Erdogan’s visit to Germany reflects EU’s myopic folly

Now, Turkey is no more than a third country for the European Union, the only difference being that Turkey is right next to Europe.
Sunday 30/09/2018
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan review an honour guard in Berlin, on September 28. (AFP)
Contentious visit. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan review an honour guard in Berlin, on September 28. (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Berlin was a reminder of how history repeats itself. As with the twists and turns before the two great wars of the last century, one erratic act gives way to another, damaging the delicate balances of the democratic order.

So it was that, in an era of great angst, Germany’s weary political leadership somehow felt it had no choice but to welcome the Turkish president. This, even though much of the democratic world regards Erdogan responsible for demolishing the system in Turkey.

Erdogan appeared relaxed as he shook hands with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has passed his existential test by modifying the Turkish system into an authoritarian one and testing the — lack of — resolve of Turkey’s trading and military partners. He understood they would look the other way even though he is seen to be digging the grave for rule of law and separation of powers.

For Erdogan, visits such as the one to Germany are primarily about underlining his legitimacy as Turkey’s supreme ruler. So far so good but there is more.

“Today, every European government without exception would forego human rights, rule of law, ecology, et cetera in exchange for sweet, sweet profits,” wrote Cengiz Aktar, an expert on EU-Turkish relations, on Ahval Online. “It looks like the continental European governments, following the United Kingdom’s lead and convinced that they have to live with President Erdogan after the June 24 elections, are keen to disregard their own value systems. It works, since Erdogan doesn’t care what they think. He only wants their money.”

Indeed, as Aktar pointed out, all prospects of Turkey’s EU membership and binding agreements, such as revising the customs union, visa exemption for Turkish citizens et cetera, are as good as buried and the European Union seems more accepting of the Turkish regime. Now, Turkey is no more than just another country for the European Union, not a potential member nor a candidate, the only difference being that Turkey is right next to Europe.

Aktar wrote that “appeasement is again a tool for Europe in its dealings with two of its neighbours: [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey and these two totalitarian regimes always ask for more so long as Europe soothes them.”

This is chilling for anyone who cares about the future of Europe and Turkey. It is inevitable to lament what went wrong and on the folly of EU leaders, of whom Merkel has been the longest-serving. The German chancellor must remember, although I am not sure if she has ever reflected on whether Turkey would have been in a much different, better place vis-a-vis the European Union, had she and other major EU figures not been so myopic a decade ago.

These days, one often hears the phrase “as you sow, so shall you reap” about crisis-hit Turkey and its mercurial leader. Much the same applies to the erratic judgments of those within the European Union’s decision-making sphere.

Despite warnings from wise European and American thinkers that Turkey’s accession process should be handled with care and in a far-sighted way, much has gone wrong.

There have been barriers to negotiation and venomous rhetoric about Turkey not belonging to Europe. This only served to alienate Turkish voters from the European Union. Already disappointed by the historic folly of granting only a part of divided Cyprus full membership in the European Union, Erdogan was given, as of approximately 2011-12, every pretext to deviate from the European bloc.

Those pretexts were helpful in weakening the pro-EU flanks within Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. As for Erdogan himself, he was always torn between whether the devolution of power that EU accession demands would be good for his dreams of leading Turkey without challenge or hindrance.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s open hostility and Merkel’s constant hesitation about Turkish membership are surely to blame but they, as well as others, could not foresee the boomerang effect of Turkey’s interrupted reform process on Europe.

Germany, France and other western EU countries must face the consequences of their ill-thought-through actions. They must accept humiliation by a leader who will never be satisfied until all his demands are met. He will play the card of allowing the refugee flow into Europe, thus exporting instability to EU soil.

If there is any conclusion to be drawn from the Berlin visit, it is about history repeating itself, in folly.

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