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Turkey

Capital Ankara
Time Zone EET (GMT+2)
Country Code 90
Mobile Codes 532,533,542,505
ccTLD .tr
Currency Turkish Lira (1EUR = 1.95TL)
Land Area 783,562 sq km
Population 72.6 million
Language Turkish
Major Religion Islam

In Brussels, Turkey’s Davutoğlu Discusses Arab Spring Challenges, EU Relations

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag

In an intriguing recent panel discussion in Brussels, Turkey’s top diplomat provided candid remarks on the state of play in Turkey’s EU negotiations process and human rights record, as well as the foreign policy reorientation that is being necessitated by the fluid situation in the post-Arab Spring countries and particularly, neighboring Syria. The latter has presented Turkey with significant new human security and diplomatic problems. European leaders are keen to know the government’s proposed way forward and how cooperation can best be carried out.

The November 7 event – a photo exhibition entitled “Time in Turkey” – was organized by MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ostensibly to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Zaman Daily. The media group is generally sympathetic to the policies and worldview of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party.

Together with the exhibition, a panel entitled “EU and Turkey: Facing the Challenges of the Arab Spring” was held. The guest of honor was Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu.

During the panel, a debate moderated by Hélène Flautre, Chairwoman of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, took place. The debate underlined the latest main challenges in the EU-Turkey accession negotiations, human rights issues in Turkey and the region, and the fate that Arab Spring-related unrest has had for the Turkish foreign ministry’s once-lauded “zero problems with neighbours” policy.

Earthquakes and Aftershocks

German MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, underlined that following the French Revolution, society needed a long time before it reached the democracy level it enjoys today- for one example, it took approximately 150 years for France to grant women the right to vote.

Regarding the Arab Spring, the “old system” must be overcome, he attested, and a new society still has to emerge, through a process of trial and error. In this sense, Turkey can serve as an example because it moved away from Islamic fundamentalism, the MEP said, noting that the challenge remains to create a democratic space while also respecting the freedom of religion.

Foreign Minister Davutoğlu noted for his part that while the revolution was an important moment, it was also part of a process. He made a comparison with an “earthquake” emphasizing that when asking parliament to pass the budget on external affairs, “the earthquake has to be taken into account, and also the aftershocks.”

Davutoğlu specified three “earthquakes” that have marked important changes in the last 25 years: the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union; the 9/11 tragedy and the aftershocks related to security, and the Arab Spring uprisings.

Interestingly, he compared the latter revolutions with the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, and the problems of democratization that they faced. The EU and NATO helped push democracy in the Western Balkans, the minister maintained, but are so far not putting in the same effort when it comes to the Middle East.

Davutoğlu  also pointed out that Turkey missed the boat towards EU due to political instability, but that after a social stabilization process, it was the EU that missed the boat, as Turkey could have had a stronger impact on the region and the overall security of the EU.

Returning to the 9/11 terrorist attack, Davutoğlu reminded that security was tightened to the detriment of civil liberties. After this event, “the whole world adopted a security based approach”. Since 2003, Turkey has also been working on “striking the right balance between freedom and security.”

Turkey’s Neighbourhood Relations

Challenged by the MEPs regarding Turkey’s Policy of Zero Problems with Neighbors, Davutoğlu explained that after the adoption of this strategy, Turkey’s trade balance shifted positively and that new cooperation mechanisms were designed (i.e., visa waiver agreements). He underlined the good relations Turkey has with Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Regarding Greece, the 25 agreements signed in 2010 could be interpreted as a success compared with only 3 agreements in the last 50 years before that date. He announced a high level meeting – scheduled for January 2013 – and expressed Turkey’s wish to reach progress in their relationship.

The foreign minister expressed his desire to achieve “real peace between Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan”.  The policy towards Armenia has two aspects, “the current friends and the potential [to become] friends.”

Turkey’s relations with Iran are difficult, the minister noted, because they have different standpoints, but a positive aspect is the monthly high-level meetings that prove an ongoing communication between both states.

Referring to the third “earthquake,” the Arab Spring, the minister underlined that all countries have to go through their own democratization process based on the structure of their own society, culture and so on. The challenge is to overcome “an archaic system, a Cold War structure as there is a necessity for them to disappear.”

Towards a More Proactive Foreign Policy?

In the whole region, a movement towards reform can be noticed and this is a good sign, said Davutoğlu. Furthermore, Turkey is looking for tools to support the democratisation process in the region, including North Africa.

In fact, he noted, Prime Minister Erdoğan will visit Egypt on November 17, 2012. There are also ongoing discussions with Yemen, and financial contributions from Turkey are available, he added.

As far as Syria is concerned, this southern neighbour finds itself in the most difficult situation, the minister affirmed, adding that as a policy Turkey does not want bloodshed. However, future aftershocks will probably be felt following the “earthquake.” In a statement echoing the kind of developing-world populism propagated by the AKP since 2003, Davutoğlu announced that “Turkey will always be on the side of the weak who are oppressed by the powerful.” Over 400 million Turkish Lira have been made available to help tackle the humanitarian crisis involving Syrian refugees in Turkey, but the problem is still far from being solved, he added.

Regarding Turkey’s overall foreign affairs policy, Davutoğlu concluded that Turkey wants to be proactive and to promote democracy, to serve as an example for the Arab Spring countries and to continue supporting the region.

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