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Bumpy EU-Turkey relations

Ambassador Dr. Jamil Ahmed Khan


The writer is a former ambassador, senior analyst and international affairs expert.

A diplomatic crisis was averted as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed down from his threat to expel ten Western ambassadors from the country. Erdogan threatened to declare the envoys, including from the United States and European countries, as ‘persona non grata’ for interfering in domestic issues.

The relations between the European Union and Turkey are at their lowest ebb. There is nothing on the horizon to see ties improving during President Erdogan’s regime. Ankara has been an EU candidate since 1987, but membership proceedings have been at a standstill for years. Last June, the French envoy told Erdogan that he cannot have one foot in the European and another in the Russian camp. NATO and European allies are irked since Erdogan bought S-400 missile defence system from Moscow.

There is a pattern of the deteriorating relationship between Turkey and the European Union. Erdogan has his own unique style of administering his country and is often known for taking solo decisions. He recently fired senior central bank officials after a hike in interest rates. This caused a decline in the lira’s value and further economic uncertainty.

The declining diplomatic relations have attained this level mainly due to foreign policy under the leadership of Erdogan.

The rivalry between France and Turkey has heated up in recent past. Erdogan has taken a strong stance on the blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He also sought to bridge the gap between Muslim countries. Erdogan traded barbs with French President Macron over free speech and in retaliation the French plan to deal with Islamic extremism, highlighting that Islamophobia is taking shape making life difficult for Muslims in France.

Turkey is embroiled in a long dispute with Greece over Cyprus linked to military and political conflicts. The European Union had supported Greece on the Turkish-Greece border dispute. The Greek president recently said that Erdogan fuelled religious fanaticism for a ‘clash of civilization’. I have never heard in the diplomatic arena that the situation can reach this level. The biggest threat Turkey faces is the weak economy as the lira has reached its lowest points in years and inflation is rising. Once the internal situation deteriorates, external forces can take advantage of the situation and support the opposing parties.

Over the last few years, Turkey’s relationship with the United States and Europe have been turbulent, to say the least. Amid the growing animosity, Erdogan met President Biden in Rome and seem to have agreed to improve strained ties. It needs to be seen to what extent Erdogan maintains his grip on the country and whether there will be any positive attitude in improving relations between the two sides.