Two roads ahead of Turkey

Two roads ahead of Turkey

Spain, Venezuela and Turkey are very different countries. Venezuela is an oil exporting country, whereas Spain and Turkey are oil importers. Spain and Turkey are in Europe, while Venezuela is in the Caribbean. Spain became a European Union member in 1986 and Turkey is a candidate for membership. Venezuela is on a different continent. Spain is still feeling the impact of the global financial crisis, sputtering at less than 1 percent growth. Turkey still has a solid growth rate of around 3.5 percent. Venezuela’s economy is in shambles. 

But despite their differences, the three countries have something in common: All three lived through failed coup attempts. Spain had one in 1981, Venezuela had one in 2002 and Turkey had one last month. 

“Where is Turkey heading?” is the question everyone is asking. It is not only about the recent Russian-Turkish rapprochement, mind you. It is about the route the country is going to take from here. I see two options: Spain or Venezuela. After the 1981 failed coup in Spain, the country increased its efforts towards EU accession. Former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher immediately denounced the coup as a terrorist act. So the EU took a side. There was a united front in Span’s parliament to nurture the nascent democracy.

There were disagreements, as there always are, but the parties were on the same page about where they wanted the country to go. Ten years after the failed coup, Spain was an EU member. It improved on every governance indicator and turned into a democratic country. The Spaniards did the right thing. 

Venezuela took a different route. Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998. He survived the 2002 coup attempt, but rather than doubling down on democracy, he took a more authoritarian turn after it. The country polarized. Yet it took Venezuela a decade to run the country into bankruptcy. Why? Oil prices increased from $35 a barrel to $100 after the failed coup. So Chavez could afford to be authoritarian because he had manna from heaven to distribute. Now with oil prices declining back to $35 a barrel, Nicolas Maduro, his successor, does not have the same control over the situation. Venezuela’s economy is now in deep trouble. The country’s oil reserves acted like an adrenaline shot that kept it going after Chavez stabbed it in the gut. Now the effect of the adrenaline has faded, and the country is bleeding out. Venezuelans took the wrong turn.

So what will Turkey do in the wake of the failed coup attempt? Spain or Venezuela? I do not think that the Turkish government has the luxury to go the Venezuela route. Turkey has no natural resources, and bad governance is directly harmful to citizens’ welfare. I only see the Spanish option moving forward. The Yenikapı event was an encouraging first step in that direction. I think the rational way to move forward would be a four-party commission to draft a new constitution. For this process to work, Turkey’s parliament also needs to oversee the state of emergency process and bring overall democratic control. We will shortly see whether Turks will do the right thing.

Yet the Spanish option worked because there was strong engagement on the EU side. That worries me, I have to say. The EU is riddled with divisions of its own, and no longer seems to be able to summon up the energy to deal with Turkey. If it wants to remain relevant, it must find a way to reengage.