The tit-for-tat political and economic retaliation between Washington and Ankara has pushed Turkey into an uncertain position in the world. Erdogan has burned bridges with the US, desperate to conceal his and his family’s involvement in the Halkbank corruption case that is being investigated by the FBI. He took American Pastor Brunson hostage in order to trade Brunson’s freedom for closure of the Halkbank lawsuit. Despite Trump’s feelings of friendship with Erdogan, he could not tolerate Erdogan’s blackmail and therefore had to impose sanctions.
After alienating the U.S., the world’s strongest ally, Erdogan initially redirected his policy course towards Russia, Iran, and China. This was more than a survival policy. He demonstrated with this move that he is not desperate without the White House, but has other options at hand—even economic opportunities in the wake of Washington’s sanctions. Moreover, by being an allying Turkey with non-Western nuclear powers, Erdogan prompted U.S. Senators to push Trump to impose more sanctions on Turkey.
Following the suspension of delivery of the F-35 jets to Turkey, Erdogan played his EU card. He took advantage of the loans granted by European banks to Turkish banks. He realized that European leaders were beginning to be concerned about the loans as a result of the economic crisis triggered by the U.S. Dollar’s steep rise against the Turkish Lira. And Erdogan understands that if Turkey collapses financially, the European banks would too.
This positive correlation has become a life vest for the Turkish leader amid the brutal economic sanctions of the White House. The only thing he needed to do was to show that he is highly like to be a friend to Europe again. For that, he instructed the politicized Turkish kangaroo courts to release the Greek soldiers arrested on espionage allegations.
Nevertheless, mere political actions were not enough for Erdogan to escape Turkey’s economic difficulties. He desperately needed large amounts of cash to recover economically. Erdogan knows very well that Turkey can be a new customer of China, Russia, and Iran, but cannot expand Turkey’s current export market in these countries. Moreover, Turkey could not rely on Qatar’s 15 billion dollar pledge due to the Emir’s strong attachment to Washington. Ankara realized that the more cash they could gather, the more relief it would provide. This discovery drove Erdogan back to the EU’s door. A few days ago, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced Ankara will continue its EU accession path.
It is obvious that Erdogan’s intention is not for Turkey to become a member of the EU. And Europe leaders are pretty aware that Turkish leader will never abandon his anti-democratic policies even for the sake of a bailout. Merkel, too, clearly understands that Erdogan will never submit himself to a democratic union that abides by the rule of law, since cruelties and human rights violations are the hallmarks of Erdogan’s current reign. Even while Cavusoglu was delivering Ankara’s renewed intention to repair damaged relationships with EU countries, Erdogan was compromising with Devlet Bahceli, the nationalist MHP party leader, on legislation regarding capital punishment.
Due to his well-known persecutions, Erdogan also knows that the EU will not accept him as before. Ankara has no chance anymore of joining the EU. So what is the goal of this unexpected rapprochement between Ankara and Brussels?
One possibility is that the EU might reopen some negotiations with Turkey in order to stabilize Turkey economically. By doing so, European banks would be able to collect repayments on their loans to Turkish banks. Furthermore, a powerful Erdogan means fewer refugees seeking asylum in Europe.
And with the political support of the EU, Erdogan would not need to knock on the door of the IMF, and would therefore have a vital opportunity to secure his coalition next victory in upcoming mayoral elections.