Turkey’s link with European populism
The trend of rising far-right populist parties in Europe continued with the Austrian parliamentary election on Oct. 15, 2017. While the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) took the lead with 31.6 percent of the vote in the election, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) came second with 27.4 percent.
As in many other elections across Europe in last few years, anti-establishment far-right rhetoric had dominated the political debate in the Austrian elections and hardline stances on issues like migration, integration, movement of labor and so on have achieved a much wider forum going beyond far-right groups and the FPÖ.
So far, far-right candidates/parties in Austria, the Netherlands, Hungary, France and Germany have made serious gains in parliamentary and presidential elections.
The rise of far-right anti-establishment parties and xenophobic nationalist sentiments and bordering racism have already had a decisive impact on European political debates, and will continue to shape its future in the short-to-mid-term. The prevailing atmosphere in Europe has its repercussions on political discourses and policy-choices of candidates and pushes them further to the right. The most recent victory of the 31-year-old leader of the ÖVP, Sebastian Kurz, who has been the Austrian Foreign Minister and will most likely become the youngest prime minister ever in Europe, was a result of an election campaign shaped around strong anti-immigration rhetoric and his vitriol against new arrivals.
In parallel to the rising populist-nationalist stance in Europe, Turkey’s position vis-à-vis Europe has become a hot topic in European debates, due to its connection with the EU. While there is a clear desire in most European capitals to turn the clock back in Turkey-EU accession negotiations, which have in effect already been suspended, nobody wishes to be the one to pull the trigger. Yet, since the Turkish constitutional referendum in April 2017, several member states, prompted by the European Parliament’s recommendation, have been openly discussing the formal suspension or end of Turkey’s accession talks, mostly to garner domestic popular support.
The situation has recently deteriorated even further with the spiraling down of Turkish-German relations in the aftermath of the latter’s parliamentary elections. During the campaign, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared “Turkey should not be allowed to join the EU,” which was followed up by several other European leaders.
To be fair, Turkey, too, has lost its appetite for EU accession and its anchor in Europe. In addition to the mixed signals coming from the EU members, Turkey’s intense domestic agenda, ongoing turbulence with its neighbors, various pop-up crises with its NATO allies, and its general drift away from the West have prompted the government to shy away from the EU project. Thus, it is hard to hope for new momentum in Turkey-EU relations as long as the current political discourse, which damages even the possibility of cooperation in specific issue areas, prevails on both sides.
One can only hope for the realization that the partnership, regardless of its definition or form, is vital for both sides’ interests comes in a timely fashion. What is important for now is the continuation of dialogue rather than vitriol.