UK PM Cameron’s agenda in his visit to Turkey

UK PM Cameron’s agenda in his visit to Turkey

Turkey will host very important, high-level guests this week. Among them, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom is probably going to have the busiest agenda of all.

Cameron’s last visit to Turkey was in July 2014. Since then, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited the U.K. three times, twice as prime minister and once as president, at the last NATO summit. They have established a very good relationship and developed a mutual understanding, which has facilitated frequent Erdoğan-Cameron telephone conversations and consultations on a number of international issues, particularly pertaining to the Middle East. Turkey and the U.K. have a common agenda both on international issues and in their rapidly developing bilateral relations. This time, Cameron will not only meet Erdoğan but also Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, whom he knew well in his previous position as the foreign minister of Turkey.

On international issues, Cameron’s priority will obviously be the situation in Iraq and Syria. The U.K. attributes the utmost importance to the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorism. One of the priority areas that our British allies would wish to see develop is stronger and qualified information sharing between the two countries on that front. A growing numbers of British citizens joining “jihadist groups” to fight in Iraq and Syria with ISIL forces is becoming a major concern for the U.K. Although the two countries have a common agenda in Turkey’s immediate neighborhood and their ultimate aims apparently overlap, their priorities and methodology in achieving the ends do not necessarily converge. Turkey needs to convince the Brits why toppling Bashar al-Assad should be a more important target.

Another common agenda item would be Cyprus. In discussing the prospects and the means to achieve a solution to the problem, Turkey expects the U.K. to be its most favorable ally and partner. The fact that the U.K. is one of the guarantors of the London-Zürich agreements of 1960, which founded the state of Cyprus, obliges us to believe in the U.K. and the role it could assume in this conundrum. As a corollary to that, Turkey would expect the U.K.’s tireless support for its membership in the European Union to be continued and perhaps even enhanced. The common link between Cyprus, the EU and Turkey is certainly the energy potential of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The U.K. will certainly agree with the importance of all these expectations from Turkey. In return, however, Turkey will be expected to understand the limitations the U.K. has; the transformation that the EU is going through and the difficulties thereof between the U.K. and EU about the future of such relations, particularly at a time when Britain will have one of the most important parliamentary elections in its recent history in May 2015.

A bright star in Turkish-British bilateral relations is the increased business contacts. Three years ago, Diageo bought Mey İçki and recently Ülker group bought United Biscuits, which contributed to the steady and ensured development of reciprocal direct investments in both countries. Such relations will definitely increase and continue. In fact, a social forum called “Turkish-British Tatlıdil” which was established in 2011 during the visit of the then-Prime Minister Erdoğan to London had its fourth meeting in Istanbul between Nov. 28-30. This forum brought together representatives from business, media, academia and politics of both countries in an informal setting to discuss issues of common interest varying from international matters to bilateral joint projects. President Erdoğan’s glorifying participation in the forum, and that of the Duke of York from Britain, encouraged participants from both countries about the bright prospects for development of our political, economic, commercial partnership.
The discussions were candid. It is important to underline, however, that most of the British participants expressed their growing concern about the practice of “rule of law” in Turkey and that the perception abroad was becoming increasingly suspicious about Turkey’s code of conduct. This is alarming because Foreign Direct Investments require a reliable and favorable environment. If an unfavorable perception is growing abroad, Turkey will have to prove in deeds why such a perception is unfair. Eventually, convincing our European allies in Turkey’s determination to comply with all the requirements of the European Union oblige European help, too. Obviously, opening of Chapters 23 and 24 at the Turkish-EU negotiations would help Turkey not only to do its homework, but also to grasp what the expectations of its European allies are, particularly concerning the practice of rule of law, transparency and accountability. In that respect, the U.K. could perhaps be in the best position to insist on the opening of those chapters, as a country giving great importance to the practice of rule of law itself. 

*Ünal Çeviköz is Turkey’s former ambassador to UK