What forebodes Europe’s future for Turkey and Greece?
Speaking of his impressions following his trip to Paris last week, Turkey’s Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Ömer Çelik had some interesting things to say. He pointed out to the forthcoming crucial elections that are to be held in three European countries; France, Germany and Holland, all of which would test the impact of the right-wing ideology in the European continent.
Çelik pointed out that the problem Europe is facing at the moment is internal and the rise of the extreme right is more because of the internal issues of Europe rather than external problems like Turkey, Islamic countries and the refugee crisis.
“The extreme right trends that rise in Europe constitute a new Berlin Wall, ideologically and mentally, within the European continent. At first, it seemed like it was aimed at the countries outside of the EU, against refugees, against Turkey or Islamic countries. But as it gets a little stronger, it can be seen that it has grown within Europe,” Çelik said.
Çelik criticized Europe for its “backward enlargement policy,” and he argued that Marine Le Pen’s political perspective is “a threat to values that make France.” He warned that leaders like Le Pen wanted a Europe that was in between the two world wars.
Ankara is far from happy these days with Europe. The coolness in relations was apparent during the recent visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Ankara. While in an earlier visit by British Prime Minister Theresa May to Turkey, every effort was made to project the cordiality of the newly revived relations between Turkey and Britain as the latter is about to bid farewell to the EU.
Let us now cross over to Turkey’s nearest neighbor.
You might say that regarding political ideology, there is a lot on which Turkey and Greece would disagree. Turkey is ruled by an Islamic conservative party with a conservative social agenda, with specific problems related to its accession process to the EU. Greece, on the other hand, is already in the EU, indeed in the inner core of the EU, the Eurozone. It was the first EU country that was badly hit by the economic crisis of 2008 and is still in it. After a series of coalition governments, it is now ruled by a radical leftist party that struggles to apply an unsustainable austerity program imposed by its European creditors.
So I thought it was striking how these two ideologically different governments, from two entirely different perspectives, used a similar narrative to express their qualms against today’s Europe.
During last weekend, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivered a major policy speech to the Central Committee of his party, Syriza. Tsipras - like Çelik - underlined how the upcoming elections in France, Holland and Germany would be crucial for Europe as “they will determine not just the future of Europe but its existence.” He also pointed out to an EU, now without Britain, with “steadily increasing internal trends of extreme right Euroscepticism.” He also spoke of a new political environment, since for the first time after the Second World War, the Euro-Atlantic relation and orientation is being undermined.”
But if Turkey’s worries over Europe are expressed from a distance of safety, for Greece they reflect an agony for survival. At least for a leftist government which sees the recent dramatic change in the opinion polls in Germany for socialist leader Martin Schultz, as a new hope. “If only a few months ago the predominance of neoliberal and right-wing forces in critical countries in Europe was certain and the dilemma was only between the right and the far-right, we see that things are changing. We see now that extreme neoliberal forces lose power. Even in France the representative of the right is behind in the polls, but also in Germany, we have a whole new environment, a new situation gives the prospect of a deep policy change,” Tsipras said to his party members, who have been in agony watching the popularity of their party in free fall. If in the coming days, there is no positive review on the way the austerity measures have been applied, the Tsipras government will have little chance to survive.
As for Turkey, the impact of any political change in Europe will be far more complicated.