Turkey has entered a new phase after Sunday’s referendum and Greece must weigh this new situation very carefully. It must also be able to predict President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s next moves as his country navigates the new landscape.
Those who’ve followed Greek-Turkish relations for decades have always feared the “moment of truth” in Turkey’s relationship with the European Union – it is possible that this moment has arrived. Europe’s leadership has reacted strongly to the outcome of the referendum, ranging from those who criticized the process to others who are calling for Turkey’s EU accession to be scrapped entirely. Compare these reactions with US President Donald Trump’s warm telephone call to Erdogan, as well as comments from the Kremlin. The Turkish leader painted Europe as the boogeyman who persecutes Turkey, and the Europeans fell into the trap both before and after the referendum.
Of course, the situation is not easy for anyone. Economic ties play a big role both for Turkey and for the EU. Europe, moreover, cannot leave the half of Turkey’s population that voted “no” – at great risk – to its fate. For the intelligentsia and the pro-Europe section of the population, the relationship with the EU is the only brake that can prevent the worst from happening.
Turkey has embarked on a course that is hard to come back from. The headscarf has even entered the armed forces. The Kemalist Turkey we knew for decades is being wiped out. There will be many protests and even internal strife. The gamble for Erdogan is to keep the economy on the path of growth and to win the next presidential elections in 2019. It is not clear yet whether he will even get to try out his new powers. Turkish history has often showed us that the distance between triumph and downfall can be very short indeed.
The issue is that Greece is next door to Turkey and will have to deal with the consequences of developments there. If EU-Turkey relations sour much further, the dangers for our interests will be great, especially if Erdogan feels like he has the backing of Trump and Putin. Right now it appears that the Turkish president does indeed have their support.
It won’t be easy to coexist with a neighbor that is in the midst of a nervous breakdown, with a leader whose mood fluctuates between megalomania and paranoia. We may even need to convince our European partners of the need to be cautious in what stance they adopt from now on. They will need to be careful because if they do permanently close the door to Turkey, it would be nice for that door to be secured as well.