paradigm.

Europeans and Americans alike would better direct their energies towards a Turkey with Erdoğan no longer in power, which will happen sooner or later, in one way or another, despite their appeasement – or perhaps, thanks to it since it encourages Erdoğan in its follies. The regime will collapse because of Turkey’s deepening economic chaos and foolish foreign adventures.

That post-Erdoğan Turkey is prone to be as problematic as the present-day’ for four fundamental reasons: a lack of credible political alternatives; the radicalised masses who agree with the regime; the impossibility to quickly fix all state institutions, which have been either taken over by parochial pro-regime cronies or simply collapsed; and Turkey’s isolation in the international arena. 

To engage with such a mess would require more imagination than today’s pathetic, unethical and petty appeasement policy.

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