Looking eastward from Western Europe, Turkey used to be seen as both a model of secular democracy in the Muslim world and a huge business opportunity. But longstanding hopes for Turkish entry into the European Union appear grimmer every day. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, apparently seeking to revive a form of "Ottoman glory," has led a slide into authoritarianism over the past decade, most recently seizing on the failed coup in July as a golden opportunity to crack down on any form of opposition. As Turkish journalist Ozgur Ogret recently wrote for Worldcrunch, "Turkey is on a one-way road to a one-party system, which is going to be glorified by an obedient media."
Coming as no surprise, the European Parliament voted today in favor of freezing talks on the country joining the EU: "Continuing with membership talks is not credible when we see a complete deviation from democracy and rule of law," Kati Piri, a Dutch MEP, said before the vote.
Still, the passage of the measure itself reveals the many contradictions and high stakes of European-Turkish relations. The result itself is purely advisory and nonbinding, while many in Europe — including German Chancellor Angela Merkel — have pointed to the necessity of maintaining good relations with Turkey. Most urgently, Turkey is both a member of NATO and is considered crucial in stemming the flow of refugees into Europe from the Middle East.
Speaking at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation conference in Istanbul yesterday, Erdogan dismissed the Parliament's debate even before it happened. "This vote has no value for us," he said. Once again, Erdogan's seemingly unshakeable stance says as much about the weakness of a divided Europe as it does about his own strongman ambitions.