Turkey is in trouble. Not only is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity quickly waning at home because of his inability to handle the country’s increasing economic crisis, so is his collision course with the EU turning increasingly sour. Turkey’s foreign policy has progressively become more belligerent against the EU despite the signing of the customs union in 1995, which lead to Erdogan’s rise as the man driving the country’s modernisation and economic growth. Just like Europe paved the way for his success, so can it lead to his downfall. The EU needs to urgently review its relations with the country that still formally seeks EU membership and fully support French and Greek calls to suspend the EU-Turkey customs union if it is to truly act in the interests of Member States.
Turkey’s actions against the Member States need to be strongly condemned, as well as its policies, which position the country more as a hostile adversary rather than a European ally. Just a few days ago, Erdogan visited the Turkish occupied part of northern Cyprus in a blatant provocation against the EU. Over the last year, Turkey has consistently violated Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone and challenged the sovereign rights of Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean. Ankara has also blocked NATO planning for the Baltic States and Poland and has continuously exploited the migration crisis, including escalating crises on the Greek-Turkish border.
More recently, in the aftermath of the horrific beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty, Erdogan called on all Turks to boycott French goods after French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to defend secularism against radical Islam. He even stated that Macron needed a health check and that Muslims in Europe “subjected to a lynch campaign similar to that against Jews in Europe before World War II”.
If anyone is in need of a health check, it is Erdogan himself. Ankara has been seeking to expand its hegemony over Arab countries as well as interference in Europe by funding Muslim Brotherhood organisations and their affiliates. The Turkish Ministry’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, has taken on an Islamist identity, even a Muslim Brotherhood one, and many of its funded mosques in Europe have become Turkish propaganda tools and even hubs for espionage.
Moreover, Turkey has provided a safe haven and refuge for Muslim Brotherhood figures who have been banned from other Middle Eastern countries because of their extremist views. Turkey has provided passports to a dozen members of the EU-listed terror organisation Hamas and has allowed the organisations’ members to freely operate from Istanbul. Erdogan even hosted a senior Hamas delegation, including its politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh and the group’s no. 2, Saleh al-Arouri, who has a $5 million bounty on his head.
Given Turkey’s aggressive actions against the Member States and its sheltering of EU-listed terror organisation members, the EU can no longer turn a blind eye. If the EU is serious about protecting its interests and safeguarding Europe’s security, including its determination to fight against extremism, it needs get real with Turkey and its malign activities. In order to do so, the EU needs to hit Turkey where it hurts the most: the customs union.
The customs union has been key to Turkey’s economic successes and the country’s modernization. The EU is Turkey’s largest import and export partner. However, the country has been facing a severe currency crisis, soaring inflation and interest rates in recent time. With the severe plummeting of the Turkish lira in its value, so has Erdogan’s approval rating. As Turkey seeks to further antagonize Europe, the EU can use its leverage and cancel the customs union.
Turkey remains a key player in the Middle East, but it is not key to Europe’s economic growth. The EU can no longer tolerate Turkey’s blackmail, terror facilitation and insulting rhetoric. Therefore, the EU should support the French and Greek calls to suspend the EU’s customs union with Turkey and show it means business – or rather – no business until Turkey changes its belligerent tone and aggressive behavior.
Charlie Weimers is a Swedish Member of the European Parliament with the ECR Group
Source: How key is Turkey? | New Europe