The EU must address the ‘Turkish problem’

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Turkey has become a security threat for multiple countries and regions. Additionally, Ankara is increasing its ties with Russia, China and Iran.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020.
It is no secret that the Erdogan regime has been engaging in an expansionist, highly destabilizing policy abroad and autocratic, violent measures internally.

The list is long: Ankara carries out military operations and occupies lands in neighboring countries, supports extremism and terrorism (Hamas, ISIS), suppresses religious freedom at home (Alevi community and some Sunni groups), imprisons political opponents while also dismissing thousands of workers from their jobs in the public bureaucracy, conducts demographic engineering in Kurdish areas while the militarily tries to crash the Kurdish democratic struggle, drills illegally in the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus, challenges the sovereignty of Greece in the sea, engages in human trafficking and weaponizes human migratory flows from Asia, Africa and the Middle East to blackmail Europe.

Turkey has become a security threat for multiple countries and regions. Additionally, Ankara’s increasing ties with Russia, China and Iran at multiple levels constitute a clear indication of the path that the regime has chosen.

Turkey is currently governed by an alliance of highly anti-Western, antidemocratic forces, a combination of political Islam and Turkish ultranationalism.

It undoubtedly is an autocracy that is entirely detached from Western or European standards: no independent judiciary, no free press, and no free civil society.

The Turkish so-called presidential system, which has no checks and balances, is entirely incompatible with the European Union’s core values.

The ideological amalgam of Islamism and Turkish nationalism is extremely anti-West and anti-EU. Erdogan uses this ideology at every opportunity and declares the EU (and the West) as responsible for any failures. The regime’s propaganda aimed at its internal audiences portrays Europe as a fortress of Nazism that is anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim and wants to weaken Turkey.

Relations with the United States are at a low point because of Turkey’s decisions to launder Iranian money and support Iran’s dubious nuclear program, to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia (a huge area of conflict with the United States and NATO), and to use foreign prisoners as bargaining chips under the cover of a remote-controlled judiciary in the orbit of the regime.

Some EU officials believe that taking substantial measures against Turkey would feed the Islamist-nationalist narrative, which is wrong; on the contrary, the ongoing “wait-and-see policy” of the EU only strengthens the regime.

It should be noted that Turkey’s current economic crisis has been caused primarily by the regime’s mismanagement – unmaintainable borrowing, nepotism and huge public construction projects with little economic return. The devaluation of the Turkish currency cannot be stopped, continually driving prices higher in the country.

THE EU is still a vital partner of Ankara in trade, borrowing and investment, and Turkey desperately needs to improve the existing Customs Union and deepen its economic dialogue with Brussels more than ever before. The EU still has important leverage over Turkey.

For this reason, instead of following an unproductive appeasement policy, the EU should focus more on putting an end to the illegal and dangerous Turkish regime behavior. Brussels should not think of Anatolia as a kind of “buffer zone” and its people as a cheap labor force and consumers for European products. This is a shortsighted and poor strategy that undermines Europe’s security and the EU’s credibility as a value and norm-based community, with democracy and the rule of law at its core.

Instead, Brussels should develop a long-term policy for the real democratization of Turkey by using multiple tools.

Thus, the EU must take measures that will target the autocratic regime. These could range from economic to political measures, such as freezing customs union with Turkey, blocking Ankara’s financial system and other institutions from European funding, freezing all accounts of Turkish officials in Europe, canceling Schengen visas of all Turkish bureaucrats and officials, demanding the release of all political prisoners in Turkey, calling for democratic constitutional amendments and for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue through dialogue and taking concrete steps in that direction.

Moreover, Germany should suspend its delivery of submarines to the Turkish navy in order to avoid igniting a war in the Eastern Mediterranean. And the EU as a whole should institutionalize an arms embargo against countries that disrespect the rule of law and threaten its member states.

As two scholars from Greece and Turkey who closely follow and study the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, we are very worried about the future of peace in this region.

We believe that the EU can do more to help the real democratic forces of Turkey, who live either in the country or abroad, by creating specific funding, educational, diplomatic, and journalistic tools. This will be good for both the EU and for the citizens of Turkey, whose children deserve to live in a geography of peace and democracy.

Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman teaches political science at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

Dr. Nikos Michailidis teaches anthropology and Mediterranean studies at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.



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