His sudden overtures towards the European Union (EU) also come as no surprise. The very EU that he had long since turned away from, whose countries he accused of using Nazi practices and whose citizens he is keeping as political hostages, including German journalists.
The EU has no interest in allowing Turkey to slide into a full-fledged economic crisis because its banks have issued sizeable loans to Turkish financial institutions. If the loans are not serviced, the EU will face difficulties of its own. Furthermore, the EU needs Turkey to act as a buffer to prevent even more refugees from coming into Europe and thereby strengthening right-wing forces.
Another trouble spot: Syria
Moreover, Turkey depends on EU investments and cannot afford to be completely isolated. That is why it cannot assume a position of strength with regard to the EU in spite of the refugee problem. Europe now has an opportunity to exert pressure on Turkey and demand that it comply with the rule of law, particularly when it comes to its own citizens. The option of Turkey joining the EU is even not discussed anymore.
Another trouble spot for Erdogan is the war in Syria. In mid-September, he reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to create a demilitarised buffer zone in the Syrian region of Idlib. In doing so, the leaders averted the risk of another humanitarian crisis for the time being. An attack by Syrian and Russian forces would result in millions more refugees.
Turkey has already taken in 3.5 million people who have fled Syria or Iraq. Despite the provisional agreement, Turkey faces grave dangers. What will the jihadist groups do that have already reached the Turkish border? What will happen with those who are still fighting in Syria? And what will be the reaction of the PYD, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK?
The Turkish opposition canʹt capitalise on any of these problems. Their work is either being hindered by arrests, as in the case of the HDP, or is not receiving any media attention, as in the case of the Iyi Parti (the Good Party). Whatʹs more, the largest opposition party, the CHP, looks torn by in-fighting. Its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is adamantly refusing, after yet another failed campaign, to make way for Muharrem Ince, who received over 30 % of the vote in the presidential election.
Many hoped that Ince would be a breath of fresh air. The result of his party at the parliamentary election was relatively poor – they only got 22.6 % of the votes. But at the presidential election Ince himself got even votes from other partiesʹ supporters. But the rising star Ince died down as quickly as the Turkish lira lost value.
Despite all the power he holds, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing the most difficult moment of his political carrier. His aggressive policies have put off allies like the U.S. and the EU. Instead of single-handedly building relationships with a variety of countries, the only room to manoeuvre that he still has in foreign affairs is exploiting the weaknesses of other states and the conflicts that they have with each other.
There is no scapegoat that he can blame for the economic crisis. Ultimately, everything will depend on when his voters begin to ask questions and how they react when they discover that they have no more money in their pockets. Only once they take to the streets will Erdoganʹs system begin to crumble.
© Development and Cooperation | D+C 2018
Timur Tinc is a journalist with the Frankfurter Rundschau.