Mr. Michel comes to Ankara

Mr. Michel comes to Ankara

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, was in Zagreb, Croatia, the other day, as that country took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

He was criticized in Zagreb for not wearing a tie, but a turtleneck sweater. Croatia prides itself of being the home of the necktie, which seems to have deepened the offense.

Unfortunately, Michel ‘s words on foreign policy were less creative than his sartorial choices. “The EU is not in the Middle East game” he said. “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.”

I have heard many EU officials uttering variations of these words over and over, yet none so far has provided a reasonable roadmap on how the task is to be achieved. Now that Michel is scheduled to come to Turkey, let me say a few words on how it might be.

Europe is the biggest economic block in the world, and if it knew how to use that, it could have a bigger say from China to Argentina. As things stand, the EU can’t even throw its weight around the Mediterranean region. Why?

First, there is no coherent foreign policy framework that brings the 27 together. The latest example of this is Libya, where Italy and France are taking different sides of the same conflict.

Second, to become an effective player in global or even in regional issues, the EU has to be a more inclusive player.

Third, the EU needs to be able to bring fresh ideas to the old, “simmering” conflicts of our region, Cyprus being the most significant for us Turks. Now that Michel is coming to town, let me say a few words on how the EU can become a constructive player in the growing crisis in the eastern Mediterranean.

Note that the debate is about a natural resource. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) of the 1950s is considered to be the starting point of the European Union. It was established as a supranational body to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible” following the words of Robert Schumann, the French foreign minister and the father of the treaty. The objective of the ECSC was to stop competition among European nations for natural resources in Europe, especially in the Ruhr region.

In the eastern Mediterranean, we have a similar competition regarding natural gas. Considering that it is more European to focus on the carrot then stick, instead of talking about red lines and futile threats, the EU could provide mutually acceptable solutions. Nilgün Arısan Eralp of TEPAV noted that “it is very difficult to understand why the EU has been watching a lingering and even escalating drilling problem in Cyprus and impose counterproductive sanctions rather than coming up with constructive proposals. It has the best example of all: ECSC.” (You can find her proposal here.)

Perhaps my colleague is too polite to say it, but we all have a suspicion that this absence of solutions from the EU’s side is totally political. Nobody in Brussels wants to entertain the thought of Turkey actually being right about something, and if they do, why say it out loud and especially why do it right now?

Of course, our government might have something to do with that, but this shouldn’t be a time to point fingers. We need Brussels to be the grownup in the room, but perhaps more importantly, Brussels would benefit greatly from such a role.

Michel’s Ankara visit is a perfect opportunity for him to start restoring the EU as an effective and constructive player in the region. He shouldn’t miss it.