Probably the greatest achievement of last Thursday’s European Council was that its conclusions were refuted within hours after they were published. While the official text of the Council results boasts about a “joint action plan with Turkey”, to stem the immigration flows to the EU, the Turkish minister of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioglu commented otherwise. He said that the plan to curtail the immigration flows through his country to Europe, which Turkey is currently negotiating with the EU, is just a very early draft. Sinirlioglu added a thorny remark, that Turkey had warned months ago the Europeans about their faulty strategy which focuses on security issues.
It seems that Turkey plans to invest a lot on the project the Europeans are proposing. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a number of government ministers and Ömer Çelik, the spokesman of the ruling AK Party, all made clear that the discussion between their country and the EU about managing the flow of immigrants invariably comprises Turkey’s overall relations with the European Union.
Turkey wants it all
Erdoğan went even further and appeared as seeking revenge for his country’s EU integration process being kept in the European fridge for many years now. He said that now it’s too late for the EU to recognize the importance of Turkey in the management of the Syrian immigration flows. He even went as far as to point the finger to the EU and the West as a whole, obviously targeting the US also, by saying that “their security depends on us and now they accept it”.
Such a Turkish all-encompassing rhetoric is not unusual. Ankara’s foreign policy is traditionally conducted in tight relation to the always turbulent internal canvas and the country’s abyssal needs. Apropos, Turkey is to hold a general election on 1 November, the second in six months. In this poll Erdoğan’s political future and in many ways the stability of his country are clearly at stake.
Erdoğan in dire straights
Last June the Turkish President suffered a devastating electoral defeat. He was hoping that his AK party was set to win a swelled majority in the Parliament, large enough to introduce a constitutional amendment and transform Turkey into a Presidential democracy, obviously saving the top job for himself. Instead of that his AK party didn’t even win a large enough majority to form a viable government. Understandably then, Erdoğan’s rhetoric must be interpreted by the Europeans with one or both eyes on his chaotic home affairs. The latest tragedy in Ankara with the 102 fatalities and the hundreds of injured peaceful protesters is an indication of what may follow there.
Now, if the 1st November election again delivers a hung Parliament as the June poll did, the country will enter into a very dangerous path. Her multiple and deep internal divisions and the war Erdoğan started against the Kurd minorities in Turkey and Syria, may become a formidable boomerang. Add to that the totally wrong and shifting strategies that Ankara followed in the Syrian crisis and elsewhere and the account becomes insupportable.
In short, Ankara for various reasons, has confused all its major strategic allies including the EU, the US, Russia and even China. In this last case Ankara’s policies with the Chinese Muslim minority in Xinjiang, the Uighurs, have infuriated Beijing because Turkey treats them as the…Turks of China. It’s quite understandable then why Turkey presented a long and far reaching ‘shopping list’ to the 28 European leaders last Thursday in Brussels.
Contempt for the EU’s billions
Turkey’s representatives dismissed as irrelevant the billions of euros the EU appears ready to give to the country in order for this country to keep and maintain on its soil the Syrians, Iraqis and the other refugees coming en masse from everywhere. With an eye on the election and the burning internal problems of his country, Erdoğan asks from the Europeans for the moon on a stick in order to cooperate with Brussels. Indirectly he tries to use the immigrants issue as a leverage vis-a-vis the entire western strategy in the region, including of course the US designs. In view of that, more than one political analyst say that Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey this week is a high risk game.
The Turkish contempt for the EU’s precious billions of euro promised in exchange for cooperation in the immigration problem is an infallible sign that Ankara will push its negotiating position to extremities. The extent of these extremes is directly related to the gravity of the current and the not so distant internal problems the country has to face. For example the Kurd question may entail a national catastrophe for Turkey. On top of this the de-facto dismembering of Syria and what Turkey can lose from it, is a major national security issue for Ankara. Add to that the dawning West-Russia rapprochement in Syria and all that leads to possible major disasters for Erdoğan and his country.
The gravity of all that was the reason why last Thursday’s European Council had nothing concrete to propose about the problems the EU faces in relation to the immigration issue. Nor did it have anything solid to say about Europe’s Middle East strategy and the role of Turkey in all that. Pathetically enough, Brussels has left those questions to Angela Merkel and Berlin to answer this week, while Paris and of course London closely follow the Washington strategy, if there is any.