Towards a more cautious Turkish foreign policy

Towards a more cautious Turkish foreign policy

The tension with France over the Armenian issue has been a stress test for Turkish Foreign Policy. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan managed to tone down his reaction against the French Senate approval of criminalizing speech that claims the killings of Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman Empire was not genocide. The expectations were much higher than strong condemnation of France; Turkish politicians and the majority of media were in favor of imposing “sanctions” against France in order to deter French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the French system as a whole.

Erdoğan was right to say the Sarkozy move was a violation of freedom of expression. There were French senators, even those who claim that the 1915 massacres were the result of a genocide campaign, who said that to vote for it would not only be a violation of French Constitution, but freedom of expression as well. Yesterday, Amnesty International took a similar position.

But trying to use the trade links as leverage in politics could perhaps bring additional points in domestic politics, but could harm both sides’ interests. After all, the Turkish share in French foreign trade was nearly 1.4 percent and the French share in Turkish foreign trade nearly 4.7 percent in 2010. Plus, there are thousands of Turkish workers employed in French investment projects in Turkey.

Yet, there were cautious voices. For example Ümit Boyner of Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD), Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu of Turkish Union of Chambers of Commerce (TOBB) and Yılmaz Argüden of Turkish-French Business Council were saying that to boycott French goods and threaten exclusion of French companies from public procurement projects and tenders in Turkey would not serve the purpose; on the contrary those moves might be counterproductive.
It appears that Erdoğan decided to listen to their advice, solve the problems in a less aggressive manner and took the opportunity of the legal procedure to annul the Senate vote in the Constitutional Court.
Volkan Bozkır, a former diplomat specialized in European politics and now the head of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said yesterday that in the current political climate it could be hard to find at least 60 French legislators to sign up for such an application, but the time in between would help the crisis to cool down.

But it seems that the French stress test could be a fine tuning opportunity for Turkish foreign policy for 2012 and the near future. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow yesterday that both countries’ policies regarding Syria, Iran and Iraq have similarities, which is a move towards balanced politics.

This fine tuning may have links with the European economic crisis which impacts the Turkish economy. The Central Bank and the Treasury are trying to cool down the Turkish economy and effort to maintain a lesser and more controlled growth rate; which means less Turkish exports would be under pressure for new markets.

One might observe the reflections of this line in near future.