How Turkey made the EU look like turkeys

AT the foot of an extinct volcano in central Anatolia lies Kayseri, where the local bazaar’s stallholders bask in a reputation for being the toughest negotiators in Turkey.

Word has it even Turkish visitors to the city, accustomed to the dark arts of marketplace bargaining, count their fingers after shaking hands on a deal with local sellers.
However, bazaar-style haggling isn’t the Europeans’ forte and, pitted against the wily Turks, they are like wide-eyed innocents abroad, especially when they think an offer’s been agreed, only to discover there are fresh demands.
In hindsight, then, it might have been wise for EU diplomats to have gone on a fact-finding mission to Kayseri’s souk before meeting with the Turks in Brussels last week for talks to solve Europe’s escalating refugee crisis.
Conversely, they could have asked the Israelis for tips, since Turkish-Israel relations are back on the agenda after a six-year blip, following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, when the so-called ‘humanitarian aid’ ship tried to breach the Gaza blockade and nine people died in a skirmish with Israeli marines.
Turkey’s then prime minister – now president – Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded three condition to rectify relations with the Jewish state: an apology (which he received, at US President Barack Obama’s insistence); compensation (apparently resolved); and a lifting of the blockade (though Hades will freeze over first before that happens).
But, since Israel isn’t Europe’s flavor of the decade, even a back-channel call for advice from the Netanyahu administration wasn’t ever likely to be an option explored.
Which is why the Turks ran rings round the EU and left Brussels with a goody-bag of concessions.
To its credit – though they make excellent bargaining chips – Turkey has already taken in over three million asylum-seekers, many now lodged in camps along the borders with its war-torn neighbors.
The trouble is Ankara has done zilch to stem the flood-tide of refugees, who’ve used its shores as springboards to cross into beleaguered Greece. Nor have the Turks launched any meaningfully crackdown on ruthless people traffickers, who smuggle the huddled, displaced masses into Europe’s Promised Land.
Meanwhile, the increasingly Islamist Erdogan turns a blind eye to jihadis crossing his path into Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State and other terror groups, continues support for Hamas, empathizes with the Muslim Brotherhood and has reprized the nation’s on/off war against the Kurds.
Yet, it’s not long since Turkey was cited as the cuckoo in the Muslim world’s nest; the exception to despotic rule, where a secular, pluralist democracy flourished and people were free to speak their minds.
What changed all that has been characterized as a rush of megalomania to Erdogan’s head, evidence by him once telling Jordan’s King Abdullah, ‘Democracy is a bus ride and, once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.’
Now way past that staging point Erdogan has melded Islamic fervor with nationalist muscle, whittled away pillars of Turkish liberty, persecuted secular opposition leaders, imprisoned military top brass – mostly on trumped-up charges – censored the media and jailed more journalists than any other country’s leader.
Turkish Jewry provides a telling litmus test of just how far and fast Erdogan has slid from democrat to autocrat, with the historic Jewish community whittled down to a mere 17,000 souls, after his ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) pumped up its anti-Israel sentiment so high it has ballooned into outright anti-Semitism.
As one fearless local commentator noted, the president’s ‘mandate to rule seems to have been interpreted as a blank check to transform the identities and lifestyles of the people.’
Unsurprisingly, then, corruption and cronyism are rife in Turkey and political accountability has taken a hike.
Once the EU looked warily at all this and shuffled Turkey to the back of the pack of those seeking membership of the European club, Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, privately vowing to block the gateway to 79 million Muslim Turks entering.
That was back in the days when Brussels called the shots, demanding Turkey resolve its 42-year dispute over Cyprus and mend its atrocious human rights record.
Now, though, Euroland can’t even fire blanks as it is entangled in the worst humanitarian catastrophe since World War II. So, with nowhere else to turn, the double-dealing Turks offered the only game in town.
Having already pocketed a promised €3bn to help house refugees, Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, last Monday invited Merkel to dinner at his Brussels embassy. Ostensibly, it was to seal the bilateral agreement, whereby Turkey would receive back illegal migrants from Greece and Europe welcome in Syrians hosted by the Turks (dubbed the ‘one in, one out’ scenario).
Instead, a gobsmacked Merkel was hit with four, fresh ultimatums that read like a blackmailer’s ransom note: a further €3bn ‘aid-for-deportation’ top-up fee; visa waivers for Turks visiting Euro states; the acceleration of Turkey’s application to join the EU; plus a pledge for Europe to resettle many of the Syrian asylum-seekers Turkey takes in.
And – lo and behold! – those were almost precisely the terms EU leaders and Davutoglu announced last Friday, with the great dispossessed given 24 hours’ notice to scramble into boats and risk the dangerous crossing to Greece’s Aegean Islands before Fortress Europe raised its drawbridge.
So now an extra €2.8bn will swell Turkey’s coffers, despite diplomats voicing fears it will be ‘frittered’; Turks will be granted visa-free travel through the EU’s Schengen zone from June, providing Turkey meets certain criteria; and talks on Turkish entry to the EU will be accelerated.
Having once again displayed gross incompetence in crisis management – and, in this case, caved in to blatant extortion – all Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, could mutter glumly was, ‘I am cautiously optimistic, but frankly speaking, more cautious than optimistic.’
In stark contrast, Davutoglu noted, ‘We today realized that Turkey and the EU have the same destiny, the same challenges and the same future.’
As he went off beaming, all the triumphant Turk neglected to mention was another nail had been banged in Euroland’s coffin.