Can ‘Sweet Talk’ help Turkey to stick with Europe?

Can ‘Sweet Talk’ help Turkey to stick with Europe?

Diplomacy is not only about sweet talk, but sweet talk certainly helps diplomacy.

That is the motivation behind the Sweet Talk Forum initiative between the United Kingdom and Turkey. It aims to achieve better understanding with the involvement of civil society, academia and the media, and to institutionalize second-track diplomacy between the two countries, which lie at the northwestern and southeastern corners of the European continent. (Actually, there is a geopolitical logic behind this as well, when you consider that the U.K. was involved in similar initiatives after the Second World War, with the German-northeast corner of mainland Europe and with Spain in its southwest corner.)

The Sweet Talk forum, in its third consecutive year, was held in the beautiful, historical Scottish city of Edinburgh from Nov. 1-3. Thinking that the depth and diversity of Turkish participation in the forum was too poor when compared with the British (at one point he said the Istanbul meeting was "embarrassing" for him) in the first two years, Turkish President Abdullah Gül put his personal weight behind the issue this year. As a result, for the first time opposition members of Parliament, business circles organized by the Union of Chamber of Commerce (TOBB), members of academia and the media of different opinions were able to join the debates in the "Sweet Talks."

The Turkish and British Ambassadors, Ünal Çeviköz and David Reddaway, orchestrated the event, which was co-chaired by two former foreign ministers, Yaşar Yakış and Jack Straw. Prince Andrew hosted Gül and a Turkish delegation in the historical Holyroodhouse Palace, and in his welcoming speech, he underlined the need for the U.K. and Turkey to invest in third party countries together.

Regional politics, Turkey’s problematic neighborhood to its east and its (again problematic) relations with the European Union were discussed in depth during the session. But it wasn't just that. Issues like Turkey’s rising importance as an energy transport country with new pipeline projects, its new boosting trade and cultural profile highlighting “soft power” qualities, as well as hard power, were also discussed.

Being a former foreign minister himself, President Gül attaches importance to keeping relations with Europe warm and keeping Turkey’s face turned toward Western values; sometimes he does this more than the government itself, which is criticized for being too involved in Middle East affairs. The U.K. has always supported Turkey’s EU membership. There might be supplementary reasons for that, besides friendship, such as countering Germany and France in European politics or knowing that Turkey’s attachment with European standards was as important as the membership itself, which seems a difficult target to reach, given European politics.

But it has been 50 years now, with an increase in Turkish anxiety, as more citizens are piling up in visa lines in front of EU country consulates. A new chapter for negotiations being opened today for the first time in three years is just a small reward for such a painful history. Can “Sweet Talk” help that? Time will tell.