After a multi-year see-saw between an overwhelmingly Christian EU and Muslim Turkey seeking membership, in 2015, 1.5 million people illegally crossed into Europe, many by hop-scotching from Turkey to Greece. Although desperate for a solution to this growing problem, the EU did not finally offer Turkey accession, which would have brought it under Brussels control, but merely granted Turkish citizens visa-free travel. In return for Turkey staunching the flow and taking back economic migrants whose asylum applications had been turned down in EU countries, while also handing out to Ankara 3 billion euros. The following year it turned out that Erdogan, who had already granted refuge to more than two million Syrian refugees, wanted to be paid the same amount every year.
Confronted with this situation, when the Turkish president clamped down on human rights and took over his country’s legal system following a failed coup, the European Parliament suspended negotiations over accession. This was a bitter disappointment for Turks, many of whose relatives had immigrated over decades to bolster Europe’s work-force, however it resolved the EU’s problem of openness versus reluctance to accept a Muslim country in its midst. Now, the EU may be regretting its decision.
Since 1950, Turkey has been considered a crucial member of NATO, described for decades as ‘the bulwark’ against the key strategic area on ‘the Soviet Union’s/Russia’s southern flank’. After the 2016 failed coup, Turkey ’s turn toward a positive relationship with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin not only puts an end to centuries of Ottoman-Russian competition for influence over the Dardanelles/Black Sea Euro-Asian hub, it could be potentially cataclysmic for ‘the West’.
Last week, as a guest at the 10th Leaders’ Summit of BRICS countries, Erdogan waxed eloquent over that group’s achievements and what his country would bring to the table if invited to join. Although BRICS represents 42% of the world’s population, the US media tends to ignore it, however, the same is not true for Europe, which recognizes the multi-polar world being built by Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
Not only would the recruitment of Turkey add a leading Muslim country to that project; by embracing the BRICS just a year and a half after being spurned by the EU, Turkey signals that it has turned the Eurasian hub decisively toward the east, whether or not Europe gets up the courage to distance itself from the United States.