Turkey needs less Middle East, more Europe

Turkey needs less Middle East, more Europe

There must be a reason why President Abdullah Gül said in his message on August 7 to Turkish citizens for the Muslim “Fitr” holiday, that the country should lock itself up to European Union membership targets.

It is obvious that those addressed by the message are not the whole people but the Tayyip Erdoğan government; it is up to the government to make its policy choices whether to shift back to a European values-oriented line or stick with the Middle East-oriented one which has been dominant for the last few years.

Before being elected as the President of the country in 2007, Gül first served as Prime Minister and then as Foreign Minister in the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) governments. Before that he served in the Council of Europe’s Parliamentarian Assembly in Strasbourg for some 10 years as member of the Turkish group. Before getting into politics he worked for eight years in the Middle East, mostly in Saudi Arabia. So, Gül has enough experience and in the correct place to give such an advice to both the people and the government.

It is true that the Turkish-EU relations have lost their momentum since 2005 mainly because of the Cyprus conflict and the political atmosphere in mainland Europe dictated by German and French governments. It is also true that Turkey’s growing interest in Middle East (in the greater sense) politics with a particular stress on cultural (including religious) similarities caused the distance in between to grow further. With the insertion of the Kurdish problem relations with Iraq and Syria becoming so close that Ankara started to have joint cabinet meetings, mediating between Syria and Israel, with increasing foreign trade with all its eastern and southern geography. The zero problem with neighbors policy which had broken a psychological barrier with Gül’s contact with Armenia, reached its summit during new Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government headquarters in Erbil in 2009.

But 2009 could be considered as the start of the decline from that zenith as well. The relations with Israel started to sour because of Israel’s hardline Gaza policy (which later on turned into a disaster during the Mavi Marmara tragedy in 2010) and started to show cracks in the Libya civil war, as the second stop of the Arab Spring after Tunisia. When a moderate wing of the Muslim Brotherhood (taking the ballot box strategy of AK Parti as an example) took power first in Tunisia and then in Egypt, Ankara got excited and perhaps for that reason got too involved in the Syrian civil war, in which the main bulk of the opposition was again the Brotherhood. The Arab Spring has seemingly hit the rocks in Syria and Egypt and is becoming more unstable in Tunisia and Libya every other day.

Ali Babacan, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy, has served as Foreign Minister between Gül and Davutoğlu. Babacan said on August 6 that Turkey may have to cut its growth and export targets for 2013 further. He added that the effect of the Gezi Park protests was not so important as the global developments dictated by FED policies. Yet, Babacan knows it clearly that strong anti-Western rhetoric in use by the government and policies targeting the banking system and big industrialists in Turkey may have a deterrent effect on the flux of foreign capital to Turkey.

Less income will not bring more democracy to Turkey, but more democracy could bring more income. More democracy is not possible with more focus on the Middle East politics and values, especially in times of uncertainty. More democracy could be possible with more focus on European Union values, no matter how far the membership prospect for Turkey might seem. That might be the point Gül wanted to make.

A happy Bayram to all Muslim HDN readers.