No Occam’s razor in Turkey’s relations with EU
The term Occam’s razor refers to a philosophical idea that in any given set of explanations for an event occurring, it is most likely that the simplest solution is the correct one. However, it is impossible to apply this to Turkey’s relations with the EU, particularly with Greece. When looking at the recent tension between Ankara and Athens, it is hard to find a reasonable explanation for the aggression between the two neighbors, as well as the NATO allies.
Needless to say, the relationship between Greece and Turkey has never been easy and the two countries have come to the brink of war several times in the past, in particular due to the islets known as Imia in Greek and Kardak in Turkish. Last week, Turkish-Greek tension reawakened old memories. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the press that Turkish coast guards had removed a Greek flag, hoisted by three Greeks, from an island off the coast of the Aegean resort of Didim.
Ankara accused Greece of “provocation” and slammed the EU for, as Ankara saw it, siding with Greece. In a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Ankara showed its discomfort toward the EU and said, “The Kardak (Imia) Rocks and their territorial waters and airspace above them are exclusively under Turkish sovereignty. The (unconditional) support … by the EU to member states in their disputes with third countries (does) not contribute to the resolution of those issues within the framework of good neighborly relations and international law.”
The anatomy of Turkish-EU relations operates on several levels, with Greece constituting one. In the past few months, developments such as the death of a Greek airforce pilot after his fighter jet crashed in the Aegean Sea, remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the renegotiation of the Treaty of Lausanne — the document that has defined Turkey’s borders after its war of independence in 1923 — and a Turkish court’s rejection of the release of two Greek soldiers who were recently detained after crossing the Turkish border, further fueled the tension which has existed since the 2016 failed coup in Turkey. Tensions started after the Greek High Court’s decision not to extradite eight Turkish officers who flew a military helicopter to Greece on the night of the failed coup and requested political asylum. Ankara demands their extradition.
It would not be wrong to say that Turkey’s relations with Greece, or in general terms with the EU, is the most desperate relationship in the history of international relations.
Also, there is the issue of the discovery of natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly Greece’s energy cooperation with the Greek Cypriots, Israelis and Egyptians in the eastern Mediterranean, which seems to be considered by Ankara as “ganging up against Turkey.” There is also disagreement within the Greek side over the stance toward Turkey. While coalition partner and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who is known for his nationalist tendencies, is keen to fuel the tension with Turkey, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is in favor of lowering the tone against Turkey. Both Turkey and Greece are vulnerable to provocations from time to time and their relationship cannot be explained using an Occam’s razor approach.
Hardly a day passes in Greece without Turkey hitting the headlines. As a person who lived there, it was not a surprise for me to see Turkey occupying the first pages in newspapers. However, Greece does not occupy the same place in the Turkish agenda. Turkey’s foreign policy priorities and threat perception significantly differs from the Greek side. While Turkey might be first in the list of countries perceived as a threat by the Greeks, in Turkey, Greece may be listed at the end of the list. Already troubled by political and economic instability, the last thing Greece needs now is to have strained relations with its neighbor Turkey.
The recent progress report by the European Commission on Turkey was the latest sticking point in the cooling of Turkish-EU relations. The progress report, on Turkey’s accession negotiations since 1989, received harsh reaction from Ankara this year. Turkey regarded the report as one-sided and supporting the arguments of the Greek side. It was unfortunate to see such a report three weeks after the Turkey-EU summit was held, in which both sides were hopeful of better ties. According to Turkish analysts, the report was the harshest since talks began in 2005 and was “cloaked in hypocrisy.” In the words of prominent journalist Asli Aydintasbas, “most European countries would like Turkey to remain in the limbo between being an insider and an outsider.”
Amid the reactions to the EU report came the announcement by Erdogan of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections to be held concurrently on June 24. It is likely to hear critical voices from the EU regarding the elections and in the same vein, harsh Turkish reaction in the following days. It would not be wrong to say that Turkey’s relations with Greece, or in general terms with the EU, is the most desperate relationship in the history of international relations.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.