Tired of Brussels, Erdoğan asks for Shanghai

Tired of Brussels, Erdoğan asks for Shanghai

There was no actual need for the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to raise the issue of his country’s entry into the Shanghai cooperation organization. In a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Nov. 22, a journalist asked Putin about the Ukrainian parliament’s decision to turn down an agreement from the European Union, finding it interfering to domestic affairs since it involved the release of Ukraine’s former president Julia Timoschenko from prison.

Putin’s answer was humorous in his own style. (Actually he made another and quite macho joke during the press conference when Erdoğan was asked whether he would take Gizem Akhan, a female Greenpeace activist who had been released on bail by Russia only a day ago, together with him to Turkey. The alla-Putin joke was, “How can he? He (Erdoğan) travelled here with his wife,” both leaders enjoyed the joke together with only male ministers accompanying them).

Anyway, Putin’s answer to the Ukraine-EU question was to ask the Turkish Premier who is experienced in dealings with the EU. Erdoğan confirmed this by pointing at the 50 years of prolonged membership of Turkey’s application. After, this could not stop him from revealing his exhaustion from Brussels. Erdoğan told to his Russian host, ”Take us to Shanghai and save us from the trouble,” referring to the trouble with EU.

It may seem contradicting for Europeans (and Americans, too) looking at Turkish leadership, which renewed vows only a week ago that Turkey was still committed to European democratic and economic principles and did not deviate from its target to become a member of the Union. It is not a contradiction for Erdoğan. He thinks those are not alternatives to each other and that’s why he asked Putin to allow Turkey to be a part of the trade zone among the Shanghai Group, despite Turkey’s Customs Union agreement with the EU. Moreover, Erdoğan thinks the Shanghai card is a trump in Turkey’s hand and could force Europeans to think twice in order not to miss out on Turkey forever. In fact, the situation is not similar to play the Chinese missile card against the U.S. and EU companies in competition. It is not timely either, as the Turkish government is trying to explain itself once again to its American and European friends that it belongs to the Western system following the Syrian and Egyptian hick-ups in Erdoğan’s policy.

There is a discrepancy between the attitudes of Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül. Gül was also complaining about the EU attitude in his address to the Atlantic Council Energy Summit in Istanbul a day before when he said the EU should not block the energy chapter’s opening with Turkey, which is ready to play a bigger role in Europe’s energy security with more pipelines to carry Iraqi and Azeri oil and gas, and perhaps from Israel and Cyprus in future, depending on the political atmosphere. Gül is pointing at a positive alternative, whereas Erdoğan, in a sarcastic way implying a break-up, which practically no one believes in its possibility, politically and economically speaking.

The more Turkish leaders talk about the Shanghai option (or non-option), the less the thesis be taken seriously.