Compared to McGregor vs. Mayweather, Sunday night's political debate in Germany was incredibly boring. Compared to any Trump vs. Clinton debate, it was like watching paint dry. The two debaters, Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU/CSU and Martin Schulz of the SPD are practically the same candidate. Their disagreements were few and far between with the topic of Turkey being no exception. Down in the polls and viewed as far less charismatic than Chancellor Merkel, Schulz was desperate for a "gotcha-moment" throughout the debate and thought he could score some points on Turkey. While Schulz's SPD is known to be more pro-Turkey, he thought he'd shake things up a bit by declaring Turkey's accession talks to the European Union should be suspended. Merkel, ever the shrewd politician had him exactly where she wanted him.
Absent a catastrophic breakdown, Merkel will be reelected Chancellor of Germany for a fourth time later this month. The German people do not elect their Chancellor, legislatures in the Bundestag do so on their behalf. In the last 60 years, no chancellor has had the support of the majority of the German electorate and in three weeks' time, this streak will likely continue. All Merkel had to do was respond in kind to Schulz to prevent him from scoring points and respond she did.
"I was never in favor of Turkey joining the EU and now we must consider all the options," said Merkel landing a fierce uppercut to Schulz. Visibly shaken by her blow, Schulz watched in disbelief as his political future disintegrated in front of his very eyes. Mercy Chancellor? Nein! "I want to immediately stop pre-accession talks," Merkel muttered landing a fierce left-jab/hard-right body blow combination. With a final "The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU," Schulz was left down for the count.
Chancellor, we get it. Turkey is an easy target right now. I'll be the first to admit Turkey lacks the well-polished political spinsters that are the hallmark of great western democracies. It has not paid political operatives millions to focus-group President Erdoğan's suits, nor has it paid lobbyists billions of dollars to the work the halls of Brussels and other European capitals convincing politicians to do its bidding. Speaking strictly in economic terms, such actions may have resulted in net positive flows for Turkey. Fortunately or unfortunately for Turkey, this isn't Erdoğan's style.
To the average lay person, Merkel did a 180 degree turn on Turkey. She now is against Turkey's accession following over a decade of being for it, right? Not exactly. Turkey has been in a decades long courtship with the EU with the final step being accession negotiations that began in 2005.Turkey was in desperate need of liberalization at the turn of the millennium. At the time Turkey had an older population that was simultaneously staunchly politically conservative, "the Turkey of the last 80 years must continue unchanged" they argued while pretending to be pro-European. They were painfully unaware of how liberal Europe really was. President Erdoğan saw a political opportunity. EU accession talks would force the country to liberalize, which paved the way for greater rule of law in Turkey, something the elites never wanted. Political freedom coupled with free speech would be had in Turkey at long last.
Turkey's minorities were finally allowed to communicate in their own languages, girls banned from an education because of religious beliefs by the old-guard were allowed to go to school and foreigners were allowed to invest in Turkey. All of these things helped make Turkey prosper. Erdoğan achieved much via the EU accession talks and they have been great for Turkey. It has come a long way and may still have some way to go. But let's not kid ourselves. The EU was never going to accept Turkey and Turkey never wanted to be ruled by EU politicians in Brussels. It would be disastrous for Turkey as it has been for many EU countries.
Ignoring the ethnic and religious differences, economically speaking, Turkey is simply too big. It would vie with Germany for the largest country in the EU and put the EU on the doorstep of the Middle East. Right now, Turkey is a great buffer. Both sides trade freely with each other and reap economic benefits. No need to complicate the relationship by putting a label on things.
Merkel needed to score political points to cement her win in the next election. It was just politics. We get that. Listen, EU, we like you too but let's remain friends. It's not you, it's us.