terça-feira, 23 de fevereiro de 2016
A graveyard of ambition
A graveyard of ambition
Turkey is where European foreign policy went to die
Feb 20th 2016 | From the print edition
ONE of Turkey’s more forlorn sights is tucked down an Ankara side street inside the EU affairs ministry. At the top of a small staircase lurks a poster depicting a sprawling tree, its lower branches bereft and leafless but its top half a lush burst of greenery. A caption explains the symbolism: “Let’s bring a dynamic industry, young workforce and unique cultural diversity to freshen and revive the European Union. By welcoming Turkey.”
This relic speaks of a happier time, when Turkey was confident enough in its bid for EU membership to present itself as a tonic to a tired continent. Travel around the country today, as Charlemagne did last week on a trip organised by the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, and you encounter a different mood. For many Turks opposed to the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party, the EU’s name means betrayal.
In Istanbul liberals lament that Europe turns a blind eye to the authoritarian habits of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a president with a penchant for beating up journalists and tampering with the judiciary. Refugees in Gaziantep, near Syria, do not understand why Germany worries more about the migrants reaching rich Europe than the hundreds of thousands of Syrians facing death at the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his Russian enablers. Kurds in the south-east say that Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, ignores the plight of towns like Cizre, besieged by Turkish troops.
Little wonder they feel let down. Turkey’s south-east is a simmering cauldron of violence. Since last summer Turkish forces and young rebels affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have been locked in a spiral of violence that has left hundreds of civilians dead. Cities are in lockdown; in Diyarbakir the air is thick with tear gas and the crump of artillery. Locals warn of further escalation in the spring, when battle-hardened fighters of the PKK leave their winter redoubts in northern Iraq.
Elsewhere Mr Erdogan continues his authoritarian march. Beset by allegations of corruption in AK and opposed by former allies, he is single-mindedly pursuing a constitutional change that would extend the powers of his presidency. Terrified journalists censor themselves before government goons do it for them. Public contracts reward friends; foes are fined for supposed tax violations. Turkey’s political and ethnic cleavages grow ever wider.
Meanwhile the region is aflame. The fighting around Aleppo (see article), over the Syrian border, has created a fresh stream of refugees. Desperate to stop Syrian Kurds from expanding their territory along the border, Turkey has begun shelling their positions. Russia’s escalation, and its alliance of convenience with the Kurds, has weakened Turkey’s hand. Mr Erdogan’s war of words with Vladimir Putin is dangerously heated. Meanwhile America, a NATO ally, rejects Turkish demands that it disown the Syrian Kurds, who are useful in fighting Islamic State (IS). A car bomb which killed at least 28 people in Ankara on February 17th showed that the violence is spreading to Turkey’s heartland.
It is easy to see why Europe’s refugee problem might not be at the top of Turkey’s in-tray. Europeans optimistically say that Turkey’s troubles present them with an opening, for Mr Erdogan needs friends. But that misreads the view from Ankara. In Syria Mr Erdogan wants to smash the Kurds and hold the line against Mr Assad; at home he seeks to consolidate his rule and squeeze the opposition. The EU is not able to help him achieve these goals. And so, while leaders like Mrs Merkel (rightly) praise Turkey for welcoming 2.5m Syrians onto its soil and express sympathy for its strategic predicament, Mr Erdogan responds with insults and threatens to bus millions of refugees to Greece and Bulgaria.
The Europeans will have to accept such tough talk in their bid to secure Turkish help to reduce the migrant flow. The EU’s promise of visa-free travel for Turks in exchange for a cut in the number of migrants, agreed on late last year, is a genuine prize for the Turks (“Visiting Germany is harder than buying land in heaven,” says one). But Europe is in a rush, and Mr Erdogan is not. Hence Mrs Merkel’s endless meetings with Turkish officials. Hence the EU’s willingness to overlook Mr Erdogan’s excesses. And hence the sense of betrayal among his domestic antagonists. “We need pressure from outside,” says Firat Anli, the co-mayor of Diyarbakir. “Otherwise we see where the state’s reflexes lead.”
An insincere invitation
In this telling, the Europeans might be able to blunt Mr Erdogan’s sharper edges if only they were brave enough to shed their hypocrisies. Certainly the EU was once a force in Turkish politics. In the early years of AK rule it was a useful anchor for Mr Erdogan’s economic and legal reforms, and an ally in his battle against Turkey’s old secular elite and their friends in the army.
Yet the EU lost its clout years ago. Soon after membership talks began in 2005, Turkey fell victim to the sharp tongue of Nicolas Sarkozy, a former (and possible future) French president who once dismissed Turkey as part of “Asia Minor”, and the veto-wielding Cypriot government, which was let into the EU before solving its own Turkish problem. When Turkish citizens realised that accession was going nowhere, they lost interest. And once Mr Erdogan had got what he wanted from the process, he discarded it and moved on. Pro-EU Turks were left adrift.
They have not lost hope. Support for membership is climbing as Mr Erdogan tightens his grip, and at least Turkey and Europe are talking again. Turkey’s local troubles have left it more dependent on EU markets and investment. Even the stand-off on Cyprus may be near a solution. Had Europe pledged a decade ago to allow Turkey’s application to go forward, and convinced Ankara (and itself) that membership was a realistic prospect, it might not find itself so helpless today. Last year’s deal may have been grubby and it may turn out to be pointless, but by the time it was signed, the EU had nothing left to lose. It is hard to think of a stronger indictment of Europe’s foreign policy.
From the print edition: Europe