The Brief — The year of Türkiye

The year 2023 is important for Turkey – or Türkiye, as it wants to be officially called – as it marks the 100th anniversary of the country’s founding by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

It is also the 20th anniversary of the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of AKP, a conservative party with Islamist roots, who first became prime minister in 2003. Erdoğan then became the first president of Turkey to be elected by popular vote in 2014, was reelected in 2018, and will run for re-election on 18 June 2023.

Preparations to mark Turkey’s 2023 anniversaries have been in the works for a long time.

As far back as 2010, Erdoğan spelled out his “2023 vision” as a set of goals, including becoming one of the top-ten world economies or attaining a per capita income of $25,000. He didn’t achieve these goals – currently, Turkey’s economy is considered to be the world’s 19th-largest and the World Bank puts its per capita income at $9,661.

Furthermore, its economy is now in tatters. Runaway inflation and a collapsing lira have pushed millions of Turks to the brink of financial ruin and slammed factories, farmers and retailers across the country. In September 2021, one US dollar was worth around eight Turkish lira. Today, the rate is nearly 19 lira.

Achieving all EU membership conditions – and becoming an EU member by 2023 – was another objective Erdoğan set for Turkey back then.

Currently, Turkey’s membership bid is in a deep freeze with little sign of thawing after the attempted coup of August 2016. In 2017, the EU said that Turkish policies violated the Copenhagen criteria, a set of basic political and democratic criteria of eligibility for EU membership and advised a “different type of relations” to membership.

In 2010 Turkey was officially pursuing a “zero problem” policy with its neighbours.

Now, Erdoğan’s Turkey prefers to project itself as an independent regional power – one capable of crushing the Kurds at home and abroad, sending its army across borders (especially after the US left a significant power vacuum in the Middle East), influencing the Caucasus by siding with Azerbaijan against Armenia, building a Turkic sphere of influence spanning across Central Asia, blackmailing the EU by threatening to release migration waves, and conducting a trigger-happy policy vis-à-vis Greece and Cyprus in the Aegean.

In NATO, which incorporated both Greece and Turkey with the primary goal of avoiding a war between them, Ankara plays an unhelpful role by blocking the membership bid of Sweden and Finland in the context of the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Having declined to join Western sanctions against Russia, Turkey has become the only remaining window to Europe – aside from EU candidate Serbia – for Russian companies and individuals, and a haven for oligarchs’ yachts. It also has plans to become a hub for Russian gas.

Indeed, this Russia-friendly attitude has allowed Turkey to play the role of a possible mediator between Moscow and Kyiv, which was illustrated by talks held in Turkey at the beginning of the war and on grain exports last summer.

The Turkish parliament and the parliaments of friendly countries such as Pakistan have officially nominated Erdoğan for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Although this effort looks like a long shot, Erdoğan is likely to invest more in this international activity in the run-up to the June elections, so he could at least impress his domestic audience.

But it’s the elections themselves that will shape ‘Türkiye’s year’.

Turkish society remains deeply divided between secularists and moderate Islamists. After 20 years of AKP rule, the return of secularists would be healthy and prove that the present authoritarian regime is not a dictatorship.

The mayoral election in Istanbul in 2019 showed that democracy in Turkey, although ailing, still works. In the meantime, the regime fought back by sending to jail the popular mayor of Istanbul, Ikrem İmamoğlu, preventing him from running in the elections.

Suppose Erdoğan realises at some point that he may lose the popular vote. In that case, he may become a dangerous international player, as it is assumed that nothing would mobilise his electorate more than external enemies and wars.

And in a scenario in which Erdoğan was defeated at the polls, he would not step down without a fight. In the meantime, at home and abroad, he will project himself as the symbol of stability – whatever this means.

Realistically, a victory of the opposition is unlikely to solve all of Turkey’s problems.

Furthermore, a change at the top would not mean that Turkey’s main foreign affairs priorities would change and that tensions with Greece and Cyprus would diminish. On the contrary, some in Athens believe it’s easier to handle Erdoğan than the Kemalists, who have a power base in the Turkish armed forces.

In both scenarios, with or without Erdoğan, Turkey’s economic situation will probably deteriorate further. 2023 was projected to be a celebration year for Turkey, but it is more likely to add the red colour of its flag to the many black swans surrounding the EU.

The Roundup

Inter-institutional negotiations on the AI Act are expected later this year, and while the EU Council has reached its position, Germany has reservations on certain points that bring it closer to the European Parliament’s position than that of other member states.

Four of Europe’s largest telecom companies formally informed the European Commission of a joint venture to build a technology platform for digital advertising, according to a filing published on Monday.

After months of resistance, Berlin finally accepted a controversial proposal in December to introduce a price cap on EU gas imports in exchange for emergency provisions to boost its own electricity grid expansion, EURACTIV has learned.

The decision to include households in the EU carbon market is causing a stir among French lawmakers on the far-right and far-left of the European Parliament who are united in their opposition to the proposal.

Look out for…

  • European People’s Party presidency coordination meeting in Brussels.
  • Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski receives Małgorzata Golińska, Poland’s secretary of state and deputy minister for climate and environment.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]

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