Commentary, Politics

Europe’s Blindness to Regional Developments

3 min read

Lacking vision and creativity, Washington and Brussels implemented a series of policies that promised nothing but authoritarian regimes, civil war, terrorism, humanitarian crises and sectarian clashes to the people of the Middle East and North Africa.

The European Parliament on Nov. 24 voted by 471 to 37 to urge governments to freeze Turkey’s EU accession talks, citing the state of emergency that the Turks declared after the failed coup. The parliament’s vote is non-binding and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response to the controversial resolution, urging dialogue with Ankara – indicates that European leaders don’t see eye to eye with the members of parliament in Strasbourg. However, the row over the refugee deal and visa liberalization will put additional strains on Turkey’s relations with Brussels.

There are a number of reasons why the Turkey-EU relations turned sour: The European debt crisis, the far-right’s popularity amid immigration fears, Brexit and Turkey’s troubles since 2013 immediately come to mind. Finally, European politicians were able to use the state of emergency as ammunition against the Turks. Ankara, in turn, is unhappy with Europe’s unwillingness to contribute to counter-terrorism efforts. Although the international media focused on one aspect of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s critique of the EP vote – that the vote “has no value” – another part of the same speech was largely ignored: “The fact that the European Parliament would dare take such a step shows that they shelter terrorist groups. That is no measure of the [Turkish] people’s [willingness to] risk their lives for democracy and independence on July 15.” For the record, a very large number of Turks agree with Mr. Erdoğan’s statement.

But the real reason why Turkey and the European Union are experiencing problems goes much deeper. The Turks have been frustrated with the Western-centric world system’s response to the region-wide geopolitical earthquake that was set off by the Arab Spring revolutions. Lacking vision and creativity, Washington and Brussels implemented a series of policies that promised nothing but authoritarian regimes, civil war, terrorism, humanitarian crises and sectarian clashes to the people of the Middle East and North Africa. Since 2013, Turkey has been directly affected by the security environment in the region. Having been fighting Daesh, the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) alone, the Turks ended up having to take care of Syria and Iraq as well. To be clear, the failed coup was the latest sign of the region-wide earthquake underway.

Six weeks after July 15, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield to pursue an active national security policy backed by hard power instruments. In President Erdoğan’s words, this is where the Turks stand on foreign policy: “The Cold War is over. Now we will push our limits and we are aware that we will step on some people’s toes in the process.”

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory, it’s reasonable to expect that the earthquake will only get stronger. The president-elect’s national security adviser, Mike Flynn, notably talked about the disintegration of Syria and Iraq and the emergence of new independent entities in the Middle East. Under the circumstances, Turkey has no choice but to ensure its national security and revise its relations with other nations. The problem with Brussels is that European leaders would like to ignore cold hard facts – just as they ignored the vital threat that the failed coup posed against the stability of Turkey and the region.

Luckily, people and political leaders across the MENA region know better. In a recent visit to Tunisia, Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi – one of the architects of the country’s post-revolutionary transition – put it best: “The night of July 15 was important because it rewrote the region’s history. The attempted coup’s failure in Turkey balanced off the military coup in Egypt and its aftermath. On July 15, history stopped for a second, after which we would go back or keep moving forward. Luckily, the coup was thwarted and history kept flowing in the forward direction.”

Doesn’t Mr. Ghannouchi sound like he has a long-term strategy, whereas the European Parliament does not?


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Burhanettin Duran received his BA in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University in 1993, and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Bilkent University in 2001. He was a visiting scholar at George Mason University in 2010-2011. He worked for Bilkent University as a research assistant, and for Sakarya University as a research assistant and assistant professor between 1993 and 2009. He became associate professor in 2006 and full professor in 2013. He was head of the department of political science and international relations at İstanbul Şehir University in 2009-2015. Dr. Duran also worked as a professor in Ankara Social Sciences University (ASBU) between 2015-17. Dr. Duran has been focusing on the transformation of Islamism, Turkish Political Thought, Turkish Domestic Politics, Turkish Foreign Policy and Middle Eastern Politics. Currently Dr. Duran is a professor at Ibn Haldun University and the General Coordinator of SETA Foundation.