Turkey’s engagement with the European Union has long been a “transactional” one, thanks to its accelerating slide toward authoritarianism in recent years.
Had it not been for the urgent need to stem the tide of refugees heading for Europe, the Turkey-EU relationship would have hit a dead-end much earlier.
Despite serious transgressions of rule of law, fundamental rights and freedom of the media, Turkey’s strategic value to Europe has made an expedient, “give and take” deal possible.
Transactional relationships rarely develop into sustainable partnerships and Turkey’s ties with Europe are no exception. The rift between Turkey and Europe, finally, became too big to repair.
Having described Europe as “racist, fascist, cruel and just like before the World War Two”, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that Turkey would no longer be threatened by the prospect of the EU membership.
“It cannot continue like this, Turkey will do whatever is necessary,” he said, adding that, from now on, Turkey would not allow any Europeans on Turkish soil to carry out ‘spying’ under various pretexts – bad news for international observers, visiting delegations, and most of all, foreign correspondents.
The EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn responded by saying that Turkey has been moving further and further away from the EU for some time and if it did not change course quickly, membership would become increasingly unrealistic.
Volker Bouffier, vice chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, went a step further and said “enough is enough… Mr Erdogan and his government are not welcome in our country, and that must now be understood.”
Having run out of European leaders to alienate, it now seems that the fundamentals of the Turkish-American and Turkish-Russian relationships must also be renegotiated.
With both countries, the most crucial disagreement is over their cooperation with the People’s Protection Units, the YPG, in northern Syria, which Turkey views as a terrorist group, aligned with its own insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK.
This week, the Syrian Kurdish militia claimed that it has already agreed to receiving training from Russia in northern Syria, where they said the Russians were setting up a military base. Russia’s Defence Ministry said they were only monitoring a cease-fire between the Kurdish forces and rival Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces.
The US is also planning to partner with the YPG to capture the control of Raqqa, the capital of ISIS from the Islamist militants.
Turkey has already warned that their relations would be harmed if the US goes ahead with its cooperation with the Kurdish militants in Syria.
So far, reactions to Russian moves are much more measured, but Turkey is capable of showing its displeasure to Russia in other ways.
Russia is now accusing Turkey of violating the World Trade Organisation regulations by restricting Russian grain sales.
With the US, Turkey has another important point of contention. The Turkish government wants the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic preacher who is blamed for orchestrating last year’s failed coup, as soon as possible.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who is on a two-day visit to Washington, presented the US Attorney General Jeff Sessions with yet another dossier to support their extradition request.
On the day that the US (and the UK) are banning electronic devices from cabin baggage on flights from Muslim countries, including Turkey, there is no guarantee that the Trump administration will be more receptive to Turkish demands than it was before.
Turkey will be more careful of burning the bridges with the US and Russia. Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Putin can be insulted by Mr. Erdogan, like the European leaders, without more serious consequences.
Yet, despite a relentless campaign of harassment and intimidation against the opposition, and an unprecedented whipping up of the nationalist sentiment against Europe, the referendum in Turkey, scheduled for April 16, remains too close to call.
If the recent weeks’ rows with Europe are anything to go by, Turkey’s foreign policy is no longer conducted with the country’s long-term national interests but with pressing domestic political considerations in mind.
We may yet see Mr. Erdogan pick another fight.
This post is also available in: Turkish