Agenda gap between EU, Turkey and the Middle East

Agenda gap between EU, Turkey and the Middle East

The European Union has set 10 priorities for 2016.

Those are to create/become: 

1- A new boost for jobs, growth and investment (including the situation of working parents). 

2- A connected digital single market.

3- A resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy (to set an energy union package).

4- A deeper and fairer internal market (including a labor mobility package and a space strategy).

5- A deeper and fairer economic and monetary union (completion of the banking union).

6- A reasonable and balanced free trade agreement with the U.S.

7- An area of justice and fundamental rights (implementation of European agenda on security).

8- A new policy on migration (including a border management package).

9- A stronger global actor (to contribute to its global strategy). 

10- A union of democratic change (transparency and accountability of EU bureaucracy).

I list those EU priorities to show the gap between the agendas of the EU and the Middle East.

In many countries of the Middle East, security is almost the only agenda. In some parts of civil war-hit countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, it is more than security - it is the basic instinct of staying alive. No budget planning for the next few years, no plans for working parents, no digital single market and no management of fading away borders. Just staying alive. Even in other countries in the region - from Israel to Iran, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia - security is by far the main concern.

It is no surprise that one of the EU’s main concerns, and one of its top 10 priorities, is migration policy and border management. No one can blame people for migrating and trying to escape almost certain death for themselves and their family members.

It is also no surprise that those desperate refugees escaping from war-torn Muslim-populated countries are trying to make their final destination EU countries - not Saudi Arabia or Iran, for example. With the exemption of Turkey (and Jordan perhaps), immigrants are trying to find a new home not in Muslim countries run by theocracies but in EU countries, not because they are mostly Christian-populated but because they are run by democracies and the rule of law works better there.

With such a gap between the “hot” agenda of the Middle East and the “cool” agenda of the EU, fault lines and cracks are almost inevitable. This has come in the form of a new generation of terrorists agitated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a by-product of the civil war in Syria, a curse of the gap between the agendas in two neighboring worlds. That is why public New Year celebrations in Brussels took place under the shadow of army troops and there was a state of emergency in Munich on the first day of 2016.

And caught between the Middle East and the EU, there is Turkey.

Turkey’s agenda is a mixture of both worlds. In parts of the predominantly Kurdish-populated areas near its Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian borders, the main concern is security, which has also gradually become a major concern in the big cities of western Turkey. People did not rush to public places as they used to in previous years because of worries about possible acts of terror by the outlawed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and ISIL. Only one day before New Year’s Eve, two ISIL suspects were arrested with explosives in Ankara, where ISIL had previously carried out Turkey’s most deadly attack on Oct. 10 last year, killing 103 people. The Syria conflict triggered a major conflict with Russia, Turkey’s biggest energy supplier.

But Turkey has to maintain its economic growth in order to feed its young and educated workforce. For that, it has to find new markets to compensate the ones it has lost in the Middle East and Russia. Turkey has to upgrade the quality of its democracy not only to provide a better life for its citizens, but also to provide a better environment for foreign investors who also complain about the judicial system.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) – which together represent 75 percent of the voters - agree on the need for a more democratic constitution. That is one of the main items on Turkey’s political agenda for 2016.

President Tayyip Erdoğan’s agenda has an important nuance. He also wants a constitutional change, but his priority is to shift from Turkey’s current parliamentary system to a presidential system with stronger executive powers and weaker checks and balances, with no bold lines between the judiciary and executive branches of government. For at least the first half of the year, that debate is likely to determine the political agenda of Turkey as a bridge between the Middle East and the EU.