Nationalist forces in Greece and Turkey could thrive if Greek deal fails

‘If Greece were to face economic collapse, and exit from the euro zone or even from the EU after the failure of these talks, the impact on Turkey would be large’

‘On a high  turnout Turkish voters  endorsed a political alternative by bringing a new Kurdish-based party into parliament on a multicultural programme, thereby depriving Erdogan’s party of its governing majority.’ Above, officials count votes after the close of voting in Diyarbakir, Turkey.  Photograph: EPA/SEDAT SUNA

‘On a high turnout Turkish voters endorsed a political alternative by bringing a new Kurdish-based party into parliament on a multicultural programme, thereby depriving Erdogan’s party of its governing majority.’ Above, officials count votes after the close of voting in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Photograph: EPA/SEDAT SUNA

 

“Hope is on the way”. This slogan used by the Greek governing party Syriza in its election campaign last January is tattered six months later as Greece faces possible default on its debts and exit from the euro zone.

Looking at its predicament from southwest Turkey after that country’s elections two weeks ago reminds us that the outcome of the Greek crisis is geopolitical as well as geoeconomic. Turkish voters rejected the proposal by its governing party to create an executive presidential system that would have copperfastened Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian ambitions to rule like Vladimir Putin.

Instead, on a high 86 per cent turnout they endorsed a political alternative by bringing a new Kurdish-based party into parliament on a multicultural programme, thereby depriving Erdogan’s party of its governing majority. Many Turks hope and expect this will open up a new and more constructive phase in their politics. It would go beyond the increasing arrogance, corruption and repression of the ruling party’s record in recent years, while preserving the remarkable gains made during its first two terms in office on economic development, political and cultural inclusion, political change and positive orientation towards the European Union.

It is too soon to say whether this will happen, as coalition talks proceed and speculation about a new election intensifies. But strategic shifts by key groups of voters make it unlikely that Erdogan’s party can retrieve its position. And there are also some hopeful signs that these changes could positively affect Turkey’s relations with its exceedingly turbulent neighbours in Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Cyprus – and Greece.

Turkey hosts two million refugees from Syria, where Erdogan has vehemently opposed the Assad regime and is widely accused of channelling aid to its fundamentalist Isis opponents. Kurdish minorities there and in Iraq link up with those in Turkey. President Erdogan and whatever new government emerges have an opportunity to pursue a negotiated peace with Turkey’s Kurds now that they are in parliament and have new allies among the country’s women’s, environmental and gay movements. A similar opportunity applies with the Armenian and Shia minorities.

As for Cyprus, there is a glimmer of hope too in the recent election of Mustafa Akinci as leader of the Turkish Cypriots on a programme favouring renewed talks about a settlement. It has been followed up by constructive negotiations and amiable exchanges with the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades. Cyprus is a key obstacle in relations between Turkey and the EU, since there are 40,000 Turkish troops there.

Cyprus also helps justify Greece’s exceptionally high military expenditure, the largest per head of population in Nato after that of the United States. Since Syriza is in power with a small nationalist party whose minister runs the defence department, this expenditure has not figured in Greece’s negotiations with the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Spending includes deals with Germany on submarines, France on aircraft and on a conscripted land army. It is a natural candidate for cuts rather than those on pensions and VAT increases in the foreground of the bailout talks.

Greece is more important politically than economically for Turkey. It is a moderate trade partner of its huge neighbour, although Turkey’s prosperous market is a huge opportunity, as for nearby Cyprus if a settlement was reached there. But if Greece were to face economic collapse, and exit from the euro zone or even from the EU after the failure of these talks, the impact on Turkey would be large.

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, warned the EU when he was elected that the alternative to dealing with his left-wing government might be dealing with a far-right one. The risk should not be under-estimated. Nationalist forces in Greece and Turkey could yet thrive on a lurch towards regional instability. That would affect both states’ relations with Russia too, where Erdogan last week and Tsipras yesterday had talks with Putin on an oil pipeline to bypass Ukraine and possible investment loans for Greece.

If the talks collapse there will be a prolonged debate on who lost Greece. The impasse reflects the purblind failure by the Troika to move beyond conventional austerity solutions in an already deeply deflated economy and on the Greek side a myopic failure to come up with - and communicate with enough credible alternative developmental sources of taxation and expenditure cuts. It is irrational to expect such a weak and indebted economy to respond like a more developed one.

Such a failure would also be a profound geopolitical shock to the EU in a key foreign policy neighbourhood.

pegillespie@gmail.com

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