Most tangible results of the Berlin Conference seem to be entangling the Eastern Mediterranean question further with the Libyan War and aggravating the already ever deepening crisis between Turkey and Greece.
On a more positive note, even if the warring parties of the Libyan War, commanders Khalifa Haftar, and Fayez al-Sarraj, could not withstand breathing the air of the same room; Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi managed to tolerate even sharing the same table. That’s a far cry from last autumn, when it was reported in Turkish media on September 26 that Erdogan has rejected an offer to join a meal with the US President Donald Trump upon seeing Al-Sisi seated at the table.
While the Greek-Turkish relations are facing new lows, Turkey may be stepping away from its stubborn stance over not just Egypt, but also Syria. In talks mediated by Russia, Ali Mamlouk, special security adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, reportedly met with Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan at Moscow on January 13.
Founding Managing Director of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) and Hürriyet Daily News columnist Güven Sak pointed out that Israel and Turkey relations are returning on track-at the economic and social level for the time being. But diplomacy and politics may follow the lead. Sak wrote in his column “Israelis are back in Turkey after a lost decade”:
“The architect of Turkey’s Libya policy, Admiral Cihat Yaycı, actually suggested that Turkey extend the same deal it made with Libya to Israel. Anyone who thinks about Turkish strategy in rational terms always comes to the same conclusion: Cut deals with the major market economy and preeminent military power in the region.”
In order to get serious and tangible results in Libya and Syria, Ankara does need to engage in dialogue with Assad, Al Sisi for sure, and render Israel less of an adversary if not rekindle the old alliance. But still Turkey and Israel have a lot to overcome before embarking on diplomatic rapprochement: the Times of Israel recently reported that the counterintelligence unit of the country’s armed forces has included Turkey for the first time in a list of countries considered to be a “threat to the security of Israel”.
55 article “bandage”
The wide-ranging, 55 article agreement coming out from the Berlin Conference on Sunday for the sake of respecting the U.N. arms embargo and ceasing of military support to Libya’s warring factions is like bandage on a blood flowing wound. If the rival sides do not agree to a lasting cease-fire, status quo of war will just continue, and “arms embargo” will just remain as lip service.
In fact, Ankara was de facto delegated with the same task of “neutralizing” the dissent of Islamist factions in Idlib. But if “exporting” the mercenaries from Idlib to Libya, luring them with the promises of higher wages and Turkish passports, was Ankara’s “win win strategy”, then Berlin Conference’s “UN backed arms and military aid embargo” may just crush this target.
As main objective of any foreign policy move of populist governments is consolidating the local electoral base, whatever the result is in Libya, it will be marketed as a success in Turkey. Even giving the impression of being “a mover and shaker” in world politics, standing tall together with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin; looking down upon France’s President Emmanuel Macron are very marketable “photo-ops” to the local audiences.
Creating new conflicts on the road to end one?
As aforementioned, one of the most tangible outcomes of the Berlin Conference turned out to be worsening Greek and Turkey relations. Already the Eastern Mediterranean question was the elephant in the room in relations between two countries; now the state of crisis has become permanent and “East Med” issue is right in middle of everything.
Troubles with Greece will lead to worsening of already dreadful relations between Turkey and the European Union institutions, too. Germany did not add any positive highlights to its already negative image in Greece either by leaving Athens out.
If Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (accused by some in Ankara with plotting the 15 July 2016 coup attempt) could be at the same table with Turkey; why not Greece really?
Greece evidently feels cornered and rushes into new military alliances and investments to be able overcome anxieties stemming from tensions with Turkey. One of the alliances is with Riyadh, in a pact apparently crafted to unnerve Ankara: Athens and Riyadh have reportedly agreed on the deployment of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles of the Hellenic Air Force in Saudi Arabia.
Structurally, Turkey and Greece relations are swept back to the early 1990s, and even 1980s when let alone political adversary, open hostility and animosity was running amok.
Meanwhile, Turkey is back to three-four decades ago in all fronts as far Europe is concerned: the recent report titled “Journalists Safety and Media Freedom” by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called “Turkey to end its abuse of criminal laws and laws on terror to silence media and journalists”. The report is so déjà vu that it could have been written in the 1990s. It is noteworthy that the Council of Europe represents all 47 countries of Europe, not just the EU. Under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, member states have “an obligation to establish a sound legal framework for journalists and other media professionals to work safely”.
Hence, the PACE report is signal of Turkey’s problems with the Council of Europe beyond those with the EU itself; and its institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights.
Over the weekend of January 18-19, it was reported in the German media that the Instrument for Pre-Accession Funds (IPA) to Turkey will be cut down by 75 percent due to the Eastern Mediterranean Crisis. Although the EU Foreign Relations and Security Policies Office denied the reports with a written statement on January 20, the issue of EU sanctions to Turkey still up in the air and may be in the cards in 2020. And Berlin Conference certainly did not help to clear the air in the Aegean and Mediterranean by adding to already existing tensions; adding fuel to the fire.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak several European leaders have called launching an all-encompassing Marshall Plan-style public investment program to mitigate the economic impact. Turkey was a part of the Marshall Plan as it was automatically considered to be a part of Europe and the Western bloc back in 1951. How about now?
Hungary’s new “COVID-19 State of Emergency Law” allows Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree indefinitely. he COVID-19 crisis may pass, but the dagger in the back is there to stay. And Hungary’s new legislative turn may prove to be the real “epidemic”: draconian systemic changes going viral.
Schengen is one casualty of COVID-19, but not the only one. The European Stability Pact, which requires member states to uphold a less than three percent budget deficit is another casualty. The EU had to lift the budget cap on March 20, guarded by the European Stability Pact.
Is the first casualty of the coronavirus the European Union itself? There are now more confirmed cases of coronavirus globally than there are in China, and Europe has been defined as the “epicenter of epidemic crisis” by the World Health Organization. And when it comes to facing the crisis, it’s almost as though the European Union does not exist as an institution.
Money is an important part of the issue for Ankara; but so is its safe zone plan. The polls indicated that the public supported the military incursion into Northern Syria first and foremost because they believed that a safe zone for Syrian refugees to return may be created. As Turkey’s public opinion sours vehemently on the refugee issue, the “promise of sending back the Syrian refugees” is political gold in terms of returns in political capital.
This is our darkest hour with Europe and the European Union. And I do not think that either the public in Turkey or Turkish politicians in general are aware of the grimness of the situation. Turkey’s public psyche has gone berserk with all sorts of negative emotions, and are unable to recognize that relations with Europe are completely wrecked beyond repair.
While Ankara may not receive the solid backing from NATO that Turkey is seeking against Russia now, dialogue channels with NATO are stronger compared to other international institutions — for example, the European Union. Despite all the conflicts of interest and tensions that Turkey and European states, as well as Ankara and Washington, have endured, their links with NATO are still intact.
In Turkey’s case, beyond Ankara and Erdoğan’s foreign policy line, perceptions are changing, and the West is clearly not winning when it comes to public perception. A recent survey by MetroPOLL showed that Russia is the “most trusted country” in Turkey, followed by Japan, China, and Hungary, respectively. While love of Japan and Hungary extend back to Ottoman times and might be due to imagined cultural affinities, trust in Russia and China are novel developments in Turkey.
Várhelyi’s statement on a “revised methodology” for EU enlargement and the official document for this new approach do not even refer to Turkey. Or, in other words, as far as enlargement is concerned, Turkey is not remotely on the mind of the EU.
Since March 2018, obtaining a visa through the Ankara Agreement got increasingly harder. The UK Home Office made an unexpected announcement at midnight on March 16, 2018; declaring that new applications will not be accepted until further notice.Real impact of Brexit over Turkey may be on trade front though: Britain has signed 18 free trade agreements with 55 countries so far.
2020 seems already to be ridden with unexpected crises erupting all around the world: Turkey had to face one of its worst fears, an earthquake. The warmest responses came from the EU countries with which Turkey has the coldest relations: France, and at a far warmer level, Greece.
U.S.-Greece relations are on track despite Trump’s reluctance to condemn Ankara. Perhaps military sales compensate for that by producing tangible results that reduce Greece’s anxieties concerning Turkey.
Clear goal of the EU and the major European states is saving the nuclear deal. As Trump was threathening to bomb 52 sites in Iran in allusion to the same number of diplomats taken the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran, the EU’s new foreign policy chief Josep Borrell invited Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Brusells. However, at the moment, there seems to be no clear European vision ahead or roadmap.
If I had one way to describe this year, it would be “bittersweet. While I am more optimistic about Europe in general, I am less optimistic about Turkey and Greece as we slowly step into 2020.
Can local governments and municipal leaders counter centralized, majoritarian populist national governments by creating an alternative “spaces to breathe” for politics? Looking at Budapest, Warsaw, Bratislava, Prague and Istanbul’s determined struggle for “freedom”; it looks like we will comeback to this question more and more in 2020-and beyond.
Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made a formal comeback on Dec. 13 with the new party he founded, the “Future Party.” Former Finance Minister Ali Babacan’s new party is counting down the days to its launch and is due to take off either by the end of December or in the early days of January. There is also a surprise movement making its debut in Turkey: the pan-European movement DiEM25-Democracy in Europe Movement 2025.
While Turkey’s public clearly stands by the protection of human rights, they do not actively engage in any tangible act to actually support human rights organizations. They are neither willing to donate nor take part in advocacy campaigns.
At first glance, Turkey may seem to be missing the “climate activism” heyday that’s on-going in Europe. Afterall, it is not the best of the times for any sort of grassroots activism in Turkey. But if you probe deeper, you will come across a diligent and robust climate activist movement budding all over the country.
According to Sept. 2019 data, almost 90% of the public believes that violence against women has increased in recent times. And the public holds the judiciary and the political sphere culpable for increasing violence against women. Around 65% believe that the judiciary is not working effectively when it comes to cases violence against women, and 66% think that politicians are not doing enough to prevent such cases.
As Budapest’s new mayor (and also a political scientist by profession) Karácsony pointed out, maybe the cities are winning at the expense of the populist center specifically because “the correct answer is to strengthen representative democracy, complement this with the institutions which are part of the participative democracy and involve people more in decision-making.”
At the end of the day, the gist of the Erdoğan-Orbán camaraderie is displaying an image of strength to the EU. Their policies regarding Europe, popular domestically, aim to push their own agenda at the expense of Brussels.
The speed at which Germany’s “international safe zone plan” was thrown off the table was only matched by the speed at which it was proposed in the first place. While the proposal became passé almost as soon as it hit the headlines, it was useful for one thing: reflecting on the current state of political affairs in Germany and the relationship between Germany and Turkey.
All eyes were on Ankara’s relations with Washington after Turkey launched its “Operation Peace Spring,” and speculation abounded that the once-allies had parted ways for good. But in fact it is Turkey’s relations with the EU and Europe that took the real and probably most lasting blow.