Turkey and the future of Europe
In the 1990s the term European Union “troika” was used to represent the three member governments that were the current, past and future-term presidents of the European Council.
With the changes in 2007, it was decided that the European Council would have a president, just like the European Commission, which is like the executive body of the European Union.
In the 1990s whenever there was a serious crisis between Turkey and Europe, especially due to the country’s democratic deficit or some foreign policy issue, like Cyprus; which would take hostage Turkey’s membership process, the troika would intervene to solve the stalemate. There would be meetings between Turkey and the troika at the foreign ministerial levels.
When news got out that the heads of state from Turkey, Germany, Britain and France will meet during the NATO summit in London to discuss the Syrian issue, I recalled the past troika meetings of the 1990s.
The quadrilateral meeting between Turkey and the troika was a platform of dialogue between Turkey and the European Union; whereas the quadrilateral meeting that took place in London is basically a platform of dialogue between Turkey and three major powers of Europe with special interests in Syria.
Turkey’s bid to join the European Union has long been decoupled from its broader relations with Europe, and the London quadrilateral is symbolic of this decoupling. European governments have been avoiding inviting Turkey’s leaders to EU summits, a practice which is now long forgotten.
Addressing burning regional problems at a heads-of-state level within a small group is desirable, especially on an issue like Syria, where the EU member states show different levels of interest.
However, it carries the risk of blurring Turkey’s standing as an essential pillar of European security and a potential member of the EU. Instead, it can serve to marginalize Turkey, to put her in the same category with Russia, since some in Europe like to define Turkey and Russia as “the two others.”
It is not an unseen practice to have bilateral or trilateral summit meetings among European leaders to sort out problems. This has not created resentment with other member countries as long as they were kept informed.
So, the London summit won’t be an irritant from the perspective of other EU-member countries. But Turkey might ask to include in the future meetings the European Council president, in order not to lose sight of its institutional relations with the EU.
As Turkey has been showing serious signs of deterioration in its economy, remaining anchored, however weak, with links to European institutions has never been so important.
On the other hand, as we mark the 30th year after the fall of the Berlin wall, which symbolizes the end of the Cold War, the identity crisis sparked by the soul searching within the Trans-Atlantic alliance has seen further deepening as demonstrated by the tensions at NATO’s London summit.
Some continental powers want to reshape Europe’s identity by excluding Turkey, which in their eyes can only be a partner to work with on issues of common interests. It is true that the democratic backsliding that has taken place in the last decade has given ample ammunition for those who believe Turkey does not belong to Europe.
But to rely on a transactional relationship with the assumption that the democratic backsliding in Turkey will continue forever is a clear sign of lack of vision. We are living in an era which has seen the rise of illiberal democracies. Due to various reasons which the Turkish government would cite as security threats,
Turkey has deviated from the track of liberal democracy. But this is temporary, and Turkey has no other option than to get back on that track.