Turkey looks to build a future with Europe

Turkey looks to build a future with Europe

This column on Nov. 14 concluded that Turkey should re-calibrate its entire foreign policy in a bid to mitigate risks on its economy in the new era launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in early November.

Strong signals to this end have been given by President Erdoğan and his chief foreign policy adviser İbrahim Kalın in the past week as the latter assured that the new reforms to be undertaken by the government will also have positive impacts on foreign policy.

When one talks about the need for a recalibration of the Turkish foreign policy, he or she surely refers to the severely ruined ties between Turkey and its Western allies, the United States and European Union countries.

Erdoğan, in a statement over the weekend, sought to address this troubled relationship by strongly suggesting that Turkey’s future lies in Europe and not anywhere else.

“We do not aim to fight with anyone, both at home and abroad, violate anyone’s rights, or disrupt anyone’s legitimate stance,” President Erdoğan said. “On the contrary, we want to be in stronger cooperation with our friends and allies. We expect the EU to keep its promises, not to discriminate or at least not to be an instrument to the overt hostilities towards our country. We see ourselves in Europe, not anywhere else, and we look to build our future with Europe.”

To be frank, this is one of the strongest lines ever voiced by President Erdoğan when it comes to ties with the European Union. Not so long ago, he was frequently suggesting that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU.

In addition to this message, Erdoğan has dispatched his foreign policy adviser, İbrahim Kalın, to Brussels to discuss the scope and framework of the Turkey-EU relationship in the new era. In an interview over the weekend, Kalın gave the EU credit for its positive influence on Turkey’s reform processes in the past and suggested that this perspective has not been fully lost.

Despite all these strong and positive messages, Turkey has to be much more concrete in its actions to repair ties and create a new positive atmosphere with the EU. Apart from bilateral difficulties with a number of EU countries, Turkey has to convince its European partners on two key matters.

The first and immediate one is the eastern Mediterranean problem. It’s clear that the regional tension will not de-escalate until Turkey withdraws the Oruç Reis exploration vessel from the area. Turkey has renewed its mandate until Nov. 29 with hopes expressed by many foreign diplomats that it will be its last mission. Greece will not come to the table to discuss the problems stemming from overlapping continental shelves in the eastern Mediterranean while the Oruç Reis continues to sail in the disputed area.

As can be recalled, the EU offered to launch a positive agenda with Turkey by highlighting the upgraded customs union, visa liberalization, renewing the migrant deal and international conference on the eastern Mediterranean as areas to jointly work on in its EU Summit conclusions on Oct. 1. The package proposed at that time was in return to Turkey’s suspension of its actions in the eastern Mediterranean.

This mood seems to have changed in Brussels since then, as Turkey decided to send the Oruç Reis back to the area after it has criticized the EU for not fulfilling its promises towards Turkey. The EU, particularly Germany as the term president which has seriously exerted efforts to push Turkey and Greece to start a bilateral process, does not hide its disappointment over the continued mission of the Oruç Reis.

As openly announced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, things are not developing in the right direction on Turkey-EU ties and the members will seriously discuss imposing sanctions on Turkey when they meet on Dec 10.

Even though Turkey decided to withdraw the exploration vessel from the area before Dec. 10, it may be too late to change the climate in Brussels as many members are already very skeptical about the Turkish government’s sincerity in launching a new reform era, including its foreign policy.

The second pillar of the coming period will be determined on what extent Turkey will deal with its democratic deficiencies. President Erdoğan announced that concrete steps will be made in the coming period, but a repair process will certainly take time as the problems are deep and structural. Naturally, deeds more than words will count in this process.

As can be seen, the ball is in Turkey’s court as President Erdoğan and his aides are vowing that they will launch a new era of reforms with impacts on foreign policy as well. Its success will depend on its actions and decisions on the two key aforementioned fields. Turkey has to move quickly and be concrete to assert the EU that these positive messages are not merely for tactical purposes to avoid sanctions on Dec. 10 but for its strategic reorientation towards Europe.