Is Erdogan ready to tear down the bridges with Europe and the West?

G20 Summit in Turkey. Handshake between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, in the centre, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of European Commission on the left, in the presence of Donald Tusk, President of European Council. Date: 16/11/2015. Location: Antalya, Turkey. © European Union, 2015 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Johanna Leguerre.

G20 Summit in Turkey. Handshake between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, in the centre, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of European Commission on the left, in the presence of Donald Tusk, President of European Council. Date: 16/11/2015. Location: Antalya, Turkey. © European Union, 2015 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Johanna Leguerre.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the 12th Turkish President cut short the spell of ‘rapprochement’, between his country and the European Union, by briefly dismissing Prime Minister Ahment Davutoglu. The latter was the architect of the relevant March agreement concluded in Brussels, meant to regulate the flows of refugees and immigrants in the Aegean Sea. By the same token, Erdogan made it obvious within and without Turkey that he is the absolute ruler of his country and nothing can stop him from securing many more years of his autocracy.

Machiavellian political algebra

After eliminating the obstacle of the composed and more democratically sensitive Davutoglu, Erdogan plans, among other things, to drastically change the Constitution and reshape Turkey’s other institutions, in order to secure absolute personal control. Firstly, he plans to transform the Presidency, from a largely ceremonial office into a direct governance tool, copying the French or US model. And this is to be realized within this year, be it either through elections or a referendum.

The other thing that the Turkish President is working on, is to intensify the war against the Kurds of Turkey and Syria, no matter if this is to impede the fight against ISIS. An all out war against the Kurds is also thought to solidify his internal position. In times of insecurity and crisis, the incumbent Turkish leadership would be untouchable.

Eliminating opposition

Davutoglu’s dismissal doesn’t constitute a major change in Turkey’s political scenery. He never followed an independent policy line and his actions were dictated by Erdogan. The ‘Sultan’ in the summer of 2014 had chosen in Davutoglu, a political non entity as Prime Minister, in order to neutralize Abdullah Gül, until then President of the country. Gül was the only person, if anyone, who could challenge Erdogan within the governing Justice and Development Party (AK), which the two men had co-founded in 2001. Erdogan now controls  around 48 out of the 50 member strong party’s ruling committee.

Presently, there is a lot of speculation going on about how Erdogan is planning to change the Constitution and transform a parliamentary democracy into a presidential republic, under his own iron grip. The way that Erdogan is to choose how to do this has no importance, either for Turkey’s future or her relations with the rest of the world. In any case, Erdogan and his AK party will continue to rule the country in the foreseeable future, in many ways as Putin and his United Russia Party are governing their vast country. The presidential entourage and the party dignitaries are setting the rules of the game in both countries.

Absolute control on a country

Seemingly, the autocratic, if not dictatorial kind of governance, is now well established in both those populous countries, in the Asian pattern of doing politics and business. The President and the party run the country, with the legislative and the judiciary visibly taking orders.

The same is true for the economy, with the political, local and other ruling ‘clans’ having preferential access to government contracts and enjoying special relations with the administration. Apparently, Erdogan had learned this lesson from Putin when the two men had a long intimacy period. Not anymore, because their Syria and elsewhere interests collided dramatically.

What about the EU option?

What about the latest Ankara rapprochement with the EU and the ‘agreement’ to control the refugee and immigrant flows from the Turkish shores to the Greek islands? This agreement also contained an option of visa free travel for the Turks heading to Europe. The EU though had listed 72 prerequisites for this visa abolishment, many of which were considered as extremely difficult for the fierce Ankara to accept.

It had already been clarified even by the ex PM, that without visa free travel to Europe for the Turks, the agreement is void. Erdogan however, wanted to make it clear to the Europeans in his own bossy way, that the dismissal of Davutoglu meant a lot more for the EU-Turkey relations.

No agreement

On top of briefly denouncing the entire agreement, to the astonishment of many European governments, he raised the stakes and said to the EU, in the old Turkish way, that “from now on we are going our way, you go yours”. And all that, only hours after a Press release in Brussels on 5 May announced “that the European Commission opens way for decision by June on visa-free travel for citizens of Turkey”.
The Turkish way

Erdogan abolished the EU-Turkey accord publicly in a spectacular way for everybody to see, blaming one out of the 72 conditions the EU had set for the visa free travels. It was about the narrowing of the definition of terrorist in the Turkish law. Currently, the Turkish courts could condemn a good part of the population for terrorism or for helping terrorists.

Who is a terrorist?

Erdogan calls terrorists and terrorism, not only everybody and everything even remotely related to the Kurds, but also more than one thousand university teachers and students, for having signed a petition to stop the bloodshed in the eastern provinces (the war against the Kurds). In reality, the threat of being prosecuted as a terrorist or even a traitor hangs over the heads of every Turk. Erdogan himself has persecuted thousands for insulting him as President. Last Saturday, in a speech Erdogan emphasized angrily, “When Turkey has come under attack from terrorists and the powers that support them the EU is telling us to change the law on terrorism.”

No matter what you think

In a few words, Erdogan told the West in general, the US included, that Turkey will continue fighting the Kurds, not only on her own soil but in Syria too, no matter what the Americans and the Europeans think about that. As things stand now though, the only reliable ground force that the US can count on, to fighting the ISIS butchers, are the Kurds of Syria. But Erdogan thinks that the Kurds of Syria together with the Turkish Kurds pose a threat to his country’s national integrity.

Not to forget that two years ago, he had abruptly reversed his own integration policies for the Turkish Kurds and started a quasi personal war against them. Many analysts say that the real reason for Erdogan’s war against the Kurds, was the creation of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, a left-wing, anti-nationalist political formation with a strong Kurdish affiliation in the South-East of the country. In this way, it has undercut Erdogan’s AK party influence on Kurdish voters all over Turkey and managed to enter Parliament crossing the 10% threshold.

Towards Asia

In short, Erdogan, by dismissing Davutoglu and denouncing the EU-Turkey rapprochement, establishes not only an openly autocratic internal political platform, but also clearly reorganizes his foreign policies in the Middle East directly defying the West.  He is now definitely changing his country orientation towards Asia and the East, walking out on a peace and democracy anxious Europe. Add to that the terrible relations with Russia and the frozen relationship with Israel, and it becomes questionable if this solitary course will be beneficial for him and his country.

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