Will the EU be able to say the world is bigger than Trump?

Will the EU be able to say the world is bigger than Trump?


Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkey’s majority state-owned Halkbank, was found guilty in January by a New York jury of conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Atilla’s sentence was expected to be announced yesterday, May 16, after the Hürriyet Daily News went to print. Opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inside and outside of Turkey rejoiced while watching the trial, assuming that it would hurt the government.

Set aside for a moment the Turkish government’s alleged role in the reported scheme to evade U.S. sanctions, as well as the claims during the trial about high-level corruption involving state officials. Leave the Turkish public to discuss whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) should have acted differently on the issue.

Just imagine for a minute that in one year a Spanish banker, a French businessman, and a German executive are sitting in the place of Atilla.

This may seem unimaginable. But despite the objections of the EU and other key signatories like Russia and China, the U.S. recently decided to unilaterally pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Trump’s new ambassador to Germany has just warned German companies on Twitter to halt activities in Iran, as the U.S. will re-impose sanctions.

European leaders are frustrated about Trump’s unilateral decision, but if you read the European press they feel their hands are tied. This is not because they are bound by international law or anything. As explained by Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times, the role of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the reach of the U.S. judicial system make it hard to evade sanctions.

“The unilateral exercise of U.S. power is an idea that has long attracted John Bolton, the White House’s newly appointed national security adviser,” wrote Rachman. “Speaking in 2000, Mr. Bolton suggested: ‘If I were redoing the [UN] Security Council today, I’d have one permanent member because that’s the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.’”

So will European leaders abide by the “Trump world order,” despite all their frustrations? Would it make sense today for the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini to come forward and say “The world is bigger than one,” echoing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s motto: “The world is bigger than five.”

The perception about a message is often determined by where the message is coming from. Until recently, Erdoğan’s message that “the world is bigger than five” generally fell on deaf ears. His tough messages about Jerusalem also tended to fall on deaf ears in Israel and the world.

Currently Erdoğan seems to be trying to assume leadership in mobilizing the world against Washington’s unilateral but internationally condemned decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. As demonstrated by the killing of 58 Palestinians by Israeli forces on May 14, the move will further fuel turmoil in the region.

There is no doubt that the Palestinian cause is much more of an emotional, ideological issue for Erdoğan, the AKP and its constituency than it is for other parties and their supporters in Turkey. But it is fair to say that there is bipartisan outrage against the U.S. move and the Israeli response to protesting Palestinians.

“One can only, excuse me, spit on the faces of those who participated in the embassy’s opening, smiling while knowing what was going on at the border,” wrote Oğuz Demiralp, a retired Turkish ambassador, on the T24 news portal.

“Whatever Hamas’ intentions, the concrete picture is there: Israel committed a massacre by using excessive force. Its reaction went beyond the humanitarian scale, reaching a monstrous scale,” Demiralp wrote.

“According to international law Palestine, East Jerusalem included, is a country under occupation. International law gives the right to armed struggle if necessary to liberate a land from occupation,” he added.

This is coming from a career diplomat who served as an ambassador in several European capitals, who assumed important positions like being Secretary General of the EU Directorate in Ankara, and last but not least was the advisor of İsmail Cem during his term as foreign minister between 1997 and 2000, when Turkey and Israel enjoyed one of the best times in their bilateral relations.