The EU of 28 nations must appreciate the difference between a strong national leader running the affairs of EU as distinct from a strong national leader becoming a strong consensus leader of the group. If the latter does not supersede the first, further difficulties that could become disasters await Europe of the Union.
As would have been guessed, the reference is to Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor who is running Europe, in a manner of speaking, like the Iron Chancellor of Germany of the 19th Century. Germany was infinitely strengthened, neighbouring countries weakened in equal measure. The analogy remains imperfect, but is indicative of the shape of things to come if the remaining 27 countries do not demand switching to consensus decisions – real consensus as opposed to railroaded consensus. Currently this relates to the continuing refugee influx and dealing with Turkey.
Recall that it was primarily Angela Merkel's unilateral decision to welcome the refugees with open arms to Europe, not merely Germany that led to the present crisis. That she did not hold consultations with any country before taking that fateful decision would be evident by now. What were the consequences that Europe is already facing within just one year? Briefly:
- Refugee flows have not lessened significantly;
- The extreme right wing parties have been strengthened enough to show significant electoral gains in most countries;
- Europe stands polarised and divided on this count. Meanwhile, Chancellor Merkel refuses to publicly shift her position on refugees coming to Europe, again not only Germany;
- Desperate negotiations with Turkey in an attempt to bail out Europe; or Angela Merkel. Perspectives on the way negotiations are being conducted and where they are apparently headed on the face of it, may differ, but many European nations not truly part of the consultative process are extremely worried. Even President Francois Hollande of France has been forced to publicly express his country's disquiet.
- The Schengen consensus is virtually dead. Many nations that have sealed their borders, state it is temporary. The likelihood of them opening the borders any time soon looks dim.
- As things stand Ms. Merkel could go ahead and seal the deal in spite of President Erdogan's evident attempts at blackmail. It is clear to everyone that he is negotiating with the full knowledge that the chief negotiator, his German counterpart is on the back foot and is desperately looking for a way out, first for her own predicament; and along with that the rest of Europe.
Besides the Turkish leader's strong negotiating position vis-a-vis his German counterpart, the Turkish strongman is trying to seal his third term by any means, against opposition. He is slowly but surely reversing the Europeanisation of Turkish society and allowing the more orthodox version of Islam to grow roots. This is evident throughout the Turkish countryside away from the gaze of Ankara.
The consequences of acceding to Turkey's demands other than those doubling the Euro component of the grant in return for agreeing to stem the refugee influx to the extent possible, are far more threatening for the long-term interests of Europe. Turkey of today is not the same as the Turkey that started the negotiations for full EU membership of a decade earlier. Mr. Erdogan has changed Turkey in every conceivable way when viewed from Europe. Faster negotiations and visa free travel for Turks by June 2016 are not only not in Europe's interest but pose a threat to European cohesion and even short-term security. Recep Erdogan's policies are pushing Turkey into a state of civil war with the Kurds in Turkey and those in Syria. The latter, backed by the US, will certainly not forget Turkish bombing and raids on their enclaves in Syria, nor will they refrain from siding with their counterparts within Turkey in the future. It is generally known that in spite of denials, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia continue to assist ISIS in their separate way due to what they feel are their geopolitical compulsions in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia according to latest reports has sent warplanes to a Turkish air base that is also being used by the Americans. As to which entity the Saudi planes will bomb is anybody’s guess.
In the light of the foregoing the open visas for Turks could, under certain circumstances, lead to an influx of Turks much greater than the numbers that Europe would be comfortable with, leave alone the larger concern of Turkey becoming a full member of EU under circumstances that currently obtain and are likely to obtain for the foreseeable future.
Unless Angela Merkel immediately becomes a consensus leader for the Europeans in the real sense both Germany and Europe could suffer further unforeseen outcomes, far more dire than the current ones. The consensus being currently put out among EU member states is an enforced consensus with the threat of cut off of financial grants always looming in the background. Evidently, the current deal being worked out would appear to be better than no deal in as far as it relates to the refugee intake. Beyond that the deal would not be acceptable to many EU countries. Currently only Cyprus is openly expressing its opposition. In fact there are many more states that hold the same view as Cyprus. The EU must keep in mind that Turkey’s position is not as strong as it is made to look. Turkey has been considerably weakened by its present geopolitical alignments, internal opposition to Erdogan’s suppressive policies as well as its confrontation with Russia. It cannot afford to alienate Europe beyond a point. In the current negotiations it is a question of who blinks first. Reaching a dead-end is not an option for both Turkey and the European Union, not only for the latter..
* Author, Global Security Paradoxes 2000-2020. Details on www.vinodsaighal.com
New Delhi; March 17, 2016