Europe’s gatekeeper

Europe’s gatekeeper

Turkey’s relations with the EU have regressed to the extent of the country becoming Europe’s gatekeeper, given 3 billion euros in return for halting the refugee flow to Europe. Turkey has managed to save face with other inducements including promises like a resumption of formal EU membership negotiations in the long term and the granting of visa-free travel in the short term. 

Still, for the EU the deal sounds like a contradiction in terms: Allowing 80 million Turks to travel freely and then become members of the “European family” in exchange for avoiding a few million refugees. Anyway, most of the today’s refugees will become Turkish citizens over time, since the majority of those who immigrate to Turkey are not considering returning back. Everyone knows the deal is nonsense.

As for political principles, the deal is rather embarrassing for both the EU and Turkey. It shows that the EU is not concerned with democracy and freedom in Turkey if it has to negotiate with Ankara, as has been emphasized by human rights activists and some European politicians. Personally, unlike some of my “lazy democrat” friends, I have never deluded myself that the EU membership process would be enough to bring democracy to Turkey. After all, the struggle for democracy is mostly a domestic issue: If there is not enough social demand and effort, no external political actor can play a major role. Besides, I have never been convinced by the rosy picture of the EU, and I am well aware of the difficulties that the EU has recently been facing. 

Nevertheless, the EU’s approach to Turkey is a shame in the name of the principles that it supposedly advocates. Hypocrisy is an inseparable part of politics in general, but such utmost hypocrisy ruins the moral authority that is also an essential part of politics. We who live in Turkey will pay a high price for Europe’s hypocrisy, but I am sure that sooner or later the EU will also pay a price for losing its moral superiority.

As for the Turkish government, it is also hugely hypocritical to suddenly seek the help and friendship of the EU and the West, which it has long despised and accused of conspiring against Turkey and the Islamic world.

Until very recently, the pro-government media portrayed the Kurdish conflict as a “war between Muslims and the infidels,” while prominent pro-government columnists were claiming that “Turkey is not fighting against the PKK, but against the Germans, the French and the Jew.” Now, Turkey’s government badly needs the West, especially since the serious crises broke out with Russia. This is not only a matter of hypocrisy, it is also a matter of humiliation: Although Ankara has been looking for a greater role in the region, it has ended up signing a different “gate-keeping” job on the Syrian border.

This is not to say that Turkey shouldn’t guard its borders better against ISIL infiltration in both directions - with or without Western pressure or encouragement. Nonetheless, Ankara’s real problem is its unwillingness to revise its Syrian policy; as it is, its double-game will likely only provoke more crises like the recent one with Russia. 

Hypocrisy can only work if it convinces the other party(ies) - even if only temporarily. Otherwise, it backfires.

If the Turkish government continues to insist on underestimating the complexity of regional issues and to overestimate its own power, then I’m afraid Turkey will continue to find itself in more difficult positions. In the end, we who live in this country will pay the price of the government’s mistakes.