With the secret hope that a change of government in Turkey will restore the rule of law, Brussels is eagerly awaiting the results of the Turkish elections.
After two decades of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s stay in power, first as Prime Minister and then as President, in Brussels they are taking the scenario of political change in the country seriously and no one is displeased. Exactly the opposite.
“The main expectation of Western countries in the event of a victory for the opposition would be the realization of its commitment to restore the principle of the rule of law. A second expectation would be the recovery of the Turkish economy, which will make it possible to exploit the enormous possibilities for cooperation with the EU,” Mark Pierini, scientific associate at the Carnegie Europe Institute and former EU ambassador to Ankara, told APE-MEP.
Optimism in the EU for a more constructive attitude of Turkey towards NATO and the Eastern Mediterranean with Kilicdaroglu
However, the key question is whether Turkey’s position can now change economically and socio-politically and return to its Kemalist past, even if Erdogan loses the election after 20 years in politics. Mark Pierini recalls that “Turkey has changed profoundly over the past 20 years: its infrastructure has been modernized, its industry has developed, its armed forces have been strengthened, its economic relations have diversified. These developments will not disappear with the elections. What can be done if the opposition wins the elections is above all a return to the rule of law, major economic reforms and more peaceful diplomacy.”
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“However, even in the event of Kemal Kilindaroglu’s victory, the EU countries do not neglect the difficulties,” said a European diplomat who confided in the APE-MEP. Because everyone knows that “Kilindaroglu, if he wins, will lead a fragile coalition and will have to manage an economy in poor condition”. They know that with Kilindaroglu things will be a bit better, but they won’t be rosy, and the frosty relations between the EU and Turkey certainly cannot change drastically overnight. On the contrary, optimism prevails in the case of the victory of Kilindaroglu for the rapid accession of Sweden to NATO. Moreover, the possibility of a change of government reasonably justifies the hopes in the West of a more constructive attitude from Turkey and in terms of regional stability in the eastern Mediterranean, where Erdogan’s attitude has caused great tension these recent years (Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Egypt).
Erdogan’s approach also ‘irritates’ allies
Within the EU, they now realize the serious possibility of a defeat for the Islamic-conservative leader, with whom there has been no lack of tension in recent years. After the constitutional reform which strengthened the powers of the Turkish President and weakened the rule of law, EU-Turkey relations gradually deteriorated, leading to the suspension of the accession negotiations started in 2005 in 2018. The controversies multiplied, verbally culminating in Erdogan’s statement against the Netherlands and Germany with references to the Nazis and calling French President Emmanuel Macron a “psychopath”.
In 2020, Turkey continued to irritate both EU countries and its NATO allies with its illegal drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Cypriot EEZ, its regular violations of Greek airspace, its exploitation of immigration, but also with its crude intervention in Libya, its threats of broader intervention in Syria, as well as its military operations against the Kurds abroad (Iraq, Syria), its position on the war of Nagorno-Karabakh and the purchase of Russian S400 missiles.
Le Monde: A victory for Erdogan would be a victory for Putin
Thanks to the war in Ukraine, however, Turkey has managed to regain favor with the West, becoming “the necessary intermediary” to unlock grain through the Black Sea ports. But once again, the Turkish president insisted on testing the patience of his allies, by blocking the accession of Sweden (and for several months also of Finland) to NATO. On the other hand, he condemned the Russian aggression, but refuses to put in place sanctions against Moscow, maintaining an ambiguous relationship with his “friend” Vladimir Putin, but also his dialogue with anti-Western Iran. As much as the West pretends not to see, no one disputes the fact that Turkey has become a point of circumvention of sanctions against Moscow.
“The central geopolitical question is Turkey’s position vis-à-vis the war launched by Russia on the European continent, a war that is as much against the EU and NATO as against Ukraine. Turkey should take into account this historic development: the return of a long-lasting war on the continent,” former EU ambassador to Ankara, Mark Pierini, told the APE-MEP. He said in the French newspaper “Le Monde” that “a victory for Erdogan would be a victory for Putin”.
EU: Strong dissatisfaction if Erdogan wins
“In the event of Erdoğan’s victory, it is clear that the ’27’ will not be too unhappy,” said another European diplomat. “If he doesn’t change his attitude, at least he will get them out of the difficult position of having to do certain things for Turkey.” On the other hand, in the event of a victory for the opposition, relations with the EU will depend above all on the extent of democratic renewal, considers the same diplomat. “If Kilindaroglu keeps his pre-election promises of a return to the rule of law and a more orthodox economic policy, the Europeans will have to seek solutions with Ankara on issues such as the modernization of the customs union, or the liberalization of visas for Turkish citizens. However, no one in the EU is thinking of resuming accession negotiations with Turkey, especially on the eve of the European elections”.
The worst-case scenario for the EU is political instability following the Turkish elections. If the election result is marginal, the scenario of contestation of the result on one side or the other exists. “Disputing the results is common in the Turkish elections (2017, 2018, 2019). What will matter is the transparency of the results,” notes Mark Pierini.
Considering all of the above, one can conclude that all of Europe and the institutions are simply indifferent to the elections in Turkey.