As Turkey rediscovers Europe

As Turkey rediscovers Europe

It is no exaggeration to describe President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s three-day state visit to Germany as historic given the complicated context of the relationship between Berlin and Ankara, particularly in the last few years. 

A year ago, it was Erdoğan who called on German citizens with Turkish descent not to vote for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in the general election in September 2017, following his comparison of today’s Germany with the infamous Nazi rule.

In that period, Germany had indirectly threatened Turkey with economic sanctions while denying Ankara’s constant calls for cooperation over the FETÖ-linked senior civilian and military bureaucrats who sought refuge on its soils.

The tension between Ankara and Berlin had not only deteriorated bilateral ties but also Turkey’s European Union accession process as well as its efforts to secure the Schengen-visa waiver to Turkish nationals and to upgrade the Customs Union.

However, after all this turbulence and thanks to the efforts of both foreign ministries, the process of normalization in ties could begin and there is no doubt that it will be further intensified after Erdoğan’s visit to Berlin, although there are still some legal issues to be resolved between the two countries.

Erdoğan’s visit to Germany should be considered part of his government’s recently adopted campaign for a better relationship with the European countries and the EU, after the June 24 elections that allowed to be inaugurated as Turkey’s first executive-president with excessive powers.

There are four main motives behind this new policy towards Europe:

The first one is about Erdoğan’s quest for the recognition of Turkey’s new presidential model and of his status as the executive-president. As can be recalled, the EU had expressed concerns over the quality of the Turkish democracy under the new governance system and that its implementation would further drift the candidate country apart from European values. Erdoğan’s state visit to Germany and reconciliation efforts with the Netherlands, Belgium and other Turkey-skeptics would satisfy Ankara’s demands of the recognition of the new system.

The second one is about the economy. The footsteps of a major economic crisis have long been heard in the Turkish capital, even since late last year. Heavily interdependent with European economies, Turkey sought to mend ties with its main trade partners and investors in the European continent. European countries have not left Ankara’s calls for solidarity following sanctions imposed by the United States on the concerns that a major collapse on the Turkish economy would also have impacts on ailing European economies as well.

The third factor is related with unprecedentedly deteriorated bilateral ties between Turkey and the United States over a score of bilateral and regional issues. U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions on the Turkish economy have also been denounced by many European countries as Brussels and Washington are also in a deep row over economic tariffs and taxes imposed by the latter.

Furthermore, Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and announcement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel have obviously placed Turkey and the EU on the same page on these issues with efforts to coordinate joint actions against Washington. At a moment when Turkey’s traditional alliance has truly been destroyed, it was only natural for the Turkish government to revive its old partnerships with European powers.

There will sure be results of a leaders’ summit of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France in the coming months, in which all issues related to recent developments in the Middle East will be discussed in depth.

The fourth one stems from the Syrian theater. Turkey and the EU still implement the March 2016 migrant deal and are in close dialogue to avoid a major humanitarian disaster in Idlib. Turkey’s deal with Russia on Idlib has received appreciation from the EU and many other European countries, which were concerned with a fresh refugee influx from the war-torn country towards the continent. Turkey, on the other hand, needs European political and financial support in both dealing with current problems and in future attempts to achieve a political settlement in Syria.

There is no need to underline how positive it was to cement ties between Turkey and Europe through dialogue and diplomacy and therefore to address said common problems. Whatever the reasons are, Turkey’s rediscovery of Europe and of longstanding partners needs to be supported and further encouraged.

However, this rediscovery would be incomplete if it also does not include democratic values, fundamental freedoms and rights as well as the full implementation of the principle of the rule of law. Turkey should uphold the democratization process as the main and permanent anchor of its bonds with Europe in order to reinforce its status as the regional heavyweight and to avoid future structural problems with European democracies.