From a foreign policy perspective, there were no surprises in Prime Minister [Recip Tayyip] Erdogan’s speech at the [Justice and Development Party (AKP)] National Congress [this weekend]. For example, his references to developments in Syria and on relations with Israel were all well known.
But his omission of a subject did attract much attention. In the small booklet enumerating AKP‘s goals for 2023 (“The 100th Year of the Turkish Republic”) there was one small paragraph on Turkey’s European Union aspirations. But in Erdogan’s long speech there was not even a single mention of the EU.
Never mind the EU, Erdogan’s total ignorance of Europe as a whole, while sending greetings “from Australia to Brazil, from Japan to Canada,” did not escape notice. His only reference to Europe was a stern warning he issued to Germany and France on Islamophobia.
Listening to greetings he sent to various countries and groups, it wasn’t all that difficult to decipher which part of [world] geography he considers himself to be a part of. Is there any need to repeat that his affiliation is with the Islamic world?
This was also easy to see from the foreign dignitaries attending the congress, led by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
There was not a single European political figure of note [in attendance]. But aren’t we talking of a Turkey whose “global and regional importance” is climbing by the day?
To have even one or two European leaders at the AKP’s congress held in Ankara would have contributed to the party’s passionate claim of being a “global player” and [would reassure observers] that the government hasn’t abandoned its EU aspiration.
But that didn’t happen. Either such European leaders were not invited or they were but declined to attend. We don’t know which one is the case but either way [this absence] is significant.
Sure, alongside former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, a few representatives of different levels from various European political parties did attend, but that was not enough to make up for the blatant deficit I am talking about. These few European representatives surely noted Erdogan’s heavy reliance on Islamic references instead of EU criteria.
The rapturous welcome given to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was yet another example of the “spirit of mujahideen [religious fighters]” that prevailed at the congress. Long story short, if we are to talk of “developing relations with the world” we can conclude that Erdogan’s emphasis is on the Muslim world and that his AKP party will continue to follow that line.
Of course this doesn’t mean that the EU will be forgotten or ties with NATO will weaken. But the AKP will treat them as “necessary strategic relations, not ones of affection.”
True, the atmosphere in Europe — going from one crisis to another — is not suitable to ripen Turkey’s EU aspirations. But we can’t ignore how Turkey benefited from these aspirations when undertaking reforms. Will Turkey be able to carry out the reforms required by an “advanced democracy,” given its waning passion for the EU? Looking back at our experience, it won’t be easy.
Moreover, denying accreditation to newspapers the government doesn’t like — which began with one of the oldest newspapers in the country, Cumhuriyet — contradicted the AKP, which used to vehemently complain about the military’s accreditation practices in the past. It also fueled doubts about what the AKP understands from the term “advanced democracy.”