EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell surprised many by issuing an extensive blog about the EU’s relations with Turkey. Unsurprisingly, it was sneaked out late on Friday afternoon, the traditional time-slot for avoiding immediate press scrutiny.
Borrell titled his piece ‘The Way Ahead for EU-Turkey relations’. His role as the EU’s chief agent for foreign affairs and security is to promote and defend the interests of European states. By contrast, he appears to see his role as that of mediator between EU and non-EU states rather than the chief representative:
“I wanted to explore with the main protagonists the possibilities of launching a real dialogue that would help address the outstanding issue.”
In his apologia, Borrell talks time and again of dialogue. It is as if he wants to be seen as neutral, an honest broker, an objective third party, desperate not to be accused of standing behind Greece and Cyprus against a serial aggressor and pusher of boundaries. Even in his summing up he pushes the substantive issues regarding Turkey’s threats to Greece and Cyprus back onto those EU states:
“we need to find a way to get back to honest and effective dialogues and efforts, and strong engagement and commitment from all sides, including from the most-affected EU member states.”
The subtext in that sentence is that somehow EU member states share the responsibility for putting Mr Borrell in such an awkward situation. Aggressor and the aggressed are treated the same, perpetrator and victim considered to be different “sides” in a dispute where there has been “reciprocal misunderstanding”.
This is desperately weak stuff. There can be no misunderstanding over Erdogan’s inflammatory statement made in occupied Cyprus that there should be a ‘two-state solution’. No-one can misunderstand Erdogan’s expansionist pretensions when breaks international maritime laws. Erdogan’s threats against European citizens still resonate and leave no room for misunderstanding” European citizens will not be able to walk in safety on their streets”. The problem is not misunderstanding, it is that Erdogan’s agenda is understandable only to well, by those with ears to hear.
And this is the issue: Borrell only refers to Erdogan twice. The opportunist elephant in the room is therefore almost completely ignored. The threats to European peace and security posed by Turkey are down to its leader, and it to this leader that Borrell should be addressing much stronger words than these. Again, there can be no misunderstanding over Erdogan’s understanding of dialogue: he imprisons political opponents, journalists, teachers, academics who would love to engage in dialogue but whose inconvenient and contradictory voices are brutally silenced.
There is no reference to this in Borrell’s self-justifying blog. No reference to Erdogan’s support for terror groups like Hamas. No reference to his Grey Wolves or Muslim Brotherhood operatives stationed throughout Europe. No reference to Erdogan’s chilling words concerning war between “the cross and the crescent”. No reference to Erdogan’s private mercenary army flown by Turkish airlines to cause havoc in Nagorno-Karabakh and perpetrate war crimes against Armenians. No reference to his extermination of Kurds.
Erdogan is the problem whom Borrell ignores. All Borrell asks of Turkey is for a “change in its negative actions and rhetoric of the last months”. The EU is begging Erdogan to throw it a few bones of compromise so that at its next meeting in March Borrell can report that progress has been made and there is no need to exercise the will of the European Parliament to sanction Erdogan and his regime. The European parliament has a clear sense of the values of the European Union: respect for human dignity and human rights, democracy, equality and the rule if law. Irrespective of the meagre “changes to its negative actions” that Erdogan might offer, particularly in the context of a new US president, those values demand that measures be taken against Erdogan’s authoritarian regime now. Action is required, not appeasement.