Europe has persistently refused to deal with the prospect of Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union. Turkey’s accession has always been a taboo matter, intrinsically associated with the prejudices and fears of a Europe that looks at the past and not at the future. However, the migration crisis and the geopolitical threats and challenges surrounding Europe, have redefined the dynamics of a relationship that is fundamentally linked to the ability of Europe to exercise an influential global role.
A new Europe that is determined to protect the security of its citizens and to assume the geopolitical role that follows its economic weight, has seven reasons to trust President Recep Tayip Erdogan and the prospect of a European Turkey.
- Turkey reformed
Before Erdogan, Turkey was a semi-democracy controlled by the generals. A quasi democratic regime, where the “deep state” suppressed the rights and the autonomy of the Turkish civil society. In spite of the recent excesses, no one can doubt that Erdogan was the historic catalyst that radically transformed the Turkish polity, creating a new democracy that meets European standards and traditions. In addition, today Turkey is a dynamic and expanding economy, expected to grow by 2.9% in 2015 and 3.0% in 2016. A marked difference with the state of Turkish economy before Erdogan became prime minister for the first time in 2003.
- A sustainable solution to the Syrian conflict
After four years of relentless violence, the Syrian civil war has cost more than 250,000 lives, has fueled an unprecedented human disaster with the wave of migrants and has destabilized a region that is critical to world stability. After four years of conflict, it s clear by now that the Assad regime cannot be part of the solution, for it is one of the fundamental causes of the problem. Turkey was one of the first regional powers that sought to help the moderate opposition, often with mixed results. Europe needs a sustainable solution to the Syrian civil war, and the moderate opposition is the only political force in Syria which in the future can bridge what for now seems unbridgeable.
- Russian expansionism checked
Despite the fact, that the geopolitical game between Europe and Russia is not a zero-sum game, the Ukrainian and the Syrian crises have showcased that unchecked Russian action is a potential threat to vital European and Atlantic interests. Europe and Russia do not see in the same manner the solution to the Ukrainian and the Syrian crisis and it is about time, to realize that a stable and European Turkey was and still is the most powerful mound to Russian geopolitical unilateralism.
- Migration challenge addressed
The unfolding migration crisis that Europe and the international community faces, has illuminated the fact that it is already too late to try to find solutions when refugees reach the shores of Greece. Europe needs to promote realistic and proactive solutions where the problem gains momentum and that place is Turkey. The common Action Plan between Europe and Turkey for the management of the refugee waves from Syria can only be the beginning. It’s about time for Europe to comprehend the strategic value of having its external borders in Turkey.
- Critical energy routes
Turkey’s geographic location enhances its geostrategic value. It is situated between major oil and gas reserves with 70% of the world’s reserve lying to its East, North and South, and the world’s ,most important energy market lying to its west. Given its unique position, Turkey´s objective of being an energy hub for “East-West” and “North-South” energy corridors is not just an ambition. It is expected that Turkey will transport 6-7% of the world’s oil by 2012.Turkey stands in the critical trade and energy route between the West and China and between the West and Russia. The integration of Turkey to Europe, means that Europe will secure its access to critical energy routes and resources. A fact that by itself will enhance the role of Europe in global affairs.
- Bridging Islam and Europe
Despite persistent claims by decision makers and opinion leaders, to exorcize the “ghost of cultural collision, the ghost is here. The clash of civilizations is probably the most dangerous threat, to global stability and peace in the beginning of the 21st century. A clash, that occurs inside urban European ghettos and outside Europe, in its immediate periphery. Europe will never be safe, so long as large Muslim populations continue to hate what Europe stands for. To this end, a secular, democratic and Muslim Turkey which has managed to integrate to its political and economic structure the previously excluded Muslim populations of inner Anatolia, is the key ally of Europe for combatting and eliminating the threat of radicalization and for successfully integrating migrant Muslim populations.
- New Europe with a geopolitical perspective
Erdogan has important gifts to offer to the insecure, economically stagnated and demographically old European continent. An organized response to the migration and refugee crisis, the prospect of successful integration of refugees, a bridge to Islam and an enhanced geopolitical role for the European Union.
At the same time, the prospect of Turkey’s integration to the European Union, will further stabilize the regime of Erdogan which faces an ongoing slanderous campaign by the network of the Islamist preacher Gulen.
It’s about time for Europe to realize that global challenges like regional stability, migration, energy security, need a global role and a global mission. Europe has to exchange fear and prejudice with bold realism so as to ensure the re-launch of the European project. Erdogan’s Turkey is the bridge of Europe not only to the east, but to the future as well.