Turkey’s future is in Europe – nowhere else

Turkey’s future is in Europe – nowhere else

Amid the new crisis in the Middle East, in which Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has put his weight on Qatar’s side, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on June 13 that Turkey and the European Union could cooperate successfully by leaving behind certain recent problems.

In a joint press conference with Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov, Yıldırım said he believed that rapprochement between Turkey and the EU could be possible on the condition of the full implementation of last year’s agreement on immigration, readmission and visa flexibility. 

A Turkish diplomatic delegation, meanwhile, began discussions with their EU counterparts in Brussels on June 13 as part of a 12-month road map to revive relations as agreed during a meeting between President Erdoğan and top EU officials on May 25. All parties involved know well that the German elections on Sept. 24 are likely to play a key role in the future of Turkish-EU relations. Despite the fact that they are not each other’s favorite, Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at least know each other thanks to their mutual experience over the last 10 years.

Turkish-EU relations need some time to cool down any way after a stormy year tainted by a number of successive crises since the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey, a row over military officers and diplomats seeking asylum amid pending arrest warrants for them, as well as the political campaign for the April 16 referendum for constitutional changes among Turkish communities in Europe, most of whom live in Germany.

Will that 12-month road map be enough to ensure ties cool down?

When viewed from the outside, Turkey seems to be occupied with the Qatar crisis. Erdoğan has openly thrown in his lot with Qatari Emir Thamim al-Thani. Qatar has been investing in Turkey a lot in the last few years. While addressing the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) group in parliament on June 13, Erdoğan said the crisis stemmed from a “campaign of slander” against Qatar and asked Saudi King Salman to help foster a solution as an “elder of the Gulf” region and the keeper of Mecca’s Harameyn, the Ka’aba, Islam’s most sacred place. Erdoğan has not only engaged in telephone diplomacy but also urged his AK Parti group in parliament to ratify a recently signed military agreement with Qatar. Ankara announced again on June 13 that a team of three officers went to Qatar the day before to find a suitable place there for a Turkish military base. That is a symbolic move though with a strong message.

Turkey is currently involved in the crisis in Syria and Iraq, its two southern neighbors who are suffering from terrorism that have further agitated the civil wars there. Erdoğan and the AK Parti have never hidden their inclination toward closer contact with Arab and generally Muslim countries in the Middle Eastern region. But recent experiences have shown that the conflicts between Arab countries and the sectarian divide among Muslim countries do not permit the establishment of stable and productive relations.

On the other hand; despite political problems with the EU, bilateral economic and commercial relations are on the rise. Exporters broke their own records in 2016-2017 thanks to the export of industrial goods, mostly cars, that largely went to EU countries. The government has admitted that the first-quarter growth rate of 5 percent, which exceeded even government expectations, was partly thanks to industrial exports to the EU, in spite of the sharp fall in the tourism sector.

But it’s not only about the economy. In political terms and in the interests of the quality of democracy in Turkey, better relations between Turkey and the EU would be for the good of all, and even good for the situation in the Middle East.