Recep Tayyip Erdogan (ANSA)

Why admitting Turkey could be a risk for the European Union

n February 71 years ago, Turkey joined NATO. The choice was the result of the first stirrings of the Cold War: the Soviet Union had asked Turkey, which refused, military bases and new conditions for access to the Turkish straits. The United Kingdom, which at that stage had abdicated its role as a great world power, had left its burden to the United States, ready to reserve the Truman doctrine for the Aegean context. Thus, the role of bridge between West and East that Byzantium had always played, was now harnessed in the Atlantic Pact and, indissolubly, in the destinies of Western countries: a function of buffer and guardian of those two straits, sacred in every age.

Ankara’s (old) ambitions

Yet the relationship between Ankara and NATO has not always been idyllic, experiencing ups and downs between pragmatism, “clashes of civilizations” and mutual accusations. However, for Turkish citizens as well as for Recep Erdogan, as someone said, evidently it feels safer “to stay here”. Only in the last handful of years, Erdogan has given Europe a series of reasons to continue to wonder what was the point of Turkey in NATO: the exchange of villainies with Emmanuel Macron, the blackmail on Syrian refugees, the issue of the Armenian genocide, the “sin” of the S-400 from Russia to the strange and complex situation of the last year and a half, which has made Erdogan a sort of free player, moreover cheered by his re-election. Enough to put NATO in check again, yielding to Stockholm’s ambitions, but putting on the table the most difficult of demands: entry into the European Union. A textbook Realpolitik maneuver, a seasoned tightrope walker of geopolitics. Or blackmail, if you prefer, not yet clear on whose skin.

Turkey-EU: a difficult union

The dream that Turkey caresses since the late eighties therefore seems to return to shine after years of turbulence and relative stasis that have been repeated for at least twenty years, within which we have witnessed everything and the opposite of everything: from the absolute no of Giscard d’Estaing for demographic issues to the feverish enthusiasm of Jens Stoltenberg, passing through a sofa gate and a label (for Erdogan) of “dictator we need”.

Now that the agreement has served, and given the speed with which Ankara promises to ratify Sweden’s entry into the Alliance, it is to be expected that the European Union will now take this responsibility, in the face of which double games or procrastination will not be allowed, since the stability of the Atlantic Pact and its internal peace is at stake. It is now entirely in the hands of the Union, finally at its test of maturity, and is intertwined with Turkey’s accession process. The difficulties that this union will have to face are many and reciprocal: it will force Europe and Turkey to deal with their mutual ghosts. Will the EU be willing to treat it as an equal? Will the EU have to turn a blind eye to human rights? Another age-old issue: Islam. Is Europe culturally and politically ready to welcome 80 million Muslims as European citizens?

If Turkey stops being a bridge and buffer

But if we want to go beyond this point, it is the strategic changes that will become epochal. As General Giorgio Battisti, first commander of the Italian contingent of the Isaf mission in Afghanistan and member of the Atlantic Committee, pointed out to Adnkronos, the Baltic Sea would now become a western lake under the control of the Atlantic Alliance, disturbing Moscow and its fleet that “could be subject to restrictions or limitations by NATO and in case, we hope never, of a NATO-Russia conflict, the Russian Baltic fleet would still be trapped because all the coasts of the Baltic Sea, both northern and southern are coasts of NATO member countries”.

But above all, Turkey would cease to be a bridge and buffer, abdicating a historical function. Same thing for the former Iron Curtain countries, also former bearings transformed into friction zones. In the aftermath of Vilnius, therefore, the Anatolian peninsula would be transformed into the last outpost, increasingly armed, of NATO and the European Union: it must be remembered that Ankara has, in fact, asked for a greater role in the Alliance, asking the US for a new supply of 40 F-16s and a few thousand missiles. The bridge that has become a bastion will now extend, in an assertive position, both eastwards towards Russia and the entire former Soviet Caucasus, but also towards Africa and the Middle East, becoming a (closed) border rather than a passage.

On the Turkish side, this attitude can find different explanations, including a partial weakness of Erdogan, aware of the dangerous relationship with Moscow and of the possible advantages that European membership would give him. But perhaps it is the Union that is not clear that stretching its offshoots beyond the Bosphorus, for NATO and Western (and therefore also European) countries will mean losing that clearing house – halfway between East and West – exposing itself to new risks. Even greater than those resulting from Ukraine’s rapid entry into the Pact. Europe, like the United States, must recognize that the wheat deal, as well as the mediation of prisoners or the project of a phantom gas hub, worked because of Erdogan’s two-faced Janus. Will Turkey, with a dual affiliation, still be a credible mediator in elsewhere other than Europe? Conversely, what would happen if once in the Union, Ankara continued to act as a free player?