Europe’s geopolitical power and Turkey
Someone asked an awkward question the other day: “What does a geopolitical commission mean for Turkey?” He was talking about the new EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s plan to boost Europe’s geopolitical weight. Her priorities briefing says that “such a Commission will have a political agenda in which reinforcing the EU’s role as a relevant international actor, and trying to shape a better global order through reinforcing multilateralism, is to become a key priority [‘A stronger Europe in the world’].” I think this would be good for Turkey, but awkward.
Awkward because we got used to the EU acting like that lady in Orhan Veli’s poem “Neither the atom bomb/Nor the London Conference/Mirror in one hand/ Tweezers in the other/What does she care for the world!” Such are the luxuries of living in boring countries, surrounded by other boring countries. We in Turkey often find it difficult to relate.
Still, European leaders from nations big and small seem to want this. Just a few weeks ago, European Council President Charles Michel said just a few weeks ago in Zagreb “It’s very important for the European Union not only to observe what the others would decide for us but it’s important for the European Union to be an actor, to be a player.” So, it’s not only a Geopolitical Commission, but a Geopolitical Council as well.
Of course, when anyone asks whether there is a unified response to any geopolitical issue by the EU so far, they are confronted with a deep silence. That is slightly misleading. It’s true that the EU hasn’t been able to act as a unified geopolitical entity, the way states like Russia and China can. Still, its values and norms have an immense impact on our day-to-day lives.
The EU has that transformative power that needs to be taken into account. In the past, it worked wonders. Think about the remarkable transformation in Eastern Europe. Think about Turkey turning into an industrial country without becoming a member country yet. In the past, that transformative power worked through the enlargement process, a kind of empire building by consent.
The 21st century version of that same transformative power is in trading rules imposed by the EU. Think about a Green Deal Commission with a border levy based on carbon emissions. The higher your emissions to produce the commodity in question, the higher the levy. This means that if you would like to become part of the richest market in the world, you need to make a few changes to your lifestyle. Already on the internet, we all click through a host of boxes telling us where our data goes and asking for consent. Those are EU standards imposed on the world. It can be annoying at times, but it’s better for us.
Could this be an important parameter in thinking about geopolitical issues? Of course, but we need to be more specific, especially on its economic dimension. Think about Turkey. In 2019, 48.7 percent of our exports went to the EU-28, now with the U.K. out, it means 42.2 percent of our total exports will be going to the EU-27. If you have a dominant trading partner, you need to take into account their policy framework.
So, is a geopolitical commission good for Turkey? It actually mentions Turkey in a few places, mostly along Russia and China, and mostly in an accusatory tone. “In its October 2019 resolution on the Turkish military operation in northeast Syria” it says, “the European Parliament condemned Turkey’s behavior.” Read between the lines, and there is great annoyance at only having been able to condemn, of having the world of nation states pass it by with such speed and contempt for it. But there is a lot of room for improvement.
Does it make things easier in the eastern Mediterranean, which seems to be the testing ground for the idea of a Geopolitical Commission? If the EU is ready to be more creative and more inclusive in eastern Mediterranean, Turkey could also look for an easy way out of the conflict. Why go through all that hassle if we can all get cheap energy?
It is obvious that a pipeline through Turkey is less costly than the cumbersome route taken today, just to exclude Turkey from the formula. “Do not complicate, make it easier,” says our prophet Muhammed. This is all the truer in a world where LNG, not pipelines, is becoming cost effective in carrying natural gas. Just look at the rising Turkish LNG imports from the U.S., right from the other side of the Atlantic.
What is most important about a geopolitical commission is that it should not complicate things. It should wield the transformative power of the EU wisely, as previous generations have done, to make things easier for everyone.