Preemptive "Turexit" vote? Turkey may call for referendum on EU membership

Is it really an “exit” if you never actually “entered” in the first place? Arguments over definitions aside, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be looking to put the entire European Union membership question to rest himself before the members of the EU can do it for him. During a speech this weekend, the aspiring tyrant was hurling rhetorical stones at nearly everyone in the western world, including the European Union, and suggesting that yet another referendum be placed before the Turkish people. This one would give them the opportunity to turn their noses up at EU membership before the already unlikely offer was even put on the table. (Associated Press)

Turkey’s president said Saturday the country might pursue a Brexit-like referendum on whether to pursue European Union membership and also lashed out at a critical protest in Switzerland.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought up the proposal at a Turkish-U.K. forum in the southern city of Antalya, referring to the British departure from the EU and saying Turkey “might” hold a similar referendum after the April 16 vote to expand the powers of the Turkish presidency.

The negotiation process for Turkey’s EU membership began in 2005, but has been at a standstill for years.

These fits of pique and public temper tantrums are particularly worrying when we’re talking about someone who is on the verge of seizing nearly dictatorial powers in his country. Any time something doesn’t go his way or he perceives anything he might take as a slight, Erdogan seems to lose his temper and begin lashing out in an almost random fashion. In just the past few weeks he’s started wars of words with the leaders of Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Great Britain. The complete lack of self control on display is even more worrying when you consider the military power and critical geopolitical positioning of Turkey these days.

This latest food fight is even more disturbing because it’s a battle being fought over something which not only hasn’t happened, but is increasingly unlikely to ever happen absent a major sea change in Turkish politics. Turkey was formerly very eager to gain entry to the EU so they could take advantage of many generous trade deals. But needed reforms in that country stalled several years ago and the situation has been deteriorating rapidly ever since last summer’s attempted coup. EU leaders have warned that the new power grab Erdogan is engaging in would endanger his country’s chances of being invited to join and his parallel push to bring back capital punishment would essentially kill off the deal entirely.

It seems rather obvious that Erdogan is aware of all this. The most likely explanation is that we’re seeing yet another temper tantrum in the making. For the EU to reject Turkey would be perceived as an insult to his leadership, so these calls for a referendum represent a chance for Erdogan to reject the European Union first. It’s the international, political equivalent of dumping your girlfriend when you find out that she was about to break up with you that night. Is this really any way to run a country?