What next in the Europe-Turkey standoff?

What next in the Europe-Turkey standoff?

With various aspirations, obsessions, phobias and likely miscalculations, some European leaders and Turkish powerholders are pulling Turkey-Europe relations into such rough waters that the end result will probably be worse than anyone can imagine.

Who advised Turkey’s absolute President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to engage in such a futile war of words with European politicians, just a month before a key public vote on a raft of constitutional amendments making him a super-president? Did he not know that as government members of a non-EU member country, Turkish ministers cannot engage in political propaganda activities without getting the prior consent of host countries?

 Did he not know that these countries have the right to evaluate the impact on security, public order, social peace and whatever other factors they consider appropriate to take into account, when approving or rejecting the political campaigning requests of a foreign country?

Was Turkey trying to force the Europeans to undertake some mistaken decisions, thus providing Turkey with a psychological advantage and the legitimacy to put an end to the “refugee accord” that Ankara has been unhappy with from the first day it was signed? Why is it that at every flare-up of tension or just difference of opinion, the Turks suggest that the refugee deal may be scrapped (or at least renegotiated with firmer clauses on visa waivers for Turkish nationals traveling to EU countries)?

Based on what calculations did the Germans, the Dutch, the Danes and others become so intolerant of Erdoğan’s plans to stage – with public funding of course – political gatherings in various European cities to promote a “yes” vote in the April 16 referendum? When they have been so silent about - and even supportive of – the activities of Turkish “no” voters in their countries, why did they develop such an allergy about similar (though of course bigger) activities planned by the government?

Calling the Germans and the Dutch (so far) “Nazi residue” amounts to nothing less than driving into a concrete wall at full speed with no brakes. Is Erdoğan not aware of the consequences of accusing a German, Dutch or any other European politician of being a Nazi? Was he trying to provoke European leaders into making stronger statements against Turkey? Was he planning to use such rhetoric to advance other political plans? 

Accusing a present-day European politician of being a Nazi is among the worst insults. Not just those who perished under Nazi governance, the whole of Europe paid a heavy price for the crimes against humanity during those dark years. Expecting any European leader to accept the use of any comparison between the Nazis and any government in office today could only be considered the product of a shallow and shortsighted political mentality.

Unfortunately, Turkish scriptwriters are notorious for such mishaps. For example, without knowing the meaning and implication of the phrase “promised land,” years ago a top advisor penned a speech for former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller. In Tel Aviv, at an official ceremony, Çiller then read that text to say “how happy she was to be in the promised land.” Unfortunately, she was not aware that parts of modern-day Turkey are also within the borders of that biblical “promised land” legend.

The recent Nazi gaffe was apparently neither a gaffe nor the product of a shortsighted scriptwriter. In fact, perhaps it was a clue about what might be in the pipeline. Indeed, President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, and other members of the cabinet talking about Turks and Muslims in European cities was expected to bring unity against the insult targeting Turkish ministers and the president, demonstrating the “togetherness of Muslims” in defending Turkey. It all became very clear: After the “super-president” target is achieved with a “yes” vote victory on April 16, the next target will most probably be the utopia of making Erdoğan the leader of the entire Muslim world.

Will the aim be to reinstate the office of the caliphate in the Turkish presidency? Will parliament, which took over the powers of the caliphate when it abolished the office of the caliphate in 1924, now hand back those powers to the presidency with a simple law?

It is perhaps too early for such speculation, but there are signs that the latest standoff with Europe might have aimed to prepare the ground for such a step.

Am I wrong? I sincerely hope so.