Other regions may be helpful to Erdogan for a short time, but they cannot substitute the economic and political contributions Turkey requires of Europe.
Victory for the âyesâ side in the countryâs April 16 constitutional referendum granting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers has left commentators wondering whether his foreign policy still includes joining the European Union as a primary goal.
EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker will seek a meeting with Erdogan at the May 25 NATO summit in what could be the European Unionâs last effort to find common ground with Turkey. But EU-Turkey tensions are high, and it would not be surprising if talks were suspended in the near future.
There were widespread allegations of electoral misconduct, irregularities and state coercion of ânoâ supporters in the referendum.
Following unofficial results, several heads of state called Erdogan to congratulate him, including the leaders of Djibouti, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. But the only Western president who did so was Donald Trump.
Just hours after Trumpâs call, the European Commission called for an investigation into Turkeyâs referendum and refused to congratulate Erdogan. And the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has decided to impose a renewed monitoring procedure on Turkey âuntil serious concerns about respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law are addressed in a satisfactory manner.â
The Turkish presidentâs recent remarks supporting the death penalty have also strained relations with Europe [though they were met with support from his followers], as did his May 2 declarations about constitutional reforms and amendments.
But the greatest blow to European-Turkish relations came directly out Erdoganâs mouth. In a May 3 speech in Ankara, the president openly threatened to stop the EU accession process if European countries donât âopen upâ right away.
It may be that the president has better alliances in his sights. And if Erdoganâs latest trips are any indication, Turkeyâs foreign policy may well just bypass Europe.
Turkeyâs open hand to India
On May 1, Erdogan paid a visit to India, his first international trip since âwinningâ the disputed constitutional referendum. The main aim of the visit was to develop economic and strategic collaborations on counter-terrorism.
It appears that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed him with open arms. But Erdogan made a controversial comment on Kashmir, the northwestern state disputed by India and Pakistan, that marred the visit.
In suggesting a âmultilateral dialogueâ on the Kashmir issue and offering to mediate between India and Pakistan, Erdogan irked Indian officials, who âfirmly rule out third party mediation on Kashmirâ.
Erdogan also mentioned that joint trade between India and Turkey should be balanced and that his country could assist India with rapid infrastructure development.
That comment raised some eyebrows. Given that Turkeyâs relations with the EU have been deteriorating for some time now, is Erdogan planning to start implementing an active foreign policy focussed on the East rather than the West?
His May 8 trip to Kuwait may be another example of just such an inclination.
Turkeyâs foreign policy agenda has for years been determined by domestic priorities, and it has sometimes become a significant issue in electoral campaigns.
This is what happened following problems with some European countries during the recent referendum process. Erdogan and prominent figures from his AKP party used populist rhetoric to send the message that Europe does not want Turkey to be powerful, suggesting that European nations fear the resurgence of a strong, Ottoman-style Turkey.
Even as he antagonises the West, Erdogan has been trying hard to ease tensions with Russia. A year and a half have passed since the downing of a Russian jet near the Turkish-Syria border. President Erdogan apologised to his Russian counterpart, stating âAnkara never had the desire or deliberate intention of shooting down the Russian federationâs planeâ.
The May 4 meeting between Putin and ErdoÄan, which took place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, suggests rapprochement.
It also reflected possible growing cooperation between the two nations on Syria, on which they were once at odds. Russia and Turkey agreed to support the formation of âde-escalation zonesâ in Syria, saying they both wanted to bolster the fragile truce in the war-ravaged country.
Suspicion in the Balkans
In the Balkans, which were once part of the Ottoman empire, Erdogan is looked at with increasing suspicion after years of Turkey having a balanced, if delicate, relationship with the region.
Between 2007 and 2013, Ankara was actually making inroads through friendlier means. Turkish investments had expanded across the Balkans, even in Croatia and in Serbia, where Christian residents still remember the sultans from Istanbul as occupiers, not liberators.
Turkey had also helped broker talks between formerly bitter enemies in the Balkans. But, post-referendum, new apprehension has arisen among the regionâs political elites. Many now fear that Turkey could export authoritarianism to the peninsula and trigger instability.
Even though most of the Balkan countries will continue to cultivate or feign friendship with ErdoÄan, they are also likely to lean on European powers to seek protection.
Can Turkey thrive without Europe?
Despite Erdoganâs ultimatum to Europe and his new friends in the East, the economic picture for Turkey remains weak without backing from the West. All of Turkeyâs trade with its Middle East, Asian and African partners combined doesnât compare to its commerce with the Western world.
Turkey is the EUâs fourth-largest export market and fifth-highest provider of imports, selling well over US$50 billion of goods to Europe each year. The EU is by far Turkeyâs number one import and export partner.
In contrast, Turkey and Africa trade at a volume of around US$4 billion.
The global political power of Turkeyâs potential new partners is nothing compared to that of the Western world. Ultimately, Turkey needs democracy, human rights, peace and stability at home and in its neighbourhood.
In the end, other regions may be helpful to Erdogan for a short time, but they cannot substitute the economic and political contributions Turkey requires of Europe.
Ahmet Erdi ĂztĂŒrk is a research assistant at the UniversitĂ© de Strasbourg and Salih Dogan is a researcher and PhD candidate at Keele University