New EU and US criteria about Turkey vs Erdoğan criteria
The Turkish government welcomed the Council of Europe President Charles Michel’s announcement on March 25 European Union leaders’ decision not to impose sanctions on Turkey. The Foreign Ministry said the announcement was positive. Then came U.S. President Joe Biden’s invitation to President Tayyip Erdoğan to the online climate summit on April 22 and 23. Though Biden could have called Erdoğan after speaking on the phone with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Greeks’ independence from Turks. But instead, he invited Erdoğan to a video conference to be attended by the leaders of 40 countries, triggering a resultant wave of satisfaction promoted by the pro-government media.
However, developments show the new criteria in the view of both the U.S. and Europe about Turkey. These criteria – and I’m saying this regardless of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule – are not heartwarming at all , on the contrary, they are quite annoying.
These undeclared new criteria of both the U.S. and the EU are based on three main points:
1- Stop Russia, at least don’t go to its side,
2- Stop migrants, at least slow them down,
3- Do not disturb Greece and Greek Cypriots.
Human rights and democracy? Please don’t make me laugh, but we’ll come to that issue.
Erdoğan Criteria are in effect
It can be said that effective Western governments have not just invented these criteria, but they rather kept behind the curtains of “soft power” elements until now. Those soft power elements can be summarized as the Copenhagen Criteria (the set of rules that define whether a country is eligible to join the EU) and the Customs Union. However, it is seen that this new view started to become more clear after Erdoğan started implementing more independent politics from the Western alliance, as he blamed the West for the failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Right after the coup attempt, Erdogan began pursuing military diplomacy. Turkey’s first entry into Syrian territory is with the Jerablus operation only five weeks after the coup attempt.
The July 15 attempt led Erdogan and his foreign policy team (*) to develop a policy not to disrupt the minimum obligations to NATO, but to make decisions independent of it. This can be adapted to Turkey’s relations with the EU and named the Erdogan Criteria. They are mainly based on the use of military power and the engagement of military diplomacy. Turkey has used military force as a lever in diplomacy on Syria, Libya, Eastern Mediterranean, Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict and the Black Sea politics. The Turkish military and the National Intelligence Service has played a role at least as important as the Foreign Ministry.
The new criteria of the US, EU
The most obvious indicator of the foreign policy that Erdoğan started to implement after 2016 was the purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia. In response, the U.S. seized the F-35 aircraft that belongs to Turkey, a partner of the project, and declared sanctions on the defense industry. Turkey cooperated with Russia and Iran in Syria. If this policy was limited to Syria, the EU, maybe excluding France, would not care that much. But things started to change in Libya. Because the Libya issue disturbed Greece and the Greek Cypriot government. On the other hand, this was a concern for France and Egypt under the rule of Sisi, who Erdoğan names putschist. The efforts to exclude Turkey from the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, disregarding geography, history and politics, began under such circumstances. This exclusion effort has sharpened Ankara even more. The turning point was the EU’s October 2020 meeting. At that meeting just before the presidential election in the United States, the EU governments decided to take strategic steps about Turkey in line with the U.S. What we see today is the result of that decision. Note that Biden addressed the EU summit held by video conferencing.
Hypocrisy about human rights and democracy
At the summit on March 25, only one day after it expressed strong concerns about human rights and democracy in Turkey, the EU this time declared that relations with Turkey were good due to the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Maybe this was the main reason why the Turkish Foreign Ministry welcomed the EU stance, with a symbolic small criticism, despite Turkey was no more named as a candidate country, and the Turkish Cypriots were even not mentioned.
Two “exploratory negotiations” were held with Greece, the Turkish warships were pulled from off the Cypriot coast, and that was enough for the EU countries. Obviously, Turkey’s EU membership candidacy status, which was expected during the era of late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit in 1999, was annulled in 2021 under Erdoğan’s rule. Turkey could do whatever it wants as long as it acts as a buffer against Russia and the Middle East, it keeps Muslim migrants if the EU borders and it does not disturb EU members Greece and the Greek Cyprus.
The U.S.’ list replaces the S-400 issue with migrants.
This once again marked the US and EU hypocrisy of using democratic rights and freedoms issues as a lever for military-political interest.
(*) Erdoğan does not only consult Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu while determining his foreign policy. Security and Foreign Policy Consultant İbrahim Kalın, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, MİT President Hakan Fidan and Vice President Fuat Oktay are also important figures in his team of foreign affairs.