Turkey's president may "review" ties to Europe after the referendum

It’s been something of an article of faith on the international relations front that Europe would have at least some measure of influence over Turkey because of their long stated desire to join the European Union. But as events continue to unfold surrounding the upcoming Turkish referendum which would give nearly limitless executive power to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that assumption seems to be proving incorrect. This week the aspiring tyrant announced that, following the referendum, he would probably need to “review” his country’s relationship with Europe. (Reuters)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said after an April referendum Turkey may review relations with Europe, which he described as ‘fascist and cruel’ and resembling that of the pre-World War Two era.

Turkey and Europe are at loggerheads with Ankara accusing some European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands of applying what it says are ‘Nazi methods’ by banning the rallies of Turkish ministers among expatriate Turks ahead of a key vote that could give Erdogan greater powers.

Part of this can be chalked up to Erdogan’s desire to maximize votes in his favor in the referendum. Turkish ex-pats in several European countries are allowed to vote in the referendum, so the president’s surrogates have been attempting to campaign in places like Germany and the Netherlands. This has led to some heated confrontations, particularly when requests to hold political rallies and demonstrations have been denied. That was the case in Germany, resulting in Erdogan calling Angela Merkel “a Nazi.” Needless to say, she didn’t take that very well. (BBC)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Turkey’s president that comparing German officials to Nazis must stop, “no ifs, no buts”.

Mrs Merkel said if Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues, more campaign events by Turkish politicians may be banned.

German authorities have cancelled rallies designed to woo ethnic Turkish voters ahead of a key referendum on expanding Mr Erdogan’s powers.

There are likely two driving reasons why the carrot and stick approach isn’t working with Turkey right now, with the “carrot” being European Union membership. The first is that the possibility of that happening may soon be off the table anyway. As we previously discussed, Erdogan is pushing hard to reinstate the death penalty in his country and he’s already been warned that such a move would effectively disqualify Turkey from membership.

The second possibility is that Erdogan simply doesn’t see membership in the EU has that much of a necessity anymore. After all, he’s been making plenty of new friends. Through numerous meetings he has been drawing closer and closer to Vladimir Putin who he likely sees as a more powerful ally anyway. He’s been becoming closer with Iran, North Korea and Venezuela as well. This probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone because the leaders of those nations seem to practice a style of governance much closer to what he’s aspiring to these days.

If we don’t have the temptation of EU membership as a tool to exert leverage over Turkey it’s difficult to see much of a path toward a diplomatic resolution. This is going to be one of the serious challenges for President Trump if and when he gets around to addressing the situation. But I certainly hope he comes up with something, because it would be a real disaster for this once prospering democracy to completely slide under the shadow of tyranny.

Jazz Shaw Aug 10, 2022 8:01 AM ET