Originally published in Greek language in Huffington Post Greece on March 27, 2017
In view of the Turkish referendum on the amendment of the constitution in April, and given the tensions that have arisen between some European countries and Turkey, the following questions arise: (a) what will be the result of this tension and the massive media attack on Turkey’s future in NATO? (b) what the future of Euro-Turkish relations will be, whether or not the referendum is won.
There have been many interpretations of the causes of this tension. If, however, we want to be pragmatic, we should see it as an exchange game. The European governments, in light of the rise of the far-right in many European countries, must show their fists to their voters. This already had a significant impact on the results of the Dutch elections, with the dominance of the ruling party. At the same time, polls in Turkey showed that at least 35% of the ruling AKP members disagreed with constitutional amendments. The events gave a “golden push” to Erdoğan, appearing in the eyes of the Turkish people known for their nationalistic feelings, as the new Atatürk. This is evidenced by the images of the Turkish community’s demonstrations in both the Netherlands and Germany, involving even Turkish opposition supporters united with Erdoğan’s supporters against the treatment of Turkish officials by European governments.
If we focus on the details, we find that Turkey sent two ministers on the same day to the Netherlands, one by air and the other by road. Although the Dutch government refused to allow the Turkish Foreign Minister to land in the Dutch territory, the Minister for Family Affairs arrived in the Netherlands, accompanied by a large number of Turkish media covering the events, as though all this had been prepared in advance.
There is no doubt that Turkey-EU relations are strategic. Turkey has NATO’s second largest army, and Europe cannot withstand the consequences of Turkey’s withdrawal from the alliance, in particular following the recent Russian-Turkish approach and statements by Turkish officials about the possibility of buying Russian S-400, something that will cause a rift within it. Turkey, moreover, exerts much influence on many Eastern European countries, such as Bosnia and Albania. If Turkey is fully aligned with the Russian side, given the growing Russian military expansion in the north-east of the Old World, then Europe will find itself in a big cage.
As a result, European politicians are fully aware of the damaging consequences of Turkey’s loss. This is what justifies the statements of EU officials, such as the German interior minister, who stressed that Turkey is very important for Europe in an effort to mitigate the climate following Erdoğan’s fierce statements that accused Germany of Nazi behavior.
At the same time, the crisis of the refugees, that has shocked Europe over the last two years, does not allow to lose the agreement with Turkey. Despite statements by the Turkish Vice-President that the deal will be interrupted and threats by Erdoğan himself that he will “smother” Europe into the refugees – let us note here that Turkey bears the main weight of Syrian refugees, which on its territory have reached 3.000.000 – and Europe knows that if these threats are implemented it will be disastrous for many European governments, things are still under control. Indeed, official reports confirm, even after the strong statements made by the Turkish President, that Turkey has increased checks on the sea border with Greece to prevent the entry of refugees.
On the other hand, Turkey, despite the arrogance it demonstrates, cannot leave Europe with which it has very close economic ties, so its isolation will have a negative impact on its already suffering economy and its currency. Turkey also knows that the countries of the Union are at any time able to destabilize its security with the support of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has a huge influence on southeast Turkey, by removing it from the list of terrorist organizations. My information indicates that the EU-Turkey crisis was at the top of the agenda at the recent meeting between the German Chancellor and President Trump, in Washington.
After explaining Euro-Turkish relations, it is most likely that the situation will remain tense until the day of the Turkish referendum on April 16th. It may even intensify if opinion polls on the outcome are not favorable. Then, things will get back to smoothness. Let us remind that, in early 2016, Russia reached the point of threatening Turkey with a nuclear war. Soon, Russian-Turkish relations became stronger than before. Politics is driven by mutual interests.