Turkey Won’t Bow to Brussels

The rise of populism on the back of anti-immigrant sentiment and protectionism slowly eradicates the West's liberal credentials

Donald Trump’s surprise election victory left European leaders deeply concerned. They aren’t only worried about the President-elect’s calls for NATO countries to contribute more to the alliance. The real concern is that the far-right populism, which has been on the rise in recent years, could dominate European politics soon.

To be clear, the European far-right has made significant progress since Brexit. Having taken repeated shots at ‘liberal democracy’, they were overjoyed with the US election results. Desperate to seize the moment, European populists want to get a piece of Trump’s campaign managers.The rise of populism on the back of anti-immigrant sentiments and protectionism slowly eradicates the West’s liberal credentials. Once hailed as the end of history, liberal democracies lose power as the European Union’s crisis deepens.

More broadly, the Western-centric international system is on the brink of a major transformation. For the record, I don’t agree that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union or Donald Trump’s election victory marked the triumph of anti-globalization. A more plausible explanation is that a new form of globalization is being designed out of fears that China and emerging economies have benefited from the existing model.

Driven by multinationals, economic globalization is being re-designed to meet the needs and demands of Western nation-states. However, it would be wrong to assume that the current effort won’t lead to changes in the strategies and alliances developed by the great powers. In other words, China, Russia, the United States and the European Union will have to redefine their relationships to adapt to changing global circumstances. Moving forward, the new rules of engagement will mount pressure on the financial relations between China and the United States.

Although President-elect Donald Trump promised to bring jobs back to America, his administration will have no choice but to secure the influx of cheap Chinese goods into the US market to maintain the electorate’s living standards. In response, Beijing might seek to compensate for financial losses by scoring military wins in the Pacific.

Washington’s relations with Moscow, too, could be more difficult than expected. While Mr. Trump has been generally positive on Russia, the likelihood of a new relationship with Europe could give the Kremlin more power over the old continent. The recent election of a pro-Russian presidential candidate in Bulgaria wasn’t an isolated event. And Europe could suffer a lot more as the transition continues.

Moving forward, the European Union might have difficulty maintaining political and economic stability as well as keeping a lid on populist nationalists in member states. Still, Brussels doubles down by fueling tensions on the Union’s relationship with Turkey. German politicians serving in the EU leadership, in particular, have been carelessly threatening the Turks. Having identified the economy as Turkey’s main weakness, they desperately try to mount pressure on the Turkish leadership.

In truth, trying to twist Turkey’s arm at a time when the refugee crisis threatens Europe’s stability is like playing with fire. In this sense, European Parliament President Martin Schulz’s recent threats about imposing economic sanctions on Turkey disappointingly lack political vision. Needless to say, the Turks won’t bow to Brussels over threats to hurt their economy or suspend EU membership talks.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the EU’s bluff by mocking Mr. Schulz and proposing that a referendum be held to decide whether Turkey should continue membership talks with Brussles unless the Europeans take concrete steps by the end of the year.

EU leaders don’t seem to understand the limits of their power over Turkey or their long-term interests. Nor do they grasp how closely tied Europe’s stability is to Turkey’s own. Under the circumstances, it seems inevitable that the powerholders in Brussels will be removed from their posts by the wave of populism in Europe.

[Daily Sabah, November 17, 2016]

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