Turkey’s Election Campaign and Europe’s Refugee Problem

September 25, 2015

In October 2012 President Assad said that Syria’s downfall would put the entire Middle East on fire. Now the heat from that fire, if not the flames, has reached Europe in the form of a refugee crisis. Conflict over proposed refugee quotas reflects varying degrees of attachment to the core values defining the EU. Some former Soviet bloc countries are finding it difficult to put into practice the principles they had aspired to for decades. In view of the numbers involved and the urgency of the situation this is understandable to a certain extent. After all it has only been two decades since their adhesion to the EU and absorbing the essence of such principles takes time.

Agreement on quotas remains an immediate challenge for the EU. But the refugee problem is here to stay so long as the chaos in the broad Middle East is allowed to continue. Mr. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said that “the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come.” And, it remains to be seen whether the Obama-Putin summit to be held on Monday would prove to be a game changer or not.

In an earlier spot (*) I tried to draw attention to the obligations of the refugee towards the receiving country. I mentioned the lessons one could draw from the experience of Turks living in Germany although they had gone there not as refugees but as “guest workers”, later to become “migrant workers” and eventually integrate with their adoptive country. I tried to stress the importance of integration which is a shared responsibility of the refugee, his country of origin and the country he or she had chosen for a new beginning in life.

On November 1, 2015 Turkey will hold parliamentary elections. More than one hundred countries allow their emigrants to vote in national elections and Turkey is among them. Thus, Turks living abroad will have the possibility to vote at Turkey’s diplomatic and consular missions and places specially designated for this purpose. But this is not the end of the story. Since they represent a sizable pool of potential voters particularly in some European countries, they are going to be targeted by Turkish political parties across the spectrum. This means party meetings, speeches and indoor rallies. It is generally agreed that such close connection to Turkish internal politics is a double-edged sword; it may have some advantages but also disadvantages. I belong to a minority that puts the emphasis on the latter.

Europe’s current refugee crisis should remind Turkey’s political leaders of the need to avoid taking their election campaign rhetoric once again to Europe or at least show some restraint. At a time when the European public opinion is trying to come to terms with a huge influx of refugees, divisive campaigning will only play into the hands of those who are saying that Europe is being asked to open its doors not only to refugees but also to their political controversies and divisions. As matter of fact, we Turks would not wish to import Syria’s internal troubles since we already have enough of our own.

The foregoing is only about one dimension of the refugee problem, perhaps of secondary order.

In an earlier spot (*) I said that “The situation is leading to strains among EU member states and there could be more trouble with Turkey…” Latest reports from Brussels indicate that there is a tough road ahead. Turkey and the EU need to demonstrate for once that they can put their differences aside and engage in constructive political and humanitarian cooperation.

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(*) “The Middle East: More Confusing Than Ever…” of August 10, 2015.

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About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions he held in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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