The biggest problem with the EU

The biggest problem with the EU

The problem with EU-Turkey relations is not about succeeding in saving the refugee deal; it is much deeper. I have never been a supporter of Turkey’s full membership in the European Union for good reasons. 

First of all, I am a very realistic person and I never thought that it would happen one day. Second, I think Turkey is not a part of “Europe,” whatever it means. I always thought a kind of “special relationship” would be a better definition of the EU and Turkey’s present and future relations. Nevertheless, I never thought that Turkey would be better without close relations with the EU and the West in general; on the contrary, it is neither realistic nor desirable (in terms of being affiliated with the universal values of democracy) to weaken Turkey’s close relations with the EU and the West in general.

The problem today is that Turkey has started to turn its back on the EU and the West in general, and it is not just a matter of change in Turkey’s foreign policy. What is worse is that the universal values of democracy and freedoms have started to be defined as “Western values” which are alien to “Turkish culture and history.” It means that the deterioration in Turkey’s relations with EU and the Western world is a matter of rising anti-Westernism as an aspect of the rise of authoritarian politics, rather than a mere matter of foreign policy.

Recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that “our path and their path is different” with reference to the relations with EU and the problems concerning the refugee deal. His words reflect his general skepticism not only of the West in general, but also of the values of democracy, freedoms and human rights, which are defined as “essentially Western” by him and his followers. 

In fact, leaving aside Islamism and ultra-nationalism, proponents of right-wing politics in general have always been very skeptical of the Western world and its values, even when Turkey was a committed Western ally and right-wingers were staunch supporters of this alliance against the “communists.” The United States has always been considered as a tool of the Zionist lobby, while Europe was thought to be a contemporary version of the Crusaders and destroyers of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey’s alliance with the West has always been a marriage of convenience, and it seems that the marriage is coming to an end under Islamists’ rule.

Despite being a NATO member country, not a day passes without Turkey’s rulers and their supporters accusing the U.S. and the EU of helping “PKK terrorists” and “the enemies of Turkey.” Nowadays, the accusations mostly refer to Western support for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in Syria. 

Still, it is an old idea that Westerners are feeding the seeds of Turkey’s dismemberment by supporting Kurdish politics. Western foundations and NGOs have long been considered as extensions of Western intelligence work to undermine Turkey. That is why we already see rather anti-Western and over-skeptical public opinion mobilized by politicians. 

In fact, Turkish nationalism is mostly built on anti-West feelings and even secular nationalism is not spared. We should not forget that even ultra-Westernist Republicanism is based on the idea of “Westernization despite the West.” It meant that Westernization was necessary to reach a contemporary level of civilization but that we should not forget the national struggle which has been fought against Western imperialists and the continuing danger.

In short, Islamist rule may not have any difficulty mobilizing deep-rooted skepticism concerning the West and nationalism as very useful tools to achieve its ends. Especially under the circumstances of the armed conflict with the PKK, the atmosphere is very suitable for convincing people that Turkey is facing a great threat. This is the pillar of the current political discourse that Kurds are only pawns but that the real enemy is the much stronger Western world, or “the enemies of Islam” in general. In this view, there is an attempt to hinder Turkey on its path to becoming a global Muslim power and eliminate the president since he challenged the powerful West. The majority of the population in Turkey is ready to buy this argument, and even visa-free travel to Europe fails to present a comparable appeal. 

Finally, Turkey’s president has proven to be more concerned by the execution of an Islamist leader in Bangladesh than the EU deal. So far, deposing PM Ahmet Davutoğlu without a really convincing argument in the eyes of even the governing party’s followers is the weakest point of this rhetoric, since he is not someone who can easly be condemned as “a pawn of the enemies of Turkey.”