The forerunner to the eventual European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community was established with limited scope in 1951. The Coal and Steel Community transformed to the European Economic Community (EEC) and Turkey was one of its first candidates to join; Turkey applied in 1959. Yet, while other countries joined the EEC, in addition to the Coal and Steel Community members, Turkey did not. After the transformation of EEC to the European Union, many more countries joined, including countries with problematic economies such as Bulgaria and Romania; but still not Turkey.
On this issue, the EU is disingenuous and keeps finding ways to impede Turkish accession, but does Turkey really want to be a member? Undoubtedly, many Turkish citizens want to become members of the European Union. However, the current government seems to act as though they do not want to be members of any sort of western alliance, whether a military one (NATO), or the EU. In April 2017, addressing a crowd of supporters from the steps of his palace in Ankara, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told election observers that it would not be so important to Turkey if the European Union broke off accession talks. To be sure, Mr Erdoğan wants all the advantages emanating from being a member of NATO and any advantages that may spring from being a member of the EU, but none of the commensurate obligations.
Mr Erdoğan acts and talks as though he wants Turkey to conquer Europe, not become part of it. Primarily, he wants to achieve this aim through demography. He asked Turks in Europe to have six children each. At the same time, through the Directory of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Turkey is influencing and shaping Turkish Diaspora in Europe. However, even it is feasible for all Turks in Europe to have six children each and all Turks in Europe agree with Mr Erdoğan’s policies, this demographic target is not sufficient to fulfil his ambitious plans.
Mr Erdoğan’s second approach is to present himself as a leader of the Muslim world. The Muslim population of Western Europe, depending on the country, varies between 5 and 10 per cent, Muslim birth rate is higher than the native population, and Muslim migrants continue to arrive in significant numbers. Yet it is doubtful that Muslims from the Maghreb countries, sun-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan, and former colonies of the Ottoman Empire, i.e. Iraq and Syria, will ever view Mr Erdoğan as their leader. Even so, Mr Erdoğan keeps trying. Part of his approach is to flood Europe with Muslim refugees and migrants. When he is not sending asylum seekers, he threatens Europe that he can and that he will do it if need be. In return, Europe keeps promising to pump money to Turkey.
According to a Greek newspaper, Mr Erdoğan told EU officials in November 2015 that “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses [heading to Europe]. So how will you deal with refugees if you do not get a deal? Kill the refugees?” The Turkish government did not deny the statement and Erdoğan later confirmed the remarks, saying that he was “proud” of them.
The Turkish Airlines (Türk Hava Yolları) has established flight destinations with African countries, which have little business or cultural connection to Turkey. Frontex said a dramatic increase in migrants from Africa illegally crossing the borders of the Western Balkans in order to reach the EU “could be partly explained” by the commercial strategy of Turkish Airlines. In Mr Erdoğan’s mind this is a win-win situation. He will either extract more money from the EU or flood it with predominantly Muslim migrants, whom he hopes to control in the future.
The problem is also due to Turkey’s policy of “visa diplomacy”, under which the AKP government has sought influence across Africa and the Middle East, by easing visa restrictions. Citizens of countries such as Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Sudan can all get “e-visas”, which require only a form to be filled in and a fee to be paid online. It seems the aim is to facilitate the arrival of Africans to Europe through Turkey. The point is that Turkey has become a hub, partly by design, partly due to geographic location. Mr Erdoğan uses prospective asylum seekers, economic migrants and genuine refuges that reached Turkey as a peon in his game of influence and resource extraction from Europe.
Mr Erdoğan has shown little respect to the sovereignty and laws of the European nations. He also disregarded Netherlands’ and Germany’s prohibition of AKP’s activities in their jurisdiction during the referendum campaign in 2017, by sending Ministers through clandestine means. When the Netherlands reacted, they were threatened with reprisals. Since there are no common borders between the two countries, Turkey cannot violate Netherland’s air space – a strategy used against Greece – but instead tried to threaten instability by referring to the large number of Turks in Netherlands, as though Dutch citizens of Turkish extraction are his fifth personal column. In March 2017, Mr. Erdoğan accused the Netherlands of Nazism after Dutch officials stopped the Turkish foreign minister from landing there for a pro-Erdoğan rally, and then escorted the Turkish family minister out of the country citing risks to public order and security. Mr Erdoğan also launched an extraordinary attack on Germany’s main political parties, describing them as “enemies of Turkey” and urging Turks to boycott these parties in the elections.
The attacks on Europe as a whole are constant. The term “Haçlı Seferleri” (The Crusades) is a frequent feature in his discourse. In April 2017, Mr Erdoğan has denounced the West’s “crusader mentality” after European monitors criticized a referendum to grant him sweeping new powers. Mr Erdoğan’s also stated the European Court of Justice’s ruling, which permitted companies to ban the Islamic headscarf as part of policies barring religious symbols in the workplace, was the start of a “crusade” by Europe.
His crusade narrative plays well in the domestic audience, all the while he threatens Europe with “Crescentades”. He said thus in Sakarya in 2017: “My dear brothers, a battle has started between the cross and the half moon. There can be no other explanation,”
Mr Erdoğan often also invokes “Islamophobia” in Europe, while “Christophobia” is rampant in Turkey – and it has always been.
Many governments before AKP wanted Turkey to join EU and made considerable effort, some genuine some not so much. Even AKP in its early years made what seemed to be genuine efforts for accession, whereas the current AKP does not want to become an equal partner in EU. At the same time, the EU needs to be honest and express its true position in relation to Turkey’s potential membership.
Opinions represented at PPJ are belong solely to the contributor of the piece and do not represent any other people, institutions or organizations that the contributor may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated.