On the Erdoğan-Macron spat

Macron says “the EU is me” and Erdoğan says “Turkey is me”. Both are not totally false and yet neither is fully correct. At the same time, as Erdoğan dropped the full EU membership target a long time ago, he prefers something in between the Russian and the new British relationships with the EU.

French President Macron’s Turkey strategy is “win-win” on his behalf. “Win-win” is perfectionism and more often than not, no diplomatic henceforth political solution is perfect. Mr. Macron’s message without exactly uttering those words is that Turkey is not part of Europe and will never be a full EU member. A heightened Greek-Turkish tension opens the door for eighteen French Rafale warplanes and perhaps four FREMM frigates to be sold to Greece with French loans. It also paves the way, if usurped properly, for French leadership of Europe in an EU where UK is now absent. All this, will help provide much needed ammunition for his next presidential election campaign.    

Mr. Macron is essentially harking back to reviving Sarkozy’s EUROMED dream, which was designed in short as an eternal waiting room and a Mediterranean basin where France would rule supreme. As with the still born WEU attempt, Ankara had kept a wary eye on that. Although now it is a different ball game: For Mr. Erdoğan EU membership means shackles on his exercise of power whereas free flow of Turkish people and goods within the EU is his own “win-win” formula. Yet as Mr. Erdoğan is unable to agree on the definition of “terrorism” with the EU, which in turn will immediately translate as freeing of thousands from jail, that project is also in the freezer since a long time. 

Mr. Macron’s Ajaccio speech is in a way also music to Mr. Erdoğan’s ears. There Mr. Macron, on his behalf tried and played it safe and sound. He prioritized negotiations over armed conflict but also emphasised the fact that for the purported dialogue to succeed, the EU should constitute a united front and avoid “guilty weakness.” Which in turn, translates as while the EU needs Turkey as an indispensable interlocutor in areas which I will enumerate below, EU and Macron will be forced to steal a page from Putin’s and Trump’s playbooks that are applied in downing the war plane over Syrian skies and priest Brunson incidents, respectively.

Let’s make no mistake: the EU is far from being united on how to tackle Erdoğan. Germany hosts over four million people with roots in Turkey and prioritizes the refugee issues. Italy is the destination of all Libyan natural gas exports and those fields are located in Turkey backed GNA controlled areas. Britain, well, is out of the EU. Spain, looks elsewhere and whistles. The US is busy with its presidential race and the current president is far from interested in playing the traditional peacemaker role between Greece and Turkey. Pompeo’s visit to the GASC has more to do with countering Lavrov’s photo op in Nicosia, than creating headache to Ankara.    

Furthermore, Macron says “the EU is me” and Erdoğan says “Turkey is me”. Both are not totally false and yet neither is fully correct. At the same time, as Erdoğan dropped the full EU membership target a long time ago, he prefers something in between the Russian and the new British relationships with the EU. For Erdoğan, as Russia has natural gas, in a negative way, Turkey holds refugees, radical Islam and MidEast frontier (including Libya) cards in its hands. One can as well cry and scream that Turkey’s EU membership is intrinsically related with its democratization but alas, that is not in the agenda.   

Wilson Center’s Nick Danforth tweeted a thread in which he cites that “The problem is that politicians can create reality, and Erdogan has created a situation where everyone has to choose between siding with Greece and France or defending the full “Mavi Vatan” (“Blue Homeland”) irredentist vision and ultimately everyone in Turkey is going to side with Erdoğan and everyone else is going to side with Greece and France.” Indeed, expectedly, eagerly and effectively, the opposition walked into the trap.

Even if you are not a keen student of Greek-Turkish affairs you would have noticed that there was no reference whatsoever till this point in this article to the so-called international law. The reason is twofold: One, basically, yours truly must admit that he never bothered to go through “who signed what in which date” sort of information. Two, is that, again yours truly firmly believes that re-visiting international treaties and/or bringing the existing counter-claims before an international court for fair arbitration will not help, at all. So, if that is Athens’ sine qua non opening move, good luck with that and good night for yours truly. 

On the other hand, although one cannot deny neither the geographic nor the historic complexities of these matters at hand, it is not also as if no solution is possible as in, say, “a” Palestinian issue. If you spread an Aegean map on the table, the semi enclosed nature of the sea will jump to your eyes with Crete in the South delimiting the boundaries. With political will on both sides, a “big bang” kind of formula can be agreed upon with Greece supporting Turkey’s EU membership and a political confederal solution to Cyprus issue –say, in its 50th anniversary in 2024 in return of lasting peace. Political will, fifty-fifty, give & take, not perfect, common sense are here key words et al. 

When Mr. Macron threw a hail Mary (foreign policy) pass down the field by claiming that Turkey is bigger than Erdoğan, Mr. Erdoğan intercepted it in his end zone and effectively returned it with a 100yard (domestic) touchdown while even the opposition parties CHP and İYİ Party cheered him on from the side lines. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Turkey’s seismic vessel Oruç Reis is now back in Antalya harbour, a new window for negotiations is open and meanwhile Turkey’s democracy is still dire straits but that’s none of EU’s business -I gather. And as a rule of thumb, not only in Turkey but also globally, the distinction between domestic and foreign policies is blurrier than ever. The dilemma of sanctions versus engagement is also there.

September 13, 2021 The new cold war