He never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. So went the Abba Eban-penned 1973 slogan used to describe the late PLO chief, Yasser Arafat, who was routinely blamed for failing to secure peace with Israel.
The same could be more accurately said of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was in the last week increasingly called out, in Berlin and Brussels, for his inability to bring Turkey into the EU.
First, it was German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, who told Bild last Friday “Turkey will never join the EU” under Erdoğan.
Then it was European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who as though on cue told a conference of EU ambassadors on Tuesday that “Turkey is moving away in giant strides from Europe.”
It’s no secret that Berlin’s line is the dominant one here. The question is what it means politically, not just for the EU, but the Middle East, too.
Few countries are better positioned to arbitrate the increasingly Levantine character of Europe than Turkey. Both European and Muslim, Turkey has always promised the possibility of being a bridge between civilisations, both geographically and culturally.
However, under Erdoğan such opportunities seem more remote than ever.
Increasingly authoritarian and violent, the Turkish president has transformed himself into a stereotypically regional despot, for whom religion and nationalism come before tolerance and democracy.
Hence, the frequent comparisons made between Erdoğan and his regional counterparts, from secular Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, on the one hand, to Iranian mullahs on the other, are valid on certain levels.
Given his war against his country’s Kurdish population, and his jailing of thousands of ethnic Turks, the distance Europe’s most senior leaders are putting between themselves and Erdoğan makes sense.
The question is what consequences this will have over the long-term for Muslim communities in Europe, and the European political echelon’s hope that it can ever have rational, democratic partners in the Islamic world.
It would be one thing if that world were just the Middle East. The issue is that Europe is increasingly Muslim, too, and their contribution to the Union’s diversity will only grow the longer the Levant remains in turmoil.
Erdoğan could have been the one regional leader to help put out this fire and reassure Europe’s Islamic community that they have a home here as well.
Unfortunately, by doing things such as encouraging Germany’s Turkish community to vote against Merkel in the forthcoming elections, Erdoğan is reinforcing the idea that Muslim and European societies will never find a way to reconcile themselves under the auspices of the EU.
The Inside Track
Post-democratic Poland. The European Commission insists that Warsaw respect the independence of its judiciary. The Law and Justice government says no. MEPs are increasingly in favor of invoking Article 7, if not more.
Up in smoke. Illegal sales of cut tobacco are on the rise in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, depriving state budgets of millions of euros in unpaid taxes. Post-communism never smelled so good.
We care a lot. Serbian workers are among the poorest paid in Europe. Demanding that the government increase the minimum wage, companies say they’ll only comply if Belgrade grants them more tax breaks.
Opportunity knocks. Courtesy of Fipronil, Benelux has abdicated its egg-producing throne. Thank ingenious Spanish farmers for helping fill the gap, as South Korea sought replacement imports from farmers on the Iberian Peninsula.
Sharing the blame. As Germany prepares for general elections 24 September, Transparency International chief Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm points out Berlin’s responsibility for the politicisation of the European Central Bank, blaming it on German inaction during the eurozone crisis.
Nuclear pays. Kazakhstan inaugurated a Low Enriched Uranium Bank on Tuesday, backed by the IAEA. The EU, one of the project’s biggest donors, hailed it as a “success for international cooperation” on nuclear non-proliferation.
Renewables are for the rich. Producers of solar electricity should pay higher taxes, according to the Czech government. The sector says it is being politicised before elections. In a country with six nuclear reactors, fear of relying on non-traditional power sources is likely to blame.
Ex-colonizers do it best. Immigrate at home. African and EU leaders gathered in Paris on Monday to broach the subject of migration, where support was expressed for moving the EU’s external border into Africa itself, so that asylum applications can be handled locally.
Populists prefer men. France is looking east to launch a reform of the EU and is seeking Central Europe’s support on defence, migration, trade and posted workers briefs to do so. Emmanuel Macron has an audience Merkel doesn’t, and is exploiting France’s lack of WWII baggage to break through.
Neoliberalism still sucks. A weekend poll showed French President Emmanuel Macron’s “dissatisfaction rating” rising to 57%, up from 43% in July. Melenchon would be preferable, but Le Pen will inevitably revitalise.
What was he smoking? If you repeat it enough times, it’ll come true. EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove says that the “modus operandi” of the cell that acted in Catalonia highlights how law enforcement in Spain and the EU in are stopping terrorists from getting guns.
Take that, America. The European Commission has said it will stand up for Spanish black olive producers if the United States slaps anti-dumping tariffs on the €65 million export trade, amid fears by EU farmers that tariffs on other products may follow.