French President Emmanuel Macron is back on the stage with more of the outlandish claims we have come to expect. In a seeming attempt to make up for his failure to get the European Union to sanction Turkey, the Frenchman launched a fresh attack against Ankara. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel stresses the importance of interdependence and a constructive relationship, Macron continues to threaten Turkey with sanctions.
That’s a shame because Germany successfully pushed back against an effort by France, Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration and Austria to draw “red lines” and created a new window of opportunity in Turkey-EU relations. Merkel thus endorsed a “positive agenda” featuring a revised customs union agreement, fresh talks on refugees and visa liberalization. The EU’s pledge to defend Greek and Greek Cypriot rights, in its final communique, was hardly unexpected. Its call for a multilateral conference on the Eastern Mediterranean, in turn, was comprehensive enough to cover the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions, energy, migration and economic cooperation.
It seems that the idea of a regional conference will keep everyone occupied for the next three months. Ankara must take initiative regarding the participants, modality and topics of that conference to facilitate negotiations, based on the principle of fairness, regarding the Eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, the United Nations just certified the Turkish-Libyan agreement on maritime jurisdictions – which strengthens Turkey’s hand in the region.
It is no secret that Macron would like to start a war of words with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, despite an agreement for Turkey-Greece talks and the EU’s decision to promote a positive agenda. He fired the first salvo over Turkey’s effective security operations in Syria, claiming that NATO was “brain dead.” Macron proceeded to express frustration about Erdoğan’s moves in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean, and thus drew a "red line." This time around, the French president was unsettled by his Turkish counterpart’s criticism of the Minsk Group – set up in 1992 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – and Erdoğan's firm stance against Armenia's occupation of Azerbaijani territories.
The Frenchman, a co-president of the Minsk Group, continues to accuse Turkey of making inconsiderate and dangerous political statements. He also alleges that Syrian fighters have been active in Azerbaijan. One thing is clear: Macron is unhappy that Erdoğan has the upper hand in Nagorno-Karabakh – just as he does in Syria and Libya. It is thus only reasonable to expect Macron to make more serious allegations and for Erdoğan to deliver the response he deserves.
Lacking foreign policy experience and increasingly unpopular at home, Macron has doubled down on populism. At the expense of France’s famed laicite, he has pursued the so-called French Islam project. Earlier this month, the Frenchman claimed that Islam was experiencing a crisis around the globe to prevent Turkey, Morocco and Algeria from training imams in France. That policy reflects a commitment to infringe on religious freedoms. Macron, whom French voters supported just to save themselves from the far-right Marine Le Pen, should take a page from the French far-right’s playbook.
Let’s just ignore Macron’s latest nonsense statements. There is a window of opportunity in Turkey-EU relations that stretches until the organization’s December 2020 summit. Merkel seeks to launch a "dynamic negotiation" with Erdoğan to make a difference. As Macron blabbers on and on, the German leader demonstrates strong leadership, assuming responsibility for Europe, three decades after her country’s reunification. To succeed, Merkel needs to restart negotiations for the customs union, which broke down in 2018. She must also clear the path for visa liberalization.
If Germany hands over the European Union’s rotating presidency to Portugal with that kind of momentum, Turkey and the union members will discuss the immediate outcome of that "positive agenda" instead of fresh tensions. Europe could thus open a strategic window of opportunity for itself.