Nikos Konstandaras NIKOS KONSTANDARAS

Turkey’s turmoil and Greece

COMMENT

A vendor sells Turkish flags at a market in Istanbul, Monday. Turkey’s central bank Monday announced a series of measures to free up cash for banks as the country grapples with a currency crisis.

TAGS: Turkey, Economy, Diplomacy

The rapid worsening of the Turkish economy and the current deadlock in the Brexit talks, with the ensuing problems for the British economy, show how dangerous things would have been for Greece if its people had not made the sacrifices they made, if its governments had not paid the political cost necessary for keeping the country in the eurozone. Today Greece is fortunate to find itself in a reasonably stable condition even as the whole world is disrupted and Turkey is in turmoil.

Today, no country appears capable or willing to try to avert further dangers. This is a great change from a few years back. When Greece was on the brink of crashing out of the eurozone, US President Barack Obama pressured European leaders and international institutions to support our country in case its troubles affected the global economy. Now, as Turkey’s much larger economy is in free fall, President Donald Trump has poured gasoline on the fire, doubling tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum, sending a strong signal to the markets to stay away from Turkey. It is unclear how Washington will respond if Turkey seeks help from the International Monetary Fund.

It is doubtful that Russia would want to get involved in trying to provide real support to the Turkish economy, nor whether Moscow has the money to attempt this. Quite possibly President Vladimir Putin would offer symbolic support in exchange for real concessions, binding his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer even more than he has already. As for China, when in early 2010 Greece was looking for support, Beijing made clear that it was not going to risk its hard-earned money on Greek bonds. It may offer support to Ankara but this, too, would be based on serious concessions. Most likely these would include pressure on Ankara to end its support for China’s Uyghur minority. As Erdogan presents himself as the champion of all Muslims, it would be a bitter pill for him to turn against his Turkic brethren in China. So this solution, too, looks difficult.

If Turkey does not manage to bring its economy under control, its problems on other fronts will multiply. Turkey is exposed to trouble on its southern and eastern borders. It is occupying part of northern Syria, while its war with Kurdish separatists inside but also outside Turkey poses a continual danger to its troops. Any setbacks here would have a serious political cost for Erdogan, because after concentrating all power in his own hands he is also fully responsible for anything that goes wrong. This suggests that he will continue an aggressive policy toward Greece and Cyprus. An even more direct danger to Greece is that Turkey is host to some 3.5 million Syrian refugees. If these people do not feel safe enough to go home, if the Turkish economy no longer provides opportunities, a new flood of refugees toward the European Union could ensue. This would provoke a new crisis in Greece and the rest of Europe. Such a danger could prompt the European Union to provide support for Turkey, but Erdogan’s policies, which include holding foreign nationals hostage, would hinder such a likelihood. (At every turn, it would appear that Turkey’s single greatest problem is its president.)

Despite the misery of eight years of crisis, Greece owes gratitude to those who contributed to its becoming a member of the eurozone and to its staying there. That is why it enjoys relative stability today when stronger countries are in trouble. However much the current government would like to blame previous ones for the fact that the public administration and judiciary remain inefficient, that conditions do not favor investments and growth, that our political dialogue is in a woeful state, it bears much responsibility for not having improved things during the past three-and-a-half years. It is the urgent responsibility of the next government to build a stronger country on whatever stable ground was gained by the sacrifices of the past years, in the knowledge that there will not be many more opportunities for this.

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