A political spat between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron is underscoring a growing rift between Turkey and Europe, Mohammed Ayoob, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy in Washington D.C., said on Sunday.
“Both leaders were playing to their domestic galleries, but their harsh exchange, although not the root cause of the increasing rift between Turkey and major European countries, demonstrated the extent to which Turkish–European relations have gone downhill,” Ayoob said in an article for the National Interest.
Macron and Erdoğan have been trading political blows over free speech and a French plan to fight Islamic extremism after the killing of a French teacher last month who had taught a class on freedom of expression during which he used controversial caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed from satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
There is a larger geopolitical context to the rising tensions between the two countries as Turkey seeks to expand its influence to former Ottoman territories and France leads Europe’s efforts to counter it, Ayoob said.
The European Union has thrown its weight behind Greece and Cyprus in a dispute with Turkey over maritime borders and drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean, with France giving particularly firm political backing to Greece. Macron has also slammed Turkish military support for the United Nations-recognised government in Tripoli against Libyan opposition forces backed by Russia and Egypt, accusing Erdoğan of flouting an international arms embargo.
“The EU’s stance on the Eastern Mediterranean revives Turkish memories of the European powers’ policy not only of dividing up the non-Turkish parts of the Ottoman Empire among themselves at the end of World War I but also carving up the Turkish homeland itself,” Ayoob said.