Erdogan’s calculated rage
Most politicians and government leaders in Turkey did of course see the result of the recent vote in the German parliament coming. That did not however lessen the indignation and verbal anger about the virtually unanimous passing of the Armenian resolution. Many people feared that the relationship between Turkey and Germany would be harmed. And it was indeed followed by a stream of hard-hitting declarations and the Turkish ambassador in Germany was recalled to Ankara. In diplomatic circles, that is not taken lightly. It is possible that further measures will follow against a number of German companies or institutions, or that the German ambassador in Ankara will be required to give an explanation, but the storm of indignation will pass on after that. That is because the last thing that the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to do is risk his warm relationship with the German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. After all, Turkey is losing friends at a high tempo, both within its own region and in Europe, and Erdogan understands all too well that this relationship needs to be cherished.
It is noteworthy that the Turkish president has not linked the criticism of the Armenian resolution to the refugee deal with Europe at any time. The main prize for Turkey from this deal is visa-free travel for Turkish citizens within the European Union. And behind the scenes, Erdogan and his new minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, are working hard to land that liberalisation of the visas. President Erdogan’s angry threats to blow up the entire migration deal with the EU if Turks cannot travel freely by 1 July have fallen silent. Minister Omer Celik, one of Erdogan’s loyal allies, is doing everything possible in Brussels to comply with the EU's final requirements for visa-free travel. He has even proposed setting up a joint committee to scrutinise Turkish antiterrorism legislation. The current legislation also makes it possible for journalists, academics and other critics of the government to be persecuted by accusing them of supporting or being sympathetic to terrorist movements. That aspect in particular is unacceptable for Europe. Although president Erdogan and his government keep repeating that they will not submit to Europe's demand that the legislation should be altered, negotiations are taking place. That is difficult, particularly given the latest bombings in Turkey, which bear the hallmarks of the Kurdish PKK. However, those in the know say that a compromise is possible. On the one hand, that would consist of in fact tightening Turkey's antiterrorism resources in order to be able to tackle the PKK and foreign jihadists better, for example. On the other, Turkey could bring the general definition of terrorism more into line with current European guidelines.
It has in the meantime become clear that president Erdogan, after a series of angry outbursts and threats aimed at the EU, is no longer sticking to the original deadline of 1 July. He now accepts 1 October as an acceptable date for removing the visa obligation. Once the main prize has been safely reeled in, Erdogan can prepare for the finale of his major domestic political project. In order to bring the Turkish political system into line with the existing de facto situation - in which president Erdogan virtually has absolute power in his hands - drastic alterations have to be made to the Turkish constitution. Erdogan keeps on repeating that everyone must now simply accept that the time is ripe for this. According to him and his AK party, the current parliamentary system needs renewal and must be transformed into a presidential system. In order to bring that project about, Erdogan has replaced Ahemet Davutoglu - who is also the chairman of the AK party - as premier by Benali Yildirim. He will have piloted the constitutional changes through the parliament during the course of October, but the major question is whether a two-thirds majority will be obtained in order to enact the new constitution immediately. If not, the presidential system will be proposed to the Turkish population in a referendum. But with his current popularity among the Turkish electorate and success in pushing through visa-free travel, Erdogan can be assured of the right result.