In recent weeks, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials have threatened to abandon decades of effort to join the European Union (EU) and instead seek membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Their remarks should not have been so surprising, since Ankara has become increasingly skillful at leveraging Turkey’s new ties with its eastern partners to gain advantages in the West.
In addition to reflecting a genuine concern about Turkey’s perceived mistreatment by the EU and an effort to gain easy popularity with domestic constituents by attacking an unpopular target, Erdogan and other Turkish leaders see cooperating more with the SCO as an enticing option. Ankara would like to deepen its economic ties with Russia and China, in particular, as well as participate in many SCO initiatives. Furthermore, Turkey’s leverage with Europe, the United States and other partners would also rise through a deeper affiliation with the SCO.
Since coming to power more than a decade ago, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has used the EU entry requirements as a justification and catalyst to promote economic and political reforms at home that have also served to strengthen Turkey’s economy and weaken the Turkish military’s role in domestic politics. Polls show that Turkey’s EU membership drive continues to enjoy strong support among the country’s elite despite falling popular support for membership.