President Tayyip Erdoğan reproaches the party members at his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial congresses, asking “Where is that old storm of applause?” as he says every once in a while that “We see our self as part of Europe” and these are for a reason. Because the 10-day “Storm December” is coming. On Dec. 1, the NATO foreign ministers meeting will begin and it will take two days. On December 10 and 11, is the European Council meeting of the EU leaders, who will discuss Turkey.
The NATO meeting will be the first of its kind since U.S. President Donald Trump, who Erdoğan called “my friend” despite all his insults and threats to ruin the Turkish economy, has lost the election. Unlike Trump, Joe Biden, the president-elect, promises to strengthen the relations with the European Union and NATO. What’s more, Trump, unable to even show the maturity to admit he has lost, is doing all kinds of sabotage inside the country and outside to inherit the Biden administration the worst he can.
Mike Pompeo, the state secretary of the NATO’s driving force, might make moves that would trouble Turkey in the issues of purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and the Eastern Mediterranean.
France wants to see “acts, not words”
Pompeo’s Nov. 17 visit to Turkey but not for official talks, disrespectfully calling on Turkish Foreign Minister to Istanbul –where he met Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew– instead of traveling to Ankara, was already a signal about the upcoming Storm December.
In addition, Pompeo and French President Emmanuel Macron appeared before the cameras after a meeting in Paris and said Turkey should be told a lesson.
So Pompeo might sabotage the already problematic U.S.-Turkey relations at the upcoming NATO meeting.
The first reaction to Erdoğan’s remarks that “We see Turkey in Europe” –which actually followed his repeated EU bashing that has already lost its impact– did not come from Germany, the current EU chair, but France. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “The soothing declarations by Erdoğan that we’ve seen over the past two or three days are not enough, we need acts.” Then he listed his expectations as “Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.”
So, France wants to see more than words about Erdogan’s promises that are now even receiving forced applause by his own party grassroots.
Statements by EU, NATO affect the economy
NATO meetings could be the beginning of the storm that might end with the EU meeting. Whether the storm will cause damage, or how much damage it will cause, depends entirely on the steps Erdogan will take in the next week or ten days. The Storm December also poses risks of damaging the economy along with Turkey’s political relations. We will discuss how Erdoğan’s promise on judicial reform has shaken his People’s Alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Yet, we do not know anything about economic reform. It seems that the Central Bank decision to increase the key interest rate to 15%, a “pre-condition” of the market actors, will not be enough.
In particular, investment restrictions from the EU, or even symbolic sanctions, could lead Erdoğan to enter 2021 with even more dull hopes for a recovery. He needs reforms inside the country and concrete steps abroad. And the real problem is whether he will take these steps or not.
AKP’s relation with its partner MHP
The first reaction to Erdogan’s promise for reform came from the MHP. Bahçeli protected and supported Alaattin Çakıcı, who made insulting threats to main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. In the face of such treatment against the leader of the main opposition, President Erdoğan, the champion of civil politics, did not say a word.
Then came remarks by Bülent Arınç, one of the three pillars of the AKP (together with former president Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan himself), objecting to the prolonging arrests of Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, albeit late.
This situation excited some devoted Erdoğan supporter columnist, who had ignored the arrest until today, and who used to praise Berat Albayrak, the Treasury and Finance Minister who resigned earlier this month. Because they thought Arınç’s remarks were a move by Erdoğan to prepare the conditions for their releases of Kavala and Demirtaş. But Erdogan suddenly caught his supporters on the wrong foot, belittling Arınç by naming a person “we once walked together”.
However, Arınç’s remarks were a sigh of relief for the AKP supporters with a conscience more than anyone else. Erdoğan’s attempt to waste Arınç for the sake of angering and offending MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli may backfire.
Swaying in administration is growing
This is what a source who does not stand any criticism to Erdoğan told me when I asked him about Erdoğan’s acceptance of Melih Gökçek, the former Ankara mayor, for a meeting on Nov. 11 despite the increasing number of legal complaints against him: “Don’t worry, Gökçek cannot do anything as long as Arınç is at the Presidential Complex”
According to him, what brought an end to the AKP career of Gökçek, who ruled Ankara for 23 years, was Arınç’s remarks that Gökçek sold the city “plot by plot.”
Why should the AKP receive applause as Gökçek’s is rising again as Arınç is pushed away for his criticism about the judiciary,
Is it surprising that the Turkish president is not getting a big ovation at a time when the country sets one of the worst examples in the world in terms of the spread and death rates of the Coronavirus outbreak, which followed the claims that “we are among the best in the world in the struggle against the virus.”
Should the economy administration, which initially demonized the banking system by naming it the “interest lobby” but then increased the interest rate with a U-turn and made controversial statements as some people winning big in forex trade and the citizens are facing the economic burdens, be applauded?
A new situation that Erdoğan is asking for applause will not strengthen him.
The approaching Storm December will not strengthen Erdoğan if he does not take a quick step despite his partner MHP.
I recently wrote that Erdoğan had two critical dates before him: Nov. 14 and Nov. 19.
Nov. 19 was the date on which the Central Bank would make the interest rate decision. The interest rate was increased to a level that “foreign investors” wanted.
Nov. 14 was the date that the eastern Mediterranean mission of the Oruç Reis drilling ship expired. Nothing changed on that issue. The mission of the ship is extended to Nov. 29, starting from Nov. 23.
This is two days before the upcoming NATO meeting.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 17, when Pompeo visited Patriarch Bartholomew, not FM Çavuşoğlu, in Turkey, the parliament approved a mandate for the government to send troops to Azerbaijan. Of course, Turkey has to protect regional interests. And doing this by constantly raising the stakes is a method but if you have the economic strength to sustain it.
Mending relations with the EU, and not only saying it but showing that Turkey is a part of Europe are both in the interests of Turkey. We should keep in mind that Turkey’s sole national program that is approved by parliament is its mission to integrate with the EU.
So let us repeat it: Be careful of the Storm December.