High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles delivered a speech concerning Turkey in the European Parliament on Sept. 15. In the core part of his speech, he named Turkey among the countries that want to enliven the “old empire,” adding that this is a new situation confronting the EU.
New decision that would bring the Turkey-EU relations to crossroads might come out from the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting of the foreign ministers of the member countries on Sept. 21 and the European Council meeting of the heads of the states and governments on Sept. 24.
Borrell said in his speech that:
• “The empires are coming back. There are at least three of them. We can say Russia, China and Turkey, big empires in the past. They’re coming back with an approach on their immediate neighborhood and globally, which represent for us a new environment. And Turkey is one of these elements that changes our environment.”
Inspired by the recent disputes in Syria, Libya and lately the Eastern Mediterranean, Borrell, the foreign affairs chief of the EU, claims that Turkey is in efforts to revive the empire – apparently referring to the Ottoman Empire.
‘We can’t change the geography’
Borell’s remarks, some of which were in response to questions by members of the European Parliament, include the following:
• “It’s clear that solution will not come from an increasingly confrontational relationship. We don’t want it. Turkey is an important neighbor for EU, and we are not going to change geography, and will remain so.”
• “Turkey is a key partner in many areas; migration, for example. It’s going to be difficult to believe that we can solve the migration flows without the help of Turkey.”
• “[Turkey] is an accession candidate, and a large majority of its population embraces our values and look for the European Union as a societal model.”
• “But it’s clear that the development in Turkey and Turkey’s actions put into question, how our relations will develop in the future. And we have to look for an answer to these questions urgently.”
This situation shows that President Tayyip Erdoğan’s “If you don’t want us, then say it” approach has started to have a reflection in Brussels. Unfortunately, according to the EU official, the most striking issue about Turkey is the migrants and he wants to give the impression that they can deal with “the Turkey question” easier if the “migrants issue” is resolved.
Russia, China and Turkey
It is interesting that the EU official named Turkey, along with Russia and China, among problems and linked this to an effort to revive the empire. When it comes to Russia, it is clear that he is speaking of the Ukraine dispute, the annexation of Crimea, the Belarus issue, as well as the pressure it applies to the Baltic. When it comes to China, a global situation beyond Hong Kong and Taiwan and the U.S.-China dispute come to mind.
I had noted in a recent article that U.S. journalist Bob Woodward named these three countries together in his book “Rage.” In the boot. Donald Trump’s former intelligence official, Dan Coats, claims that
Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Erdoğan “flatter [Trump], then do what they wanted.”
However, there many serious points that separate Turkey, China and Russia. China is the world’s second-largest economic power. It possesses atomic bomb and space technology and is one of the five members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power. Although not that strong economically, energy giant Russia is the world’s second-largest military power and a space power on par with the United States.
Turkey holds a regional economic and military power and is a country with dependencies on both the U.S. and the EU.
Dangerous analogy of ’empire’
The EU officials remarks that place Turkey near Russia and China would of course flatter some Islamist, nationalist and neo-Ottoman sections among the voter bases of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its election partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). It is possible that some circles can reach conclusions that would link these developments to the opening of Hagia Sophia to prayer as a mosque, the recent Caliphate debate, and the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, leading Turkey to make mistakes under President Erdoğan. But Turkey –both during the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic eras– improved whenever it turned its face toward the West and declined each time it approached the East. One should keep in mind that the sole National Program approved by the parliament remains as the EU accession. Such analogies should not lead to a boasting that would change Turkey’s route.
There is still room for resolving the Eastern Mediterranean disputes via dialogue without compromising Turkey’s interests. This should be materialized. The importance of the Lausanne Treaty, the Montreux Convention, and the far-sightedness of the modern republic’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk are also evident from the fact that Ankara still relies on these documents to protect its interests. Turkey possesses the knowledge and experience to defend its national interests with dialogue, not fight; this should be used now.