The EU's capitulation to Turkey

In light of the fact that a massive majority of the European Parliament a fortnight earlier had called for tough sanctions against Turkey, the European Council’s decision to mark time is a shameful abdication of responsibility.

As I pointed out in the Jerusalem Post after Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria in October 2019, the European Union’s response was more like that of a circus horse with the front legs going in one direction and the rear legs in another.

The EU’s conclusions begin with a fanfare of trumpets. “The European Council recalls that the European Union, its Member States and its institutions are all committed to promoting and respecting the values on which the Union is founded, including the rule of law.”

Having dealt with the budget, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and security, the Council’s attention turned to the thorny issue of Turkey’s aggression in the eastern Mediterranean. It took one step forward by taking one step back and reverted to its conclusions at the October summit, which in turn referred to its decision one year earlier, i.e. kick the can down the road.

French President Emmanuel Macron had earlier urged the EU to regain its military sovereignty, but this was ignored. Instead, the EU prefers to wait and hear what stand the new U.S. administration will take.

The clear winner is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Predictably, the EU heeded Turkey’s siren call for dialogue and as Erdoğan’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın urged, chose to view relations with Turkey through “a strategic mindset” and not be distracted by “bilateral disputes”.

However, a number of EU states were motivated by a healthy portion of self-interest. 

As Die Welt has pointed out, Spanish, French, Italian and German banks have invested over a hundred billion dollars in Turkey and are clearly not interested in being caught on the rebound. The Med 7‘s declaration of solidarity with Cyprus and Greece and a call for restrictive measures in Ajaccio in September melted in the face of economic reality.

President Donald Trump’s hapless Syria envoy, James Jeffrey, caught between the head of state’s appeasement policy towards Turkey and the successful U.S. support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces’ campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS), has the following advice to the Biden administration: “Erdoğan will not back down until you show him teeth.” It would be wise for the EU’s half-hearted administration to take this under advisement.  

In the EU setup, Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel play the role of bad cop and good cop for Turkey, respectively. France is the country that sends warships and Rafale fighter jets to curb Erdoğan’s expansion in the eastern Mediterranean, whereas Germany supplies Turkey with the weapons, including tanks and submarines, to make this possible. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas finds an EU arms embargo on Turkey “strategically incorrect”. 

It was Angela Merkel who intervened in July to avert a clash between Greece and Turkey over the small Greek island of Kastellorizo off the southern coast of Turkey. It is Angela Merkel who at the EU summit in October was the proponent of “a constructive dialogue” and “a positive agenda” with Turkey. And it was Angela Merkel who at the December summit curbed any threat of effective sanctions.

After the EU summit in October it was the German chancellor that President Erdogan addressed in a video conference and called on not to sacrifice Europe’s major interests for a few member countries’ minor interests. In a Christmas call to Merkel, Erdogan emphasized Turkey’s desire to “turn a new page” in its relations with the EU and placed the chancellor in the category of “foresighted leaders” who were willing to further Turkey’s agenda.

Erdoğan also urged the EU to update the agreement made on March 18, 2016, which as well as dealing with the refugee crisis held out the prospect of visa liberalisation and an upgrade of the bloc’s customs union. To keep the wolf from the door, the EU has agreed to shell out a further 465 million euros in addition to the six billion already agreed in aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

In August 2015, Merkel in a Mother Teresa moment flung open the doors of Europe and called on the Middle East’s huddled masses with the invitation “Wir schaffen das” (Yes, we can do it.) When she realised the magnitude of the disaster, she rushed off to Istanbul to repair the damage.

Shortly before the Turkish elections in November that year, she sat enthroned with Erdoğan in the Yıldız palace and offered him the whole package: three billion euros in cash, visa-free travel and a renewal of accession talks. After an all-night session with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu the following March, she upped the ante to six billion.

Now President Erdoğan has Frau Merkel in a cleft stick.

But Turkey’s volte-face, where Turkey now sees its future in Europe and nowhere else, is driven by sheer necessity and the failure of Erdoğanomics. As we Brits say, ‘cupboard love’.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the imprisonment of the co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, since November 2016 “pursued the predominant ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate, which is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society”, and called for his release. President Erdoğan’s furious reaction shows that the leopard doesn’t change its spots.

(The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.)

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.