Europe supports Turkey as relations with US worsen
While Turkey is experiencing problems with the US, European leaders have started to make statements that lay down both political and economic support for Ankara.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s phone calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were followed by meetings between Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also Erdogan’s son-in-law, and his French and German counterparts. Albayrak is also expected to meet his British counterpart soon. From the European capitals, consecutively positive remarks are being made that support Ankara against American policies, particularly after the recent Turkey-US trade row.
While US President Donald Trump was happy to announce the fall of the Turkish lira against the dollar via Twitter, the same happiness did not occur in other Western capitals. Moreover, the lira’s plunge rang alarm bells in the EU, which did not waste any time in taking an opposing stance on the Turkish economy. Turkey is a vital trading partner in the Middle East for the EU, which is concerned about a potential spillover of economic mayhem. This made the EU leaders come to the defense of Turkey, with the first show of support coming from Turkey’s largest trading partner, Germany. Speaking at a press conference, Merkel underlined that Germany would prefer an economically strong Turkey, saying: “Nobody has an interest in the economic destabilization of Turkey.”
Needless to say, a weaker Turkey has many implications for the EU and even the global economy. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire declared that France would further enhance its economic ties with Turkey, sending a clear message to the US that the EU stands with Turkey in this economic turmoil. Another response came from the European Parliament, which urged the White House to resolve its issues with Turkey through “constructive diplomatic engagement.”
From the Middle East peace process to the Iran nuclear deal, the US and Europe have found themselves on differing sides of international conflicts and foreign policy issues.
Thus, the EU’s stance not only indicates that the Turkish and European economies are politically and economically interdependent, but also shows that Ankara and Brussels can put their bilateral issues aside in the face of a common threat. Here, the well-known theory of “balance of threat” comes to mind. This theory, first proposed by Stephen M. Walt in the 1980s, says states’ alliance behavior is determined by the threat they perceive from other states.
From the Middle East peace process to the Iran nuclear deal, the US and Europe have found themselves on differing sides of international conflicts and foreign policy issues. Even before Trump took office, fading American influence had led to the thought in EU capitals that the US was no longer the traditional guarantor of security and stability in Europe and the Middle East.
Moreover, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has dealt a severe blow to EU-US relations, which are at their worst since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. This even led European Council President Donald Tusk to tweet: “Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Tusk, touching on Washington’s attitude in dealing with the Iran nuclear deal and trade disputes, even called on the EU to be more united than ever before to deal with what he called Trump’s “capricious assertiveness.” Increasing anti-Americanism on Europe’s streets has parallels with such feelings in Turkey.
Likewise, Turkey, a NATO ally and a very significant actor for the US in its Middle East policies, is engaged in a stand-off in relations with Washington — ranging from Ankara’s objection to American support for PKK-affiliated Kurdish forces in Syria, to US reluctance to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is exiled in Pennsylvania and who Ankara regards as the mastermind behind the failed 2016 coup attempt. It would not be wrong or exaggerated to say that NATO has been experiencing a growing polarization between its members, and this is not good news for the future of the organization or for the future of the region, which is prone to great conflicts.
From the other side, Turkey and the EU do still have issues waiting to be resolved. However, the policies of the Trump administration risks doing harm to the interests of both Turkey and Europe, and this has made the latter realize that a collective action is needed for dealing with the US. Both Turkey and the EU have the sense that they are aboard the same ship, facing common challenges and having to cope with American waves together.
Additionally, turmoil in Turkey is not wanted by the EU due to the potential flow of refugees, which is a matter related to European security. Thus, the summit proposed by Ankara involving France, Germany and Russia to discuss Syria could be significant in this matter.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.