Europe’s ‘need for Turkey’

Europe’s ‘need for Turkey’

Developments are vindicating once again the claim that relations with Turkey have always been a function of necessity, rather than love on the part of Europe. Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy made it amply clear at the time what they think about “Turkey in Europe.” 

This fact has not changed since the times of the Crimean war and the “Concert of Europe.” It was the same after World War II, when Turkey was admitted to the Council of Europe and NATO due to the need for her strategic place on the map in relation to the Soviet Union. 

This is what is also driving European leaders again now, who, under normal circumstances, would not concede an inch to Ankara if they had the chance. 

The European press is full of cynical analyses about how EU leaders are bowing to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose authoritarian ways they were criticizing not so long ago, because they need him to solve the Syrian refugee crisis.

There are also reports about an “EU-Erdoğan summit” in the offing in Brussels. According to these Ankara will be provided up to 3 billion euros in assistance to address the refugee crisis, despite the fact Turkey says this will be insufficient to meet the needs of the 2.5 million Syrian’s it has already taken in. 

There is also talk of joint measures on Turkey’s border, etc. Ankara is not taking any of this at face value, having been “burned” sufficiently by EU promises. It wants concrete evidence that Europe is serious is about “a new phase in ties with Turkey.”
“What better way to prove this, than a visa waiver for Turks traveling to Europe?” Ankara says. “You do that and I will sign the Readmission Agreement which the EU wants” it adds. Some may see this as “horse trading” but it is a very European “quid pro quo.”

As the European press is putting it, “Erdoğan is playing hardball with Europe.” Some lip service is being provided in the EU to the notion of a visa waiver, but few believe it will go through. Europeans have yet to shed their fear about “being flooded by Turks.” 

As matters stand, though, Europe is being flooded by refugees from the war-torn countries in the east, not Turks. The only Turks “flooding into Europe” these days are mostly money spending tourists. That is also why some where caught in the Paris attacks.

Most Turks know by now that the “golden future” they may have once expected in Europe is no longer there due to a number of factors. The bottom line is that the Schengen agreement is collapsing not because of Turks, as was feared by many Europeans, but because of reasons that have nothing to do with Turks.

Despite the “cat and mouse game” Europe has always played with Turkey, except when it needs it for some vital strategic reason or other, this could be turned into a positive moment with lasting results in Turkish-European ties. 

That is not to say “give Turkey membership tomorrow.” Turkey after all has to do more to deserve this membership. There is also the fact that much has to be resolved in Europe socially, economically and politically before membership becomes appealing for Turks once again. 

But this could be an opportunity to lift the artificial barriers placed in front of Ankara’s EU path, by France, for example, and for key European leaders to adopt less demeaning attitudes towards this country which are driven by cultural prejudices.

Britain wants to renegotiate its EU deal and others will no doubt follow suit. It is probably time to negotiate a new deal for Turkey with the EU which is to the advantage to both sides. This however requires leadership in Europe that is void of hypocrisy and hype. 

The question is: Do EU members have what it takes to do this, when they can’t even agree among themselves on how to cope with the refugee crisis? “Therein lies the rub,” as the famous quote goes…