The impact of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s move Wednesday to replace Prime Minister Ahmet Dautoglu is already being felt in the western chancelleries with the signs that the scenario now is one of an acrimonious divorce between Ankara and the European Union. The EU-Turkey deal on stopping the flow of refugees to Europe in lieu of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the Shenghen area has hit the skids. (Financial Times)
Of course, the refugee problem is an existential issue for the EU — and for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in particular, whose political prestige is at stake, since she was the architect of the deal with Turkey which she got a reluctant EU to accept. The Chancellery in Berlin warned Erdogan yesterday: “The Chancellor has worked very well until now with Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu… and we assume that this good and constructive cooperation will continue with the new Turkish prime minister”. (Bloomberg)
But Erdogan is defiant, even plainly contemptuous. He retorted, “We will go our way; you go yours” – hinting that he is slamming the door shut on the democratic reforms that EU is demanding from Turkey. He added, “The EU is telling us to change our law on combatting terrorism. [They] are allowing terrorists to raise tents and then [they] come with requirements.”
Murat Yetkin, the highly respected Turkish editor, wrote today in Hurriyet newspaper, “ It is a matter of speculation in the back stage of Ankara that Davutoğlu cutting a deal with the EU on immigration by modifying it at the eleventh hour and his request to visit the U.S. and meet Obama only a month after Erdoğan did were examples of Davutoğlu making Erdoğan unhappy about overshadowing the president’s power.”
Make no mistake, Erdogan will not blink if the West resorts to pressure tactic. He will never agree to certain key “preconditions” of the EU deal that Davutoglu negotiated whereby Turkey is required to change its anti-terror legislation in line with the European acquis and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. At issue is the prerogative of Turkish courts (which Erdogan controls) to be the final arbiter to interpret and enforce law in the country. Again, for example, EU demands more independence for its Data Protection Authority which would restrict government agencies from accessing personal data on security considerations, whereas, this goes against the grain of Erdogan’s political needs to muzzle dissidents. (Hurriyet)
Erdogan’s stock is very low in the western capitals, including Washington. His decision to remove Davutoglu will set alarm bells ringing that Turkey is veering away to a foreign-policy course that Erdogan has always favoured – “neo-Ottomanism.” Erdogan will now play up Turkish nationalism to consolidate his power base, which will also strengthen his real political agenda to transform Turkey as a presidential system and centralize his powers even more. According to the rumor mill in Ankara, Erdogan may choose his son-in-law Berat Albyrak (presently energy minister) as Davutoglu’s replacement. The “westernist” camp in Turkey, which is one half of the country, feels dejected over these developments and tensions are set to grow in Turkey’s domestic politics.
Equally, a reset of the compass of Turkish foreign policies at this juncture would have serious implications for regional politics. In immediate terms, if Erdogan retracts on the deal with EU, Ankara’s relations with Europe will nosedive, since the spectre that haunts many European countries is a tsunami of illegal migrants arriving on their shores, which would put intolerable pressure on the continent’s unity and political stability. (See the Wall Street Journal analysis Turkish Power Struggle Threatens Ties to West.)
In a broader perspective, although Davutoglu was the architect of “neo-Ottomanism” he was also a “moderniser” who appreciated the importance of Turkey’s ties with the West. Davutoglu’s absence from the top echelons of power leaves the “Sultan” who considers himself to be the monarch of all he surveys an even freer hand to charter the Turkish ship along the Middle Eastern waters in a strategic reorientation of foreign policies away from Europe and the US to the Islamic world.
The bottom line is that while Davutoglu’s removal was a power play by Erdogan to show who’s the boss in Ankara just when the latter was aspiring to be President Barack Obama’s interlocutor in the White House as regards Turkish foreign policy, it also has a strong ideological content to it as regards Turkey’s tryst with destiny as a bridge between Europe and Asia. (See my article in Asia Times Turkey’s Sultan eases out his Grand Vizier.)
Reprinted with permission from Indian Punchline.