Turkey’s President: Friend or Foe
August 22, 2017
The Media Line—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan forcefully inserted himself into Germany’s upcoming elections by urging Turkish foreign-nationals to boycott major parties, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Germany has a large Turkish diaspora estimated at some three million people, many of whom will vote on September 24 when Merkel bids for a fourth term.
Erdogan’s comments are the latest in an escalating war-of-words between Ankara and Berlin, whose ties deteriorated sharply in the wake of last year’s failed coup in Turkey, to which authorities responded with a major crackdown on civil society. For her part, Merkel has questioned Turkey’s commitment to democracy and suggested there would be no further progress towards its ascension to the European Union.
The rift between Turkey and its largest trading partner, the most influential country in Europe, has deepened a growing chasm with the West, in general, a dispute complicated by the fact that Ankara is a member of NATO.
According to Prof. Dror Zeevi, an expert on Turkey in BGU’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies and a fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, no formal decision has yet been made by either side to abandon the prospect of Ankara joining the EU.
“While relations have soured considerably,” he expressed to The Media Line, “the Europeans have not closed the door to the bloc. They have made clear that should Turkey make changes this could lead to renewed talks.
“Erdogan has been considering ditching the process for several years, but there are advantages to [maintaining good ties] with Europe—for example, the customs union—so he will tread very carefully.”
Prof. Zeevi highlighted that the “Turkish government, while showing little enthusiasm for Europe, is in a bind because of its role in NATO. Whereas Ankara would like to be closer to Russia and Iran, it is limited because [the western military alliance] is still important in terms of training and equipment as NATO has long been a part of Turkey’s geo-strategy.”
Despite this, he concluded, under Erdogan’s leadership “there has been a slow shift towards the far east.”