EU Backs Off Turkey Arms Embargo As Erdogan Holds All The Cards... 3.6 Million Of Them

If you've been paying attention you might have picked up on the irony that Turkey now appears the most powerful country in Europe thanks to the refugee threat. It's further appeared unfazed that the EU has appeared ready to ban all arms deliveries to Ankara over its internationally condemned military incursion into Syria, following Germany and France over the weekend announcing a temporary suspension, fearing weapons would be used against Syria's Kurds.

But alas on Monday the EU proved once again its position is too weak to act: "European Union countries committed on Monday to suspending arms exports to Turkey, but stopped short of the EU-wide arms embargo that France and Germany had sought," Reuters reported. “Member states commit to strong national positions regarding their arms export policy to Turkey,” EU foreign ministers said, stopping short of a Europe-wide weapons embargo.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle on Germany's imposed ban which took effect Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said any such move would “just strengthen us.” Not only does Ankara appear unfazed, also as Europe is likely to do nothing really of substance to halt the Turkish operation, it clearly has all the leverage. 

Refugees along the Turkey-Syria border, via Reuters.

As one op-ed commented related to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Sunday phone call demanding that Erdogan put an “immediate end” to 'Operation Peace Spring', why would he listen?... "After all, he has 3.6 million reasons not to."

Erdogan threatened last week, not for the first time: "Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you," he said

Comparing even the tone of each side's rhetoric, European leaders are treating Erdogan with kid gloves, while his is full of bravado and very specific extreme threat of action. 

“We have a common desire that this offensive ends," French President Emmanuel Macron said alongside Merkel. "This offensive risks creating an unsustainable humanitarian situation.” And EU Council President Donald Tusk on Friday: “Turkey must understand that our main concern is that their actions may lead to another humanitarian catastrophe, which would be unacceptable.”

With 'threatening' words like "unacceptable" and empty threats of "dramatic consequences" with no follow through — no wonder Turkish leaders feel free to positively boast "this will just strengthen us"

Erdogan's response strikes a tone of one who is holding all the cards:

“Are we allies in NATO or have you taken a terrorist organization into NATO, but we don’t know about it?” he told local channel NTV on Sunday. “Very weird approach. Are you with us or with the terrorists?

But like with the migrant crisis which previously hit a peak in 2015, it is the right-wing and nationalist European parties that have picked up on Erdogan's blackmail attempts, and could stand to benefit, by perhaps being the only to fiercely push back. 

For example, the Foreign Policy Spokesman of Alternative for Germany party (AfD), Petr Bystron said Monday: “The EU pays Turkey €3 billion every year for the so-called Refugee Pact, while Recep Tayyip Erdogan still sends thousands of illegal migrants to the Greek isles and threatens to swamp Europe with even more.

Image via Bloomberg

The AfD statement continued, “In addition, the EU will pay Turkey €9 billion between 2007 and 2020 for an EU accession nobody wants, while Turkey turns away ever more from the Western community and values.

“The German taxpayer largely has to pay these astronomical sums, so the Turkish tyrant can maintain the largest military in Europe, make territorial claims against Greece, Syria and Iraq, and now wage a brutal war of aggression against Kurdish civilians in Northern Syria,” the statement added. “Germany and the EU must immediately halt all payments to Turkey and instead invest in our own border protection, or we will be guilty of supporting Turkey’s war crimes against the Kurds.

However, we doubt EU leadership will do little more than impose a temporary arms embargo merely threaten "dramatic consequences" which will have little to no actual impact on NATO second largest military.