Is Erdoğan looking to end the EU adventure?

Is Erdoğan looking to end the EU adventure?

I concluded my last piece by saying that it was an absurdity for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to wink at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – also referred to as “The Shanghai Five” based on the number of its original members – and suggest that if this organization admitted Turkey as a member, Ankara could consider abandoning the EU.

Be that as it may, it appears that he is not jesting when he points to the essentially security oriented organization – comprising Russia, China and three Central Asian republics – as an entity with which “Turkey shares values with” and could happily do business with.

The merits or demerits – and there are plenty of those – of Turkey’s joining the SCO is open to debate, of course.

The topic here, however, is Turkey’s EU perspective. There are those who argue that by referring to SCO membership, Erdoğan is merely applying pressure on EU to get it to stick to its promises. Thorbjorn Jagland, the secretary general of the Council of Europe who is expected in Turkey today, is also of this opinion.

“I may be mistaken, but Prime Minister Erdoğan’s remarks actually represent a call to Europeans to assume a more constructive and positive attitude toward Turkey,” Jagland said in an interview with daily Hürriyet yesterday.

Fielding journalists’ questions before flying off to Prague on Feb. 2, Erdoğan in fact left little room for interpretation. Pointing out that the SCO is not just a security organization, but one which with an economic cooperation dimension as well, he nevertheless conceded that it was not an alternative to the EU.

Erdoğan also said SCO membership did not necessarily mean one had to give up on the EU, although he added tellingly that it is not inconceivable that one may do this. But his subsequent remarks are bound to raise eyebrows in Europe.

“Does not a country that has been kept at Europe’s door for 50 years have to finally arrive at a decision?” Erdoğan said, calling on the EU to make its position on Turkey crystal clear. “We are saying; ‘Do it if you are going to; and if not, say so openly,’” he added, indicating that he would be traveling to Brussels soon where he would bring the matter up.

Although these remarks are not unique, Erdoğan nevertheless appears to be relying on increasing anti-EU sentiments in Turkey and gradually building a case against Ankara’s EU bid. It was also interesting for him to refer to Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU or not if he is re-elected.

Erdoğan was clearly suggesting that giving up on the EU is not inconceivable for a member state, let alone for a candidate country. These words will go down well in Turkey. Even Jagland, in his interview with Hürriyet, faulted those who “maintain that the EU is a Christian union, and that a Muslim country like Turkey, with its large population, cannot be a member” for the loss of Turkey’s EU enthusiasm.

History, which Barbara Tuchman says is marked by folly, will judge who is really at fault in driving Turkey away from the EU – and most likely from Europe – and whether this was good or bad in terms of “the big picture,” whatever the workaday fears and obsessions of the common European or Turk may be.

What is certain is that Turkey’s accession to the EU or abandonment thereof will have regional, as well as global ramifications, since it is a country that is not in stasis anymore, but one that is politically and economically virile and searching for its future.

As matters stand, it appears that Ankara’s commitment to the EU is “wafer thin” – to use Cameron’s characterization of his own country’s commitment to the union – and that it will end this adventure of half a century, which today represents nothing more than frustration for the average Turk, as soon as it finds a viable alternative.