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Will Turkey return to its broken European course?

September 7, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey on 4 August, 2018 [Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency]

Turkey has recently been under intense pressure from both Washington and Moscow. In some statements by government officials there have been signs of a rapprochement with Europe, as if it were the lifeline for the next economic crisis, which is expected to have dire consequences. This was encouraged by the fact that the European governments, affected in part by the trade war waged by President Donald Trump against everyone, have expressed concern about the Turkish lira crisis and their solidarity with Turkey in the face of Trump’s decisions.

While the statements made by France’s President Macron regarding abandoning the idea of ​​Turkey’s accession to the European Union angered Ankara, it was implicitly content with his call for establishing a “strategic partnership” with Turkey. Today, the Turkish government may not be too concerned with strategic issues such as EU membership as much as it is concerned with immediate treatment or painkillers to alleviate its economic suffering. In other words, save the day and leave thinking about tomorrow for tomorrow.

While the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted, on more than one occasion, at Washington’s attempts to back Turkey into a tight corner in order to push Ankara to seek new allies, namely Russia, Iran and the BRICS countries, Russia’s recent pressure to pave the way for a battle in Idlib has revealed the fragility of any alliance with Moscow and its partners.

Read: Turkey condemns Syria, Russia assault on Idlib

The Russian foreign minister has also been talking about Russia’s impatience regarding terrorists of the Tahrir Al-Sham organisation stationed in Idlib province. Before the grace period granted by Moscow to Turkey to persuade Al-Nusra to dissolve itself or remove its fighters from the province was up, air strikes were launched against some of the towns in preparation for their invasion. Moscow did not wait for the tripartite summit of the Sochi trio in Tehran, which was supposed to meet to discuss the fate of Idlib. Instead, Moscow preferred to hold this meeting while the Turkish President was under the pressure of air strikes, leaving him with no choice but to agree to hand over the province, after the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation failed to convince the Nusra Front to dissolve itself.

In any event, even if the Nusra Front dissolved itself, the result would be the victory of the chemical weapons-using regime and Russia. This would be followed by the inevitable next step: demanding Turkey remove the monitoring points, which have not been completed for long, or to force Turkey to coordinate with the Al-Assad regime. It will then be Afrin and the Euphrates Shield areas turn, thus completely removing Turkey from the equation of the conflict in Syrian territories, and consequently depriving it of participating in the determination of Syria’s fate.

Read: Turkey begins setting up base for Russian S-400 missiles

In this sense, Ankara realises that what will happen in Idlib in the near future will mark the beginning of the end of the Turkish role in Syria. This is the bitter outcome of its rapprochement with Moscow at the expense of its strategic relationship with Washington, a relationship Washington also wanted, led by Trump. Trump wanted this relationship to be one where the US dictates things, and therefore the Turkish President decided to rebel against it. The direct result was the disruption of the economic situation in the country by giving an additional moment to the devaluation of the Turkish lira, a track the country was already going down, years before the American pressure, as a result of major mistakes in the government’s economic policy.

Will the possible rapprochement with Europe save Turkey from its predicament? The Turkish government hopes that Europe will help it avoid the next economic crisis. Otherwise, matters such as returning to the path of EU accession, is outside the interests of both Turkey and European countries. This is because such a return would stipulate political and economic conditions that the Turkish leadership does not seem to be interested in after Erdogan went too far in centralising all authorities in his hand, and the decline of basic European values ​​such as the independence of the judiciary, the state of public freedom, the state of the press, the media, the malicious arrests under the pretext of the open war against Fethullah Gulen, the increased restrictions on Kurdish politicians and MPs, the subordination of the Central Bank to the presidency, and others.

The German Foreign Minister’s visit to Turkey, on 5 and 6 September in this context, after a long period of lukewarm relations between the two countries, and the German media’s talk of a busy agenda for Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Ankara, mainly indicates the following: the normalisation of relations between the two countries, the release of German citizens in Turkish prisons, and urging the Turkish government to restore respect for the principles of the rule of law. It also suggests Germany’s fear of a foreseeable economic crisis in Turkey, including the possibility of seeking financial assistance for Turkey, as well as German concerns about the upcoming battle in Idlib, which could result in a new wave of refugees.

Read: Turkey won’t fulfill ‘unlawful requests’ on US pastor case, Erdogan says

It seems that the German government is seriously considering the possibility of providing financial aid to Turkey, but not without conditions. The conditions, particularly the political ones, may be partly the same as the conditions of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. As for general freedoms, it will include a separation of powers, freedom of the press, and the independence of the judiciary. This is basically everything that goes against the authoritarian tendencies established by the results of the elections last June, including the transition to a presidential system.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 6 September 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.