German Chancellor Angela Merkel is perfectly right in claiming that Turkey is a “difficult” partner but should stay in NATO for geostrategic reasons. Nobody knows just how difficult a partner and neighbor Turkey has always been quite as well as Greece, but this is a subject for a different time.
Turkey’s classification as a difficult yet necessary partner is also the case for the European Union, where Merkel’s opinion matters a lot more than it does in the Atlantic Alliance.
The argument that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no longer as invested in his country’s European prospects as he was before is true, but only to a point. Long before this became the case, the then new Turkish leader had been lauded far and wide for his reformist efforts.
However, when they were elected to power in the mid-2000s, both Merkel and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy were opposed to the Muslim country’s accession to the EU. They were not the only European leaders to do so, but they were without doubt the most influential. The reasons for their hesitation were a matter of religion and customs, and they agreed with the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of German and French citizens, on whose votes the two leaders relied. In short, the geostrategic argument that Merkel presented in order to support Turkey’s place in NATO was replaced entirely by the domestic expediencies of Europe.
Then, as everything seemed on course for a divergence of paths, there came the migration crisis as a major destabilizing factor that rendered Turkey necessary from a geostrategic point of view. And now the EU is trying to bribe Ankara with generous handouts. But this is not politics; this is Oriental bargaining and the Turks are much more adept at such things.
The result is waves of migrants and refugees landing on the shores of the Aegean islands and then being transferred to the Greek mainland. And as right as the Greek government is in saying that this is a European problem, at the end of the day, it’s a bilateral one – just as will be the case in other crucial issues the more that Europe loses sight of its core principles.