Expect upswing in Polish-Turkish diplomacy in 2014

Expect upswing in Polish-Turkish diplomacy in 2014

Given their common history and mutual goals, there is no reason Turkey and Poland shouldn’t cooperate more than at present. Will the occasion of next year’s anniversary bring these strange bedfellows closer together?

Polish-Turkish partnership? It doesn’t sound the most likely tandem. Yet, Warsaw and Ankara have recently taken the first steps for a deeper relationship on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. And there is reason to believe that this will go beyond mere diplomatic niceties.

First, at a societal level, both countries harbor positive opinions about each other, something that has been unaffected by deeper political changes at home, which would allow the couple to build long-term cooperation.

In this respect, history matters, and the Ottoman Empire was the only country that refused to recognize Poland’s repartition at the end of the 18th century. It continued symbolically calling Polish ambassadors to diplomatic gatherings until Poland’s independence in 1918. The empire also became refuge to many Poles, who founded Adampol (Polonezköy) near Istanbul, which retains its Polish minority.

In turn, many Polish personalities offered their contributions to Ottoman military, political and cultural life. Later, when Poland was invaded during World War II, Turkey resisted Nazi pressure and kept the Polish Embassy in Ankara open. This solidarity continued into modern times: Turkey gave support to Poland’s membership in NATO; and now Poland gives support to Turkey’s EU membership.

Second, for the two regional powers, their relative economic health, youthful societies and burgeoning international ambitions have provided an unexpected overlap of activity.

Both are showing notable activism in foreign policy. Poland, already a champion of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, is increasing its presence in the Southern Mediterranean by sharing its history of successful transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime. Turkey is one of the key actors in the MENA region and is economically present in the post-Soviet countries.

As the two countries seek a more peaceful, democratic and prosperous neighborhood, Poland’s transition history combined with the Turkish model can constitute an example to the new regimes in the South. In addition, by means of joint ventures, they can contribute to the prosperity of their neighbors.

Third, the bilateral economic and trade relations are growing. Their trade volume is increasing, favoring Poland. And a Turkish company, Gulermak, is part of the consortium that is constructing the new line of Warsaw’s metro.

Both countries are also energy dependent upon Russian gas supplies. Turkey is planning to increase its LNG terminals, and has recently discovered shale gas on its territory. Poland has already started to explore the potential of its shale gas and is aiming to build its first LNG terminal. Moreover, Turkey, as a future energy hub, will play a crucial role for Poland’s energy diversification.

In addition, their common threat perception, their common stance towards NATO’s future and their strong commitment to its defense guarantees make deeper cooperation in security and defense possible. Both invest heavily in military capabilities and seek development of indigenous defense sectors.

However, Poles and Turks are unfamiliar to each other, and the level of their current relationship lags behind its potential. Despite Poland’s vocal support for Turkey’s EU membership, this support remains limited when it comes to initiatives.

As for Ankara, despite Turkey’s stalled negotiations with the EU, its foreign policy remains concentrated on the established powerhouses of Western Europe and has not yet sufficiently considered Poland’s rise.

Still, given the potential strategic benefits of a deeper partnership, one can expect that in 2014, Poland and Turkey will begin building much closer ties. And their partnership could have undeniably positive consequences for the EU’s foreign, economy and security policies.

Pınar Elman works for the Polish Institute of International Affairs.