A new UK, a new EU and Turkey
The pollsters were wrong once again. A 52 percent majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union. The result of the June 23 referendum started to send shockwaves from early on June 24, shaking political and financial decision-making bodies.
According to polling data, it seems that aging voters in the U.K. have taken the EU futures of younger voters from their hands.
Even before British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he was stepping down after failing with his risky decision to take the country to a referendum, the EU chiefs announced a crisis meeting and an emergency summit for political leaders.
Scots, who feared being left out of the EU if they voted for independence in their 2014 referendum, were first to raise their voices for another referendum to leave the U.K. and stay in the EU. Sinn Fein has also said it wanted Northern Ireland to unite with the Irish Republic and thus also stay in the EU.
Nationalist opposition parties in the Netherlands and France have also been cheered by the results, demanding their own referendums. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency, said it was “great” that Brits had “taken their country back,” hinting at his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
The vote comes against the background of a Europe where, in recent years, the richest EU member countries have tended not to share burdens with poorer ones. Germany’s lead in saving the bankrupted Greek economy two years ago, and in the influx of migrants triggered by the Syria civil war, amplified by the terror of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), could even have had some effect on the Brexit vote.
The U.K.’s vote to leave the EU may have paradoxically increased Angela Merkel’s weight in European politics. As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, he will not be complaining about the EU losing power, even though NATO’s importance as the West’s military alliance has been increasing.
It’s all still in the balance, but the Brexit vote has given birth to a new U.K. and EU. If both can survive, there will definitely be new global political balances in a world full of conflicts. Two of the major current ones are on the northern and southern borders of Turkey: Ukraine and Syria.
Turkey is a member of NATO and still a (mission impossible) candidate to join the EU. Turkish-EU relations, which have been reactivated thanks to the recent immigration deal initiated by Merkel, are back in deep freeze because of Turkey’s ongoing anti-terror campaign. Nevertheless, the “Turks are coming” threat, however untrue, has played a role in the Brexit campaign.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan had on June 22 predicted that the U.K. would choose to remain in the EU. He also suggested that Turkey could itself hold a U.K.-style referendum on whether to continue its EU deals. Naturally, these words found little response in Europe, where the priorities of EU leaders currently lie elsewhere.
Ankara now has to reposition itself in line with a new set of political circumstances brought about by Brexit. Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government see new opportunities in an EU weakened by Brexit, but not in the same way as Putin. As a member of NATO, Turkey’s weight in regional politics could be increased by the vote.
The EU has been history’s most successful peace and development project. It has provided a war-free Europe for the past 50-60 years, after Europe was the spark of two world wars.
Today, the world is being dragged into a new political atmosphere dominated by populist, nationalistic and xenophobic politicians. It looks like the Brexit vote might have contributed to that atmosphere.