The dangers of an absurd game


Turkey’s relations with the European Union have entered a very dangerous phase. The Netherlands is the EU’s largest investor in Turkey. Among diplomats in Athens, the Dutch have traditionally been seen as the biggest advocates of Ankara’s interests. Now, suddenly, we have become witnesses to a dangerous, and in some ways absurd, game.

On the one hand, there is the Dutch parliamentary elections and incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s efforts to show he can be tough on a country like Turkey. Rutte is obviously hoping that this will help him to lure votes away from the far right, which mostly relies on public skepticism vis-a-vis Islam.

On the other hand, there is wannabe sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish president has clearly gone off the rails, confusing reality with paranoia and delusions of grandeur.

The problem is that the behavior of the Dutch and other European governments is feeding into the notion of victimization being nourished by Erdogan. The Turkish press and social media are going all out with conspiracy theories. Irrationality has reached fever pitch. The majority of Erdogan’s supporters feel that “the Europeans do not want us.”

Politically and culturally, Turkey is drifting further away from the EU. And this trend is very hard to reverse. Economic ties are of course vital and any damage comes at a hefty price. However, it’s very unlikely that economic logic will have any effect on Erdogan’s posturing. His behavior is best explained through psychoanalysis, rather than cold figures.

Greece changed its strategy many years ago. It realized that it was foolish to fight Turkey’s European Union membership hopes on behalf of other governments that kept their skepticism toward Ankara secret. Of course, neither Germany nor Holland share a border with a neighbor that is suffering from a nervous breakdown. But Greece does. And it runs the risk of paying a dear price for all this.

With regard to the refugee crisis, Athens saw the Balkan route being shut down and its northern border sealed. Even if Ankara decided to open its gates, the Greek islands would not necessarily be flooded with refugees and migrants.

The danger is always that Turkey will choose to provoke an incident in the Aegean, especially in the runup to the country’s April referendum. If that were to happen, Greece could most certainly expect to get some statements of solidarity from European leaders, but not much more than that.