There are plenty of reasons to take issue with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says Suzanne Lynch in Politico. The “consummate strongman” has locked up journalists and political opponents, cosied up to Russia, launched an incursion into Syria and vetoed Sweden’s accession to Nato. Yet despite Western leaders publicly condemning his actions, many will be silently hoping he prevails in the presidential run-off. It’s because Erdogan’s “increasingly authoritarian” stance is a “useful political foil” for EU politicians desperate to prevent Turkey from joining the bloc.
Even before Erdogan’s election, plenty of member states were “less than keen to admit Turkey to the club”. It would require painstakingly hashing out an agreement on northern Cyprus, which Turkey has occupied since 1974, and letting the country’s “huge, relatively poor population” flood into Europe. Some European leaders also aren’t wild about letting a majority-Muslim state join the bloc. Erdogan’s brutal crackdowns have provided a convenient reason to keep membership off the table, and thus avoid addressing these “underlying causes of friction”. If democratic hopeful Kemal Kilicdaroglu takes power, EU officials will no longer have that excuse. As one think-tanker puts it, Europe would much rather have “an authoritarian leader next door”.