Isn’t Turkey of interest to Europe?

Isn’t Turkey of interest to Europe?

Samuel Doveri Vesterbye*
In the weeks following the failed coup attempt in Turkey, an already precarious Turkish-European relationship suffered a few extra blows. 

European media and government officials were quick to criticize Turkey’s internal investigations against the “Gülen movement,” sometimes without proper contextualization and understanding.

At the same time, Turkey continued to fan the flames of populism at home, often criticizing the West with no end.

Yet quite the opposite seems to be needed according to basic policy making. Based on national interests, Turkey and Europe should be moderating their rhetoric in order to increase cooperation on urgent policy issues that continuously affect both sides.

Here are some policy reasons for why Europe should cooperate with Turkey, instead of publically criticizing its neighbor without any tangible effects.

Refugee crisis

Among most policy circles, it is widely accepted that the refugee crisis paralyzed Europe and created an emergency situation that nearly became unsolvable in 2015. The West wasn’t prepared and the impact rocked the foundation of Europe, leading to consequences like rising xenophobia, Brexit and soaring European political disunity. 

Turkey is part of the refugee deal that prevents Europe from running into unmanageable territory.
 Geographically located and connected to Europe, it is also fully integrated into the European neighborhood and accession process, helping with border management, counter terrorism, and migration. If Germany, France and the U.K. consider the refugee crisis a national priority, they should act cooperatively and coherently, as Turkey remains an important geo-strategic neighbor.

Defense cooperation

Despite Turkey’s previous hesitance to fully engage with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Europe cannot do without Turkish counter terrorism and joint efforts in terms of de-radicalization. Turkey remains Europe’s primary military ally in a time of increasing escalation and violence throughout the wider neighborhood. According to military strategists, Incirlik Air Base and the importance of having Turkey as a Western ally cannot be overstated enough. 

If Europe distances itself from Turkey, it would be logical to assume that policy coordination and influence will equally become more difficult for European countries, meaning more terrorism, lower defense mechanisms and weaker foreign policy leverage abroad.

Muslim-model at home and abroad

Finding a Muslim model of democracy hasn’t always been easy. But today, Europe is engulfed in religion, from its African borders to its inner cities. The importance of engaging with European Muslim communities can best be seen when looking at percentages in Paris (15 percent), Stockholm (20 percent), London (12 percent) and Brussels (25 percent), which all range between 12 and 25 percent.

The basic notion of governance suggests that Europe needs to partner-up with a reliable and secular Muslim country like Turkey in order to speak to its own Muslim populations, as well as its neighboring countries in terms of foreign policy. The longer Europe waits to allow Turkey to represent this narrative, the more it will alienate its own citizens and surrounding countries – both of which are crucial in terms of European integration, social cohesion and anti-radicalization. Importantly, one should not overlook the fact that Turkish communities in Europe are eagerly following the Turkish debate. And if Europe manages to alienate them in tandem with Turkey, it will have thrown away a partner abroad and at home when countering radicalization and promoting European multi-culturalism.

Carl Bildt, in his recent Politico opinion-piece, noted that a successful coup in Turkey would “in all probability” have thrown the country into a civil war. Based on the Turkish police and gendarmerie’s allegiance to the government, in juxtaposition to the military coup plotters, most analysts today indeed say that Turkey came remarkably close to civil war on the night of July 15. 

It goes without saying that instability and civil war not only pose a serious ethical issue for Europe, but would also impact nearly all facets of European life, starting with new refugee flows and border violence to calls for intervention, increased terrorism and trade destabilization. 

But out of potential disaster came an opening of internal political dialogue within Turkey.

A country that has long suffered deeply from political polarization saw cross-party developments over the past weeks, which involved main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Most analysts agree that such moves would have been entirely unimaginable only days before the failed coup.

European diplomats should publically support these initiatives and meet with government officials, both to help political unity and make sure that such positive moves are continuously supported and made into sustainable movements.

Up until now, most goodwill gestures - like German and British visits to Turkey and Federica Mogherini’s quick support for the government during the night of July 15 - were overshadowed by criticism that has ineffectively fallen on deaf ears in Turkey.

Had Europe reserved its criticism to the meeting rooms and with more compassion, it might have retained an important bargaining chip during later negotiations about the future unity of the country and democracy. 
Instead, most European countries have ignored the importance of cross-party consolidation that could spell real potential for Turkey and Europe, as well as vital national interests, which have maintained stability and peace for the past century.

The question now remains when Europeans will reach out – and whether Turkey can tone down its populism.
*Samuel Doveri Vesterbye is the director of the European Neighbourhood Council (ENC)