Many Mediterranean countries are understandably concerned about Turkey’s unfolding interests across a large part of the region and its effort to establish footholds along the North African coast. Turkey’s expansionism presages a series of developments that could trigger unrest and changes in Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron’s reaction is understandable; and it is expressed in a straightforward manner, contrary to Italy’s prevarication and Germany’s apparent reluctance to speak out.
Step-by-step, Ankara is emerging as a regional player with clout. Given the country’s previous and current record, however, this does not bode well for the region. Its military partnership with Moscow in Syria is paving the way for a significant Russian presence in Libya. Meanwhile, inspired by its Ottoman past, Turkey wants to transform Libya, which is already under its influence, into a potential springboard for moving masses of migrants and refugees to Europe.
No one can ignore the looming threat of a fresh migration wave across the Aegean and the purported astonishment of Turkish officials over Greece’s failure to offer a heartfelt welcome to the devastated hordes that are being forced by Ankara in the direction of the Greek islands. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu may be accusing Athens of mistreating the masses being exploited by his country, but no one is really convinced of Turkey’s motives. In fact, many are beginning to realize that should Turkey achieve its objectives in Libya, the migration issue will acquire a new dimension, potentially affecting not only European Union countries on its southern coasts this time around, but mainland Europe as well.
Turkey’s now openly aggressive deployment in the Mediterranean, its outrageous agreement with Libya – which marks an indisputable violation of Greek rights and interests – the Turkish blockade of a ship hired by Italy’s Eni to drill for gas inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, the harassment of the French frigate by the Turkish Navy, the maintenance of the naval base near Vlore in Albania, and plans to set up both a naval and air base in Libya, present huge challenges that the EU and the United States must address without further delay.
Regrettably, the attention of once-omnipresent Washington is fixed on the November 3 presidential election. The administration is showing little interest in its traditional allies around the globe, giving free rein to troublemakers that could seriously damage the West.
As Washington’s willingness to engage continues to wane, a reluctant Berlin appears interested solely in the EU’s administrative affairs, an ambivalent Rome is set to lose more because of its inertia – as was precisely the case with Libya, which used to be in its sphere of influence – and, finally, a reluctant Cairo makes a show of force one day and gives the impression that it is not willing to act the next.
In this environment, the Turkish wolf is pleased and assertive. The key governments in the West shortsightedly believe that Ankara is harmless and, ultimately, can be negotiated with – like when Hitler was building his war machine and some thought that he was merely trying on army uniforms for domestic consumption.
Giorgos Kaklikis is a senior policy advisor at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and an honorary ambassador.