For a long time, the EU has just let things slide. Whatever Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s tirades were, the EU swallowed them wordlessly. The Turkish president recently called the EU heads of government “links in the Nazi chain”, accusing Europe of treating Muslims the same way Jews were treated 80 years ago. Erdoğan fills the Turkish neighbourhood with mercenaries, drones and interventions – see Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. He threatens Cyprus and Greece with war and deploys Russian missiles in his country. Seriously?
Enough, the Europeans have now said to themselves; it is time for a change in European policy towards Turkey. Hence, last night, EU leaders decided to impose EU sanctions on officials and managers responsible for the aggressive natural gas drilling in the Mediterranean. However, the current measures are still very cautious, and furthermore, they largely spare the Turkish regime. What is holding the EU back? It is the same answers every time: Turkey’s geostrategic position! The refugee policy in the Mediterranean! Turkey as a Nato member! Apparently, these are the arguments why the EU should accept just about everything that Erdoğan does. But these are weak arguments because it’s Turkey itself which is cutting its ties with Europe. It is time for a European reaction that hurts Erdoğan and his henchmen. Now.
Erdoğan has ignored all requests, offers and warnings. For years the EU has been calling on Ankara to recognise Cyprus’ right to its economic zones and to negotiate with Athens and Nicosia. Erdoğan does not abide by international maritime law, it sends drilling ships into Cypriot and Greek waters – accompanied by warships. Erdoğan questions Greece’s borders and claims the Aegean Islands for Turkey. The country is arming itself like no other state in the world.
The time is right
Recently, he provocatively visited Cypriot border beaches with his ultra-nationalist coalition partners. Erdoğan is obviously much more dependent on these sinister types than he admits. And on Russia, with which he shares profits in Syria and the Caucasus.
Yet, now is the perfect time for a change in European policy towards Erdoğan. Donald Trump has been voted out of office. It was him, the nationalist US president, who used to protect Erdoğan’s deals with Putin and his shady gold and currency pushers. Joe Biden’s first official act will be to respond to the arming of Russian S-400 missiles in Turkey. The corresponding sanctions have already been approved by Congress. Their implementation is only a matter of a few more weeks.
The EU states should coordinate closely with the new Biden government and prepare sanctions themselves. The measures decided on at the EU summit against Turkish leaders in the drilling business should only be the beginning. The suspension of future arms sales to Turkey is one of them, which primarily affects Italy and Spain, but also Germany. If Turkey does not give in on numerous points of contention, the USA and the EU could also restrict Turkey’s access to international loans or to western markets.
But one should not be naive: such measures will not be a quick fix, Erdoğan remains Erdoğan. No, such sanctions would rather be an act of self-respect for Europe and demonstrate the unity of the EU towards a country whose head of state sees himself in a permanent state of struggle against everything western. They would be aimed against Erdoğan, not against the Turks. They should be extended at least every six months, and their lifting should not be tied to the agreement of all 27 members. This is important because Cyprus would otherwise misunderstand this as a permanent solution.
Would we lose Turkey? Certainly not. Erdoğan would have resigned from Nato long ago if he wanted to. He hasn’t even cancelled the broken EU accession talks because he always wants to keep some cards unplayed with Putin. He lost his outrageous refugee war against Greece in spring 2020. Incidentally: where does Turkey want to turn? Russia? Anything else is hardly possible – and yet Erdoğan and Putin are constantly arguing. To China? Much too far away. To the Middle East? Everyone hates Erdoğan, except Hamas and Qatar.
The only one who can lose Turkey is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself. With his shrinking party, he has not had a majority in the country for a long time.