Turkey has long been recognized as an important and serious issue for the European Union, and as EU Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell has said relations with Turkey could remain the biggest challenge for the EU in 2021; but how did Turkey become a serious issue for the EU? No doubt, such a case did not happen suddenly and without a prelude. The fact is that the two sides have moved in the direction of distrust and distanced from each other following various events and developments. The mid-1990s can be seen as the culmination of a rapprochement between the two sides, but it was not until a few years into the 21st century that a gradual rift broke out between the newly established government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party with the European Union and intensified in the second decade of the 21st century. Both sides were upset and worried about each other over various issues: Turkey is deeply saddened by the fact that it has long been behind the gates of the European Union and is not allowed to enter, protesting the easy and painless membership of some countries that are not at all equal to Turkey, especially Cyprus. It considers Europe’s position on political developments in Turkey, especially in the failed coup, far from political and security ties of the two sides, especially within the framework of NATO. It does not tolerate Europe’s position with regard to ethnic and human rights issues in Turkey, Kurds in particular, and most importantly, never considers ignoring Turkey’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as unlimited support for Greece, to be friendly. In brief, Turkey has many reasons to be upset with the European Union.

But the European Union, which has never been able to accept Turkey as an ordinary and associate member, has various excuses to criticize and protest the policies and positions of that country. Turkey does not comply with European standards, uses the issue of asylum seekers as a tool to put pressure and blackmail Europe, pursues interventionist policies and measures in various regions, especially the Eastern Mediterranean, Caucasus and North Africa, which are in conflict with European interests and positions. Its activities in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Karabakh, and the conflict between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan are completely contrary to European policies and interests. Ankara has gone from being a normal, completely obedient and pro-Western member to a challenging and troubling country for Europe and the West as a whole. All such cases cause the relations between the two sides go through ups and downs in the recent years, and sometimes we were witness to serious tensions between the two sides.

However, I want to use this term to describe the relationship between the two sides: “too close-too far.” Yes, Turkey and Europe are still very close to each other, and this is a fact that has its roots in decades of bilateral relations (since Ataturk) and especially Turkey’s membership in NATO in the 1950s. Turkey has always looked to Europe and the West and tried to present itself as part of Europe and build a Western and European identity for itself. Although Turkey has not become a member of the European Union yet, it has preferred its life among European countries and this is not a choice that both sides can easily ignore.

But this Janus-like face of the relations of the two sides can also be examined from another dimension; Turkey and Europe are far apart and sometimes very far. Turkey is a normal player in Europe, both Europe wants it and Turkey’s power, compared to the European powers, imposes the same normality on it; but because of its Oriental profile and connection to the Middle East, when it enters into the game in this scene, its self-confidence increases and finds itself stronger. Turkey can never distance itself from its Eastern features, but this interest keeps it away from Europe. The more Turkey operates orientally, the farther and farther it becomes from Europe, and in my opinion in recent years such a fact should not be ignored in bilateral relations.

In brief, both sides are upset and annoyed with each other, but the mutual needs and decades of living together and pursuing common goals prevent them from being completely separated from each other. Europe sometimes punishes Turkey, sometimes caresses it. On the one hand, it does not intend to allow Turkey to stand against the European order anymore and challenge its interests, and on the other hand, it knows that abundant punishment will keep Turkey away from Europe and the West and will bring it closer to rivals like China and Russia. And, of course, it will incur dangerous costs. Flood of refugee is just one of those dangerous costs.

Now the question is what is Turkey’s purpose of pursuing such expansionist policies under such circumstances? According to the ‘aggressive neorealism’ theory, whenever we see the growth of factors for each country’s national power, we should expect it to pursue more ambitious policies and expansionist activities. Turkey today is indeed a regional power, a power that, unlike in the past, can stand up to Europe and say no. This fact is reflected in the country’s attitudes towards Karabakh and the conflict between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, movements in the Turkish part of Cyprus, exploration of energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and military maneuvers in the area, military actions in Syria, Iraq and Libya, etc. Taking a hard stance against countries like France, military purchases from Russia, especially the S400 system, and other examples can be clearly seen.

In my opinion, Turkey in proportion to the increase in national power and gaining access to the position of a regional power, has expanded its regional and trans-regional interests and plays a role with greater confidence.

Of course, Turkey is undoubtedly aware of the fate of its predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, and as it gains the feeling of superiority from its history, knows well that whenever there is a gap between a country’s various capabilities and its international ambitions, this may be its Achilles heel and the beginning of its downfall.

I used the term “revanchism” many years ago to describe Russia’s foreign policy, and currently I have been keenly interested in using the term to describe Turkey and its foreign policy. I call the current Turkish foreign policy revanchist. Whether we accept neo-Ottomanism, introduce Turkey as a new and important regional power, or see it as an active player in the new order around us, it seems that influenced by the three factors: 1-Nostalgia (a great sense of interest in its glorious past); 2- Expansionism and increasing sphere of influence with traces of irredentism; and 3- Revenge (from the past that turned Turkey from a great empire into a normal country), Turkey has put an aggressive, activist, challenging, and in one word revanchist, foreign policy on its agenda.

This has a big message: confrontation, conflict, contrast and tension in Turkey’s relations with its regional rivals will increase; and this is the basic principle of power politics. Turkey should be taken seriously and Europe seems to have reached this awareness. Finally, it can be said that Europe is pursuing a kind of “tilt but don’t spill” attitude towards Turkey. As was mentioned before, it is neither indifferent nor reacts harshly. Punishment is not applied to an enemy but to a longtime friend. Turkey should be punished to the extent that it continues to engage with Europe and the West, rather than pushing it to the point where it embraces the West’s global rivals, that is to say China and Russia. This “tilt but don’t spill” policy seems to be likely continued until Joe Biden’s Democratic administration takes office in the United States, after which Turkey will be forced to be more flexible to the European Union.

After all, Turkey is really a big challenge not only for Europe, but also for regional players in the Middle East and Central Eurasia, and its behavior should be focused with more care.

Turkey has behaved with more self-confidence, more ambitions, more challenging, more active, more ambiguous, more risk-prone and to sum it up acted like a revanchAfshin Zargarist and all this portray Ankara as a fluctuating and dangerous actor.