Turkey’s Erdoğan to make a key debut at NATO, EU
Just three days after resuming the leadership of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will embark on a two-day trip to Brussels on May 24 and 25. While there he will hold key meetings at the NATO summit and with the two top leaders of the European Union.
The leaders of NATO member countries will meet in what the alliance calls a mini-summit, where U.S. President Donald Trump will come together with the allied countries for the first time and discuss a number of key issues for NATO’s future, as well as the fight against terrorism, in particular the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). NATO is expected to announce its institutional participation in the anti-ISIL coalition with a limited mandate, in line with U.S. and Turkish expectations and demands.
From the Turkish perspective, Erdoğan’s visit to Brussels has two key aspects: He will certainly press allies for a more efficient and better cooperation in counterterrorism efforts and will certainly hear support from countries like the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, who have all been the victims of ISIL terror recently.
However, tension between Turkey and Germany, as well as with Austria, is sure to cause a lot of additional work for NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who is trying to make the upcoming summit a success. Turkey is continuing to prevent German lawmakers from visiting the İncirlik base, where German soldiers and the Tornado surveillance mission are deployed as part of anti-ISIL military operation.
In addition to the ongoing crisis with Berlin, Turkey has also blocked non-NATO member Austria’s participation in some programs run by the alliance as part of the Partnership for Peace missions. Ankara has cited Vienna’s long-standing anti-Turkish actions on a number of different EU platforms for these blockages. Berlin is aware of the seriousness of the problem with Ankara, as it hosts more than 200 former military personnel who are being sought by Turkish prosecutors over alleged links with Gülenists. On the one hand Germany has been considering options to remove its soldiers’ military presence from Turkey, while on the other hand it is trying to deliver the message to Ankara to keep “security and NATO-related” issues out of the scope of bilateral tension.
The NATO summit will give Erdoğan an opportunity to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as France’s new President Emmanuelle Macron. But equally important will be his meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk on May 25. It will mark Erdoğan’s first visit to Brussels since October 2015, amid expectations of a new process to repair soured ties between Ankara and Brussels.
The need for a new perspective in ties is accepted by both sides. But there are differences. The EU seems not ready to deliver in concrete terms, other than launching negotiations for an upgraded Customs Union agreement. It wants to focus on the continuation of the refugee deal to stop the flow of irregular migrants into the EU and to thus avoid weakening Merkel’s hand ahead of the crucial September election.
Erdoğan’s Brussels trip could be seen as a fresh debut, as it coincides with the start of a new era in Turkey’s political system. As president and recently reappointed AKP chairman, Erdoğan has made clear that Turkey favors a continued relationship with the EU, despite difficulties, as he has pledged that his roadmap as party leader will prioritize a new “democratization campaign.”
The EU should positively assess this promise and should itself be keen to start a new political dialogue with Turkey, thus recharging ties. This relationship may constitute one of the last areas that can help make Turkey a democracy again.