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Turkey’s damaging crisis with Europe is self-generated in large part – a tactic sometimes used by Ankara to create a problem and then hold the other party responsible. Acting the victim also deflects domestic attention from the government’s own accountability and justifies revenge. Turkey is stirring a crisis with the European Union principally to generate support among European Turks, and citizens living in Turkey, for its effort to win an April 16 referendum which would give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan virtually unlimited power. This tactic comes with a heavy price, however, to Turkey’s long term and strategic interests. Turkey’s recent actions and diplomatic disputes with Germany, the Netherlands, and, by extension, other countries in the EU, are not bolstering the country’s long term interests and do not reveal any visible long term positive strategy. 

Relations between Turkey and the EU have often been uneasy. Turkey’s views of the EU rest on an understandable and undeniably humiliating national frustration: the EU’s unwillingness to grant Turkey membership. But rather than address this issue on European terms, Turkey demands entry on its own terms by portraying its quasi-Islamic political theory, based on Muslim Brotherhood governance principles, as a genuine example of democracy. 

The EU’s popular disinterest in Turkish membership has been pushed further into negative territory over the past 15 years by the aftermath of 9/11, economic losses and debt crises of the Great Recession, terrorism, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the awareness that Turkey would be the most populous EU member if it joined. The EU has offered Turkey half measures politically while adding beneficial economic ties. Anchored to its determination to be treated as an equal, Turkey has refused to settle for this half loaf.