Thursday,16 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Thursday,16 August, 2018
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The EU looks to Ankara

No love is lost between EU leaders and Turkey’s Erdogan. But the refugee crisis has opened a door to improved relations, as long as Turkey works to staunch the flow of new arrivals in Europe, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Despite the fact that one of his fellow citizens, Aziz Sancar, had just won the Nobel Prize for chemistry, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acted true to form. Instead of welcoming a boost to Turkish morale in these troubled times, he lashed out at the prestigious award and members of the Nobel Committee. Of course, he did not do this directly, but his words strongly implied charges of hypocrisy and obsequiousness.

Last Friday, Erdogan met with political and business elites to prepare for the G-20 summit to be held on 15-16 November in the southern Mediterranean resort town Antalya. Erdogan said, with some passion, that the moment some European official (who remained unnamed) mentioned that his country would welcome 30,000 to 40,000 refugees, voices rang out calling for the official to be nominated for the Nobel Prize.

Yet, as Erdogan said, Turkey hosts two million Syrians and 300,000 Iraqis at the cost of $8 billion so far, while the whole of Europe has only paid $417 million, but no one said a word about that. Using his usual sarcasm, he said that the Nobel is subject to political whims and is awarded according to demand.

Observers were surprised and perplexed. Was Erdogan bitter because he felt that he should have been chosen because his country is sheltering thousands of refugees from the oppression of the Baathist regime and the savage brutality of the pseudo-Islamic State?

Or perhaps his intent was to deliver a double-barrelled broadside against Angela Merkel on the eve of her arrival to Turkey last Sunday, firstly because she was high on the list of Nobel Peace Prize nominees this year, and second, because she had arrogantly reiterated her opposition to Ankara’s membership in the Christian European club?

But there was also that incident that many might have overlooked, but not Erdogan. Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s eminent novelist and Nobel Prize laureate of 2006, recently said that Erdogan and the policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) are to blame for the country’s rise in terrorism and current slide toward civil war.

Perhaps his anti-Nobel assault targeted both figures. In all events, it reflected the seething hatred he harbours toward the West, whether European or American, and all powers that revolve in the Western orbit and are affected by its spirit of freedom of belief and democracy.

It is more than enough that their media, with their accursed freedom, constantly refer to him using terms such as “autocrat”, “dictator” and “despot”, and host personalities such as Orhan Pamuk on their TV shows.

Ten years ago, in October 2005, the EU and Turkey, in a climate of optimism and joy, signed an agreement to initiate talks over Turkey’s accession to the EU. Erdogan was prime minister at the time and Abdullah Gül was his foreign minister.

However, around 2008, European confidence began to decline in the then-prime minister because of his anti-democratic tendencies. It was then that he began a series of actions that would erode Turkish democracy and etch an increasingly clear line between the recent hope-filled past and a present clouded by ambiguity and doubt regarding his ultimate designs.

To add to this climate, Erdogan’s son, Bilal Erdogan, has been spirited out of the country to Italy. The official line is that he is there to write his doctoral thesis. Large segments of the Italian press are not convinced. Numerous analyses and commentaries have more than hinted that Bilal’s Italian sojourn relates to the high-level corruption scandals that began to break in Turkey in December 2013.

Lucia Borgonzoni, a member of the Bologna municipal council, remarked sarcastically, “In Bologna, we lack nothing. We even have Erdogan’s son here now.”

There goes that European press again! But if that were not enough, there was that chilly reception he received in Belgium, which he visited two weeks ago. In fact, he refused to meet journalists there for fear of the barbs and criticisms they might direct his way. It was his first state visit to Brussels.

He was there to meet senior Belgian and EU officials, but the European leaders were not displaying the warmth and welcome he may have expected. As elsewhere in Europe, Belgium regards him as a leader bent on curbing freedom of expression, silencing the opposition and ultimately undermining his country’s constitution.

A state visit it may have been, but that did not prevent Erdogan from using it as a campaign stop. But in Belgium he didn’t always get what he wanted. Brussels mayor Ivan Meyer refused to provide the Turkish president a hall to address the Turkish community in the Belgian capital.

As Meyer said, “Electoral campaigning should not be mixed in with a state visit.” Erdogan has been accused of violating the Turkish constitution by actively campaigning for the JDP party he helped found.

While not exactly a snub, the chairman of the Belgian parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Dirk Van der Maelen, said that he had no choice but to be part of the reception committee for the state guest, as unenthusiastic as he was about that visit.

Even King Philippe appeared to have doubts as he awarded the Order of Leopold medal to Erdogan. A spokesman for the New Flemish Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, said the award was purely protocol and that it does not signify support for Erdogan or the policies of his party.

The boycott by senior Belgian officials of the Europalia Festival, the last stop on Erdogan’s Belgian tour, seemed to cap expressions of sentiment by European officials toward the Turkish president.

The Belgian minister of culture did not attend the inaugural ceremony of the international arts festival, originally intended to promote cultural ties between the two countries. The turnout of other Belgian officials was low.

Nor did a number of EU leaders participate in the opening ceremonies, even though their names were on the programme. On hand were religious affairs officials, employees at the Turkish consulate and embassy, Europalia officials and staff, and some politicians of Turkish origin.

In spite of this, Erdogan has espied a beacon of light at the end of that bitter tunnel. It is what accounts for that smug triumphant air he had as he attacked the Nobel Committee. All those critics in the European continent are now flocking to him, appealing for his aid to save their countries from the unprecedented march of refugees towards their borders, and to save their own necks from negative domestic opinion.

Thus the government that had lost its credibility due to its violations of human rights, and the president who is suspected of thirsting to consolidate his dictatorship, are being courted again by the EU. The shower of political gifts has begun: three billion euros and no need for a visa to enter any European state as of next July. And all because of the political crisis generated by the flood of illegal migrants, most notably those originating from Syria.

Even Merkel has been forced to soften her customary hardline stances. From the steps of the famous Dolmabahce Palace on the shores of the Bosphorus, she pledged to start a new chapter in Turkey’s bid for EU membership if the refugees are kept in place in their current Anatolian shelters.

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