Promises Promises

It’s in the air. You can feel it coming like the first rains of winter. Something almost inevitable, and yet when it happens the leaders of the EU will act as dumbfounded and as startled as ostriches that have just pulled their head from the sand, where most of them have buried them all summer. It seems not even the disastrous Brexit vote of no confidence in their institution can galvanise them into action. I am of course talking about the Migrant crisis – which ultimately triggered Brexit and sent such a wave of self centred nationalism around Europe that it now threatens the very foundations of the 60 year old treaty of Rome.

“But hold on” I hear you say. “The flow of economic migrant and refugees has been cut to a trickle – at least those landing in Greece, since the EU negotiated a deal with Turkey.” Yes it did… indeed it did. However, the terms of the deal may be the same but both parties to the deal have changed quite dramatically this past year. As well as Brexit a flurry of serious terrorist incidents throughout Europe have pushed opinions further towards the intolerance of far right nationalism. While in Turkey, after a failed coup attempt in July and the subsequent imposition of a State of Emergency the already polarized population have been pushed even further into an atmosphere of fear and distrust. Any ideas of a free media have all but been snuffed out with many government critical media outlets shut down and replaced with a hard core of government supporting TV and Newspapers now quick to label almost any form of dissent or disagreement with the ruling AKP party as either sympathy for the coup plotters or supporting terrorism.

Erdoğan
Photo by Kuwait-Ra’ed Qutena

It hasn’t always been like this. Looking back to the heady days when the EU announced it would be opening various membership accession chapters with Turkey way back in December 2004, it is hard to believe how much things have changed. I remember back then there was a definite belief that Turkey would be a full member of the EU if not before the end of the decade certainly within 10 years at the latest. For myself having lived in the country for a while and understanding what they call the Turkish Mentality which ensured that most things, like business thinking, logic and cultural expectations are very different from those in Western Europe, I was perhaps less optimistic about those prospects. After all important core issues had to be addressed. Health and Safety – while existing in various laws always felt like it was optional. The culture of corruption was pretty much endemic and a stricter enforcement of other laws may have also prevented such things as the unchecked bribe & corruption fest that permeated much of the property boom and bust from 2006 onwards and resulted in a catastrophe for many foreign buyers, too many of whom ended up losing their life savings.

Today the Migrant Agreement is looking more and more like a train wreck in slow motion. Too many European leaders know already that giving Turks visa free travel this year is becoming less and less likely. But few will admit it in public in the hope that Turkey will continue to hold back the flood waters of desperate people, at least until the winter, when the cooler weather and even colder Aegean sea will deter many (but not all) migrants from sailing from Turkey to Greece. As too often is the case the attitude is do little and wait for something to come along or for someone else to come up with an idea. However, there is also a misguided belief that Turkey will still do anything asked of it and jump through any hoop offered to it just to get membership of the EU. That old belief founded on the willingness of a very different type of Turkish government to comply and join at all costs is now totally obsolete.

Eric Cartman moons in front of EU flag
Photo by David Cameron Paisley

Looking back ten years or so to a time when a free media still existed and there wasn’t the current toxic polarisation, where people seem to either adore or despise the ruling elite, the Turks had a definite appetite to become Europeans. But so much has changed since then, even from just a year ago when the 50% to 60% of citizens who do not share the values and vision of the evermore dictatorial government could at least find an unbiased opinion on one of the rapidly shrinking number of TV channels or newspapers still willing to criticise or question the governments policies. However, that has all changed so much in the past few months that many people have stopped watching TV news programs or reading newspapers all together and instead now get their news from the internet. But what if you are not on-line or don’t possess the education to question the bias of what you are told?

After returning from a trip to the UK last month I switched on my TV and scanned the channels. In my satellite system there is a block of about 15 channels together that are mainly news type channels. The President was speaking live somewhere so as usual I expected some of these channels to show his speech. Last year, when there were actually more news channels, perhaps 4 or 5 may have carried his words live. However as I flicked through I came across no less than 11 of those channels carrying his speech. Although half way through I did come to another politician speaking into a microphone and understood from a graphic that he was someone from the opposition CHP party. Although as he spoke, quite mysteriously there was no sound being transmitted by that channel. The surreal atmosphere continued later when a flurry of talking heads on most of those channel that carried the speech began dissecting what had been said with barely a single note of dissent.

It is no secret that many channels have now been removed or closed down on the orders of Judges. However, many of the vacant slots now seem to have been turned over to religious channels. For instance just beyond France24 news, where a couple of kids channels used to broadcast there is one live channel that shows little more than pilgrims circling the Ka’ba in Mecca and the next channel along seems to be a constant loop of sermons, in Arabic, from inside the grand mosque in Mecca.

Why have I said all this? Mainly to illustrate that what many European leaders know about the Turkish people or think they once knew has changed quite dramatically from just a few years ago. It is also as a warning to those who think they can renege on the deal struck with Turkey with no consequences. My own belief is that given a vote to join or not join the EU tomorrow the result might be a resounding No. Long before the Brexit vote people were openly questioning whether Turkey would gain any benefit from membership. Now the government leaning media machine asks little else, when doubts about Turks getting visa free travel are regularly raised. Of course many of those in power know that an ever more dictatorial rule is unlikely to lead to EU membership and that they would need to roll back many of their clampdowns on freedom and human rights to finally join. So while visa free travel (if ever delivered) would be welcome by many its failure to arrive could be used as a blunt tool by some to push the prospect of EU membership further away.

Boat of Refugees as displayed in Dismaland
Photo by Howard Stanbury

Ultimately, when the flames of nationalism are fanned in any country it is usually at the expense of the rule of law. The only winners of any great leap backwards away from the democratic freedoms enjoyed in most of Europe are often the ruling elite who are too often tempted to use it as an excuse to further strengthen their iron grip on power. However the only sure winner if Turkey’s deal with the EU unravels will of course be Vladimir Putin, whose ever more murderous partnership with the Assad regime in Syria ensures that the deluge of Syrian refugees and other migrants crossing to Greece will continue to destabilise Europe for some time to come. Furthermore the collapse of the agreement may also make Putin’s ultimate dream come true if it proves to be the death knell of the European Union and triggers a return for all of us to the volatile and dark nationalistic politics of the early 20th Century.

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10 thoughts on “Promises Promises

  1. I believe Junker and his friends are just praying for the end of war but Syria will go on and on until they have to do a bit more than pay off another country to deal with their shitty problem.

    Yuri

  2. I was beginning to think I had upset you with my disagreement last time. Lol.
    But I do understand you are not so precious (is that the correct word??). This time I agree with you almost 100%. EU is so busy giving excuses to Turkey to understand that even the most ugly bride will not wait at the alter for ever.
    In France the view is that Monsieur Putin is more likely to get the Nobel Peace Prize before Turkey is allowed into Europe.

    Marie {:)B< x

  3. Your blog gave a sehr gut opinion. Turkey have been led incorrectly. Mother Merkel must take lots of this blame for giving courage to all the Afgans, African and Pakistan people to move to Europe for a better life. We should accept Syrians yes but others no. Turkey has millions of these peoples and can not be pushed to do this thing for no reward. I would prefer a million Turks coming here instead of the others who are sometimes daesh fighters sneaking home or coming to kill European people.

  4. I want you to be wrong about this but somehow I think you might be right. Who knows what racist depths another wave of migrants and refugees will trigger in the far right. Look at Sarkozy mixing it up for his run for office next year. But he sounds less and less like a statesman every time he opens his mouth. He might have even given Hitler a good run for his money.

    Adam P

  5. Whoa a big subject to get your teeth into Anthony but I learned something. Mother would have agreed.

    Greg

    Thanks for your best wishes last month

  6. Its messed up how these middle east countries just lap up on dictatorships. The way they are sliding Turkey ain’t going to be Europeans in my lifetime

  7. Please may I say I didn’t realise Turkey was in such a sour pickle. Yes they need more money but why do these wretchedly poor victims always get assessed in monetary value. Where is the humanity in this world. Certainly nowhere near Putin and that Joker Lavrov

    Connie Braistead

  8. Sadly, I agree with you about non-existence of the media. What shocked me during the failed coup new channels popped up to encourage people to get out and fight. Where this will go from now on, I don’t know but a scary end waiting for us, I can sense that.
    On EU membership, if my memory doesn’t fail me, Turkey formally applied/seeked membership during the leadership of Turgut Ozal about 29 years ago so it is not a surprise now that Turks getting fed up. Some surveys shows that in 2004 78%, in 2005 68% of and in 2010 38% of Turks thought of joining EU would be a good thing so its slowly losing its momentum and there will be a point that Turks won’t be interested at all part of EU. At that point who would Turkey allies with is a very worrying thought. My personal view is that Turkish membership to EU will never happen… obviously it does not help that the country in political turmoil but the bottom line is Turkey is a Muslim country. So even Turkey complies all of the chapters there will be more added.

    Dilek B.

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