Turkey and Europe: Now what?

Published 30.05.2017 00:35

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Washington and Brussels was awaited with awe and anxiety by most political analysts around the world. In Turkey, the prevailing sentiment was one of defiance vis-à-vis the EU and some barely hidden hope that the new Donald Trump administration in Washington D.C. would be much more accommodating to Turkey than President Barack Obama was.

Practically, none of these scenarios came to pass. Fortunately, some would say the Trump administration is not at all predictable so the bilateral meeting could have gotten out of hand. The EU, despite all the odds and its extremely harsh criticism of Turkey on the part of the European Parliament, together with the very critical stance taken by the Organization of European Security and Cooperation (OESC) and the Council of Europe, has decided to freeze, for the time being, the problematic issues with Turkey and kept our relations' framework untouched.

This development could be summarized as a victory of "realpolitik," but it is not. The U.S. administration still does not know what to do with Syria and has immense trouble ahead in putting forward a tangible road map. The very thorny issue of arming the People's Protection Units (YPG) has not been abandoned by the U.S. administration, despite a very alarmed and vehement demand on the part of Turkey.

However, both parties have agreed to disagree on this issue, and the initiatives of Turkey, jointly with Russia and hesitantly by Iran have created a cease-fire in Syria, albeit a very fragile one.

Relations between Turkey and the EU could have fallen into a really disastrous abyss, which has been avoided by the common sense shown jointly by France and Germany on one hand, and by the low profile taken by Turkey on the other. President Erdoğan has even told us that EU representatives have submitted a road map for the coming 12 months.

The EU has not made any official statement as to the existence of such a "cahier de charges," or a specific timetable. Turkish authorities did not give any further details concerning this new road map, which probably contains expectations and the conditions for steps to be taken by the EU. We will probably hear more about the content in the coming weeks and months. It would be extremely astonishing if any new chapters are opened so long as the state of emergency prevails in Turkey.

On the other hand, it would again be surprising if the implementation of the accord between Turkey and the EU, concerning the three million refugees, does not see a swift and accelerated implementation.

So, at the end of the day, points of friction remain both with the EU and the U.S. administration, but alliances remain solid. One can rightfully ask whether or not it is pure "realpolitik." Surely, in the very short run, this is realpolitik in its purest form but things tend to develop much deeper and much faster than at first glance.

European countries have been deeply alarmed by President Trump's diatribe against NATO contributions. This is not new - George W. Bush, upon his election as president, used almost the same rhetoric. Ditto for climate issues but this time, EU countries are probably more inspired to take more tangible initiatives.

Angela Merkel has been very clear on the issue by saying that Europe should take its destiny in its own hands. This does not mean that the European countries will have their own military alliance as an alternative to NATO. The latter has no alternative and it would be totally unrealistic to expect EU countries to noticeably increase their military spending (to be mostly spent on high-tech U.S. weapons). Initiatives to form a pure European military force abound in history: the Western European Union, the French-German brigade, all of them remained symbolic.

What is happening in Europe goes far beyond that: NATO was established to keep the U.S. in, the USSR out and Germany down, to be very simplistic. Now in the EU, Germany is vested with a political leadership role it does not really want, and a military leadership role it definitely rejects.

On the other hand, Germany is structuring a very capable, integrated military command with a thorough operational capacity together with Romania and the Czech Republic. The Bundeswehr is not able to fulfill any leadership role in military fields, but can very well structure a very operational multi-task force with the participation of other EU countries.

At that juncture, Turkey's relations with Germany (and France) acquire a deep meaning: Will Turkey contend with a rather secondary role as a peripheral and friendly country to this new European core, or will it chose to become part of it? This is a question we have to answer very rapidly, by establishing a mutual trust environment with Germany… This will not be an easy task.

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