MADRID – Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane risks opening a new front in the violence engulfing Syria, thereby dashing the hopes for a rapprochement between Russia and the West that had arisen in the wake of the Paris massacre. With Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now engaged in a war of words, and given the nightmare scenario of something far worse, it is more important than ever that the European Union do all that it can to reinvigorate its ties with Turkey.
Prior to the attacks in Paris, Erdoğan had seemed to be holding all the cards in the bilateral relationship. European leaders, faced with an escalating refugee crisis, agreed last month to pursue a joint action plan, which demanded that Turkey help stem the tide of migrants into Europe, in exchange for EU funds, visa liberalization, and, most relevant, renewed negotiations on Turkey’s EU accession. Shortly after that decision, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reversed her previous opposition to Turkish membership in the EU, calling it an “open-ended issue” during a visit to Istanbul.
All of this served Erdoğan well in the run-up to Turkey’s November 1 general election. The action plan and Merkel’s visit were viewed within Turkey as de facto endorsements of Erdoğan; the EU even delayed the release of a critical “progress report” on Turkey’s accession negotiations until after the vote. In the end, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) regained its comfortable parliamentary majority.
The G-20 Summit in Antalya, held on November 15-16, was to cement Erdoğan’s triumphant return to the world stage, ending a period of relative isolation by the West that reflected disapproval of his authoritarian tendencies. And a joint EU-Turkey summit was scheduled for November 29 to formalize the action plan.