9th Dec 2023


On Erdoğan and Europe's 'ontological' choice

  • Greek myth of abduction of Europa by Zeus in the form of a bull, re-enacted at the opening ceremony of the 'European Games', a sports event, in Baku in 2015 (Photo:

In a recent speech in his Çankaya Palace in Ankara to EU countries' ambassadors, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proclaimed that: "The EU accepting Turkey as a full member will be an ontological choice in terms of the future of the Union."

His tone was conciliatory, but the content - designed to impress, with a long list of Erdoğan's contributions to solving Europe's problems: Syria, migration, the Covid-19 pandemic, and so on.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wooed EU diplomats with fancy vocabulary in Ankara last week (Photo: Flickr)

He promised Turkey could solve even more EU problems, including its "ontological" ones.

The contrast with his previous, anti-European speeches was diametrically clear.

Just as clear as the link between Erdoğan's sudden volte-face and recent events in America, where his temperamental friend, former US president Donald Trump, had recently lost elections.

But this piece isn't about Erdoğan or Trump.

It is about wider Europe, which Erdoğan so eloquently committed himself to help.

There is a reason why strongman leaders like him on Europe's fringe feel a gravitational pull toward her, which deserves closer attention.

Indeed, looked at from the safe distance of a dictator's throne, EU politics must look like an oddity.

It is slow, inefficient, needlessly transparent, and hopelessly consensual. The issues are laid wide open and endlessly discussed.

Tensions are allowed to reach boiling point, before compromises form, which are highly valued by the hugely unequal partners who make them.

People in many countries in the EU neighbourhood are spared such spectacles.

In Russia and Turkey, for instance, decisions are taken swiftly and announced on large podiums in front of loving crowds.

Grave responsibility and popular adoration mix freely in the cult of the leader, who is an emanation of the country's prowess, virility, and other manly virtues.

You can see it on TV in the sort of public-relations Blitzkriegs in which Erdoğan or Russian president Vladimir Putin, not to mention Trump, excel.

They pick a foreign, preferably European leader, and strike them down with mighty words, such as Erdoğan's recent tirades against French president Emmanuel Macron over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

If that's not enough, then a real Blitzkrieg - war - for instance, in Syria or Ukraine, or elsewhere, is also used as mythopoeia.

The terrain doesn't matter. What matters is the display: of power and daring.

For leaders like this, Europe provides an ideal background for their theatre.

Sure to be slow, Brussels, Paris, or Berlin will struggle to formulate common words or a plan of action together with my capital, Sofia, or with Dublin and Lisbon, on the other side of the continent.

And it will be another matter altogether to actually follow through with EU-wide deeds.

So why do Erdoğan, or others like him, bother with Europe?

Why offer her olive branches and promises of metaphysical assistance?

Why bother?

The answer lies in simple, practical questions.

Questions such as: What have this lighting speed and plans of greatness achieved for their adoring people?

What has the more recent, autocratic Erdoğan delivered for Turkey - now, at this moment? What has Putin achieved in his latest (eternal) mandate? And what is going to be the final balance of their rule?

It is here that boring Europe begins to look attractive.

Authoritarian politics may be quick, but it is often too quick to achieve anything of lasting value.

It originates in the ego of the leader and ends with it. The political circuitboard is hard-wired to give satisfaction to him alone.

Others in the upper echelons of power do what they can to extract some for themselves in various ways.

The result is authoritarianism steeped in corruption and a paradoxical autocratic anarchy.

The leader rules, but achieves little. Agreement to his vision is instant and unanimous, but its implementation is intangible and imaginary.

The longer a regime stays in power, the harder it becomes to match words with action. The number of promises keeps going up, but amid diminshing returns on delivery.

This is glaringly visible in Putin's Russia today. The economy is in tatters. Post-Covid 19 or otherwise, it has no reasonable prospects of quick recovery.

Putin's once glorious foreign military exploits have turned into costly entanglements with no clear extraction date.

The system blocks bright new faces with brave economic solutions.

So the same dead words are repeated by the same old men in the same stale rooms. Live on national TV, they have nothing living to give.

Which brings me back to Europe and our slow, dull, and complicated way of doing things together.

Yes, it rarely looks good and it is as difficult to follow as a five-day Test-cricket match.

Common sense

But if one takes time to look into what is being done and how it is being done in the relevant circumstances, one cannot but admire the EU's sustained progress in common sense, toleration, and moderation.

The European Union is a fantastic conglomeration of worlds and experiences, translated into intricate political processes.

Merging it all into one is bound to be difficult.

But if we consider the amount of knowledge and expertise that Europe has in its various regions and cultures - the Baltic, the Celtic, the Balkan, the Iberian, all united around the traditional core of a modern Europe - one would hardly rush in building such a structure.

It takes time to listen, to understand, and to forge a living compromise.

Ideally, it is a compromise not of weakness, but of mutual confidence and strength. It accepts all input and allows people to determine the best outcome for everybody.

Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Author bio

Dessislav Valkanov is a professor of classical German philosophy at the University of Plovdiv in Bulgaria.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


Azerbaijan ambassador to EU shared anti-George Floyd post

Azerbaijan ambassador to EU Fuad Isgandarov shared a virulent rant against George Floyd. Asked why, Isgandarov told this website he doesn't recall the message and forgot how he had responded to it.

Time for dither and delay with Ankara's rights record is over

I know first-hand how difficult it is to take a firm stance against Turkey. As Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, I engaged in tough discussions with Ankara, wrote highly-critical reports, and tried to rally member states.

How should EU reform the humanitarian aid system?

The example of Ukraine illustrates that donors like the EU should be more ambitious about the localisation of aid. And this funding to local actors needs to be predictable, flexible, and longer than the typical one-year funding cycle.

Can Green Deal survive the 2024 European election?

Six months ahead of the EU elections, knocking an 'elitist' climate agenda is looking like a vote-winner to some. Saving the Green Deal and the EU's climate ambitions starts with listening to Europeans who are struggling to make ends meet.

Latest News

  1. How Moldova is trying to control tuberculosis
  2. Many problems to solve in Dubai — honesty about them is good
  3. Sudanese fleeing violence find no haven in Egypt or EU
  4. How should EU reform the humanitarian aid system?
  5. EU suggests visa-bans on Israeli settlers, following US example
  6. EU ministers prepare for all-night fiscal debate
  7. Spain's Nadia Calviño backed to be EIB's first female chief
  8. Is there hope for the EU and eurozone?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  3. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  4. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  5. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  6. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us