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The Prospects and Meaning of a Strategic EU-Turkey Dialogue on the Neighborhood

The Prospects and Meaning of a Strategic EU-Turkey Dialogue on the Neighborhood

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This policy brief encourages more Turkish and EU cooperation in the Mediterranean region.
This policy brief encourages more Turkish and EU cooperation in the Mediterranean region.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 14, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Mistrust and missedopportunities characterizeone of the most importantrelationships in the Europeanspace — that between Turkeyand the European Union. Asthe Arab Spring unfolds, theabsence of a joint EU-Turkeystrategy to confront the sharedchallenges of the neighborhoodbecomes costlier by the day.From an EU perspective, thelogic of cooperation with Turkeyhas become more compelling 
given the renewed signifcance
of the Turkish model in theneighborhood. No longer asimplistic and static slogan, theTurkish experience has becomea more dynamic and articulatenotion that Arab leaders canexplore as they grapple with thechallenges of domestic change.
 The Prospects and Meaning of a StrategicEU-Turkey Dialogue on the Neighborhood
by Nathalie Tocci 
September 2012
Washington, DC
Mistrust and missed opportunitiescharacterize one o the most importantrelationships in the European space —that between urkey and the EuropeanUnion. Since the opening o acces-sion negotiations in 2005, momentumin urkey’s EU membership bid haswithered. Tere has been no prover-bial train-crash, but urkey and theEU have progressively parted ways.Amongst the prime casualties o thisgradual divorce is a joint EU-urkey strategy to conront the shared chal-lenges o the neighborhood. As theArab Spring unolds, the absence o such a strategy becomes costlier by theday.21
century urkey, particularly underthe Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments, has oen baskedin the international limelight. Farrom the inward-looking urkey o the1990s with a highly deensive oreignpolicy, urkey’s oreign policy hasbecome outward looking, deployingthe whole panoply o its so powertools to deepen its outreach abroad.For the EU, partnering with the new urkey in oreign policy has becomecompelling. But up until recently, itappeared unlikely. As urkey turnedits hybrid identity into a oreign policy asset, it came to value its newoundstrategic autonomy. Tis did not neces-sarily mean distancing rom the EU.But it did mean that Ankara startedhaving ewer qualms parting ways withits European partners — be this overRussia, Cyprus, Iran, Syria, or Israel —when interests clashed.Ten came the Arab Spring, whichaltered urkey’s strategic context,raising not only the appeal but alsothe prospects or a joint strategy withthe EU. Initially urkey staggered.It enthusiastically embraced peoplepower in unisia and Egypt wherenorms and interest neatly dovetailed.But concerns about commercial lossesand the ate o urkish migrants inLibya, and destabilization and reugeeows rom Syria, meant that urkey was initially cautious in these twocases. As events unolded and bothurkey and the EU came round towalking the walk o the Arab Spring,both (re)started talking the talk o democracy promotion across theregion.Furthermore, while acknowledgingits verve to become a regional ordersetter, urkey has also realized thatwhen aced with historic change all
Turkey seems to have rediscoveredthe virtues of cooperating with its
allies, frst amongst which is the
round, partnering with its allies is o the essence. Tis isparticularly so given its distancing rom Iran and Russia.Vis-à-vis Iran, the ancient rivalry with urkey has resur-aced over developments in Syria, urkey’s acceptanceto host one o NAO’s radar systems, and its increasingdistance rom the sectarian politics o Iraqi Prime MinisterNouri al-Maliki. A similar story can be told o Russia.oday, urkey and Russia stand on opposite sides o theSyrian divide. Te partnership between Russia and Cyprusis also deepening, with Russian interests in Eastern Medi-terranean gas and talk about a Russian bailout or thebeleaguered Greek Cypriot economy. Te Arab Spring hasthus cast urkey back into the Western old and away romalternative alliance patterns, which seemed to be in themaking only a ew years earlier. urkey continues to pursueits strategic autonomy and has not turned back into anuncritical subject o the West. But the discourse o urkey’saxis shi is passé. Well aware that the challenges acing itsneighbors are too great to conront alone, urkey seems tohave rediscovered the virtues o cooperating with its allies,rst amongst which is the EU.Also rom an EU perspective, the logic o cooperation withurkey has become more compelling given the renewedsignicance o the urkish model in the neighborhood. Nolonger a simplistic and static slogan, the urkish model or,more aptly put, the urkish experience, has become a moredynamic and articulate notion that Arab leaders can explore(alongside other examples) as they grapple with the chal-lenges o domestic change. unisia and Morocco watch thetrajectory o urkish political Islam and the evolution o the AKP. Egypt observes the development o civil-military relations in urkey. Across North Arica and the MiddleEast, new leaders are inspired by urkey’s economic devel-opment as well as its oreign policy orientation, which,while remaining anchored to the West, has displayedrising autonomy and public support. Naturally, what is o interest here is not a static emulation o urkey’s situationbut a dynamic observation process o urkey’s experience,learning rom its steps orward and rom its mistakes. Itis precisely the incompleteness o the urkish model thatmakes it o interest to its neighbors, and that which rendersurkey an ideal partner or the EU in inducing transorma-tive change in the region.Appreciating the benets o joint action, the EU and urkey have sought to establish oreign policy dialogue. Indeedthe stalled membership process had poisoned EU-urkey oreign policy cooperation as well. As EU-urkish tiessoured, opportunities or urkey and the European Unionto discuss oreign policy became ewer and urkey, eelingsnubbed by the EU, began aligning its positions with theCommon Security and Foreign Policy (CSFP) only whenit came at little or no cost to itsel. In view o the gravity o the situation, EU High Representative Catherine Ashtonand urkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu haverecently established constructive regular talks, coupled withan annual our-way meeting between Ashton, Davutoğlu,EU Enlargement Commissioner Štean Füle, and urkishMinister or European Aairs Egemen Bağış. Davutoğlu hasalso occasionally participated in the EU’s Gymnich meet-ings. Te “positive agenda” between and the EU, launchedin 2012, is an additional impulse and ramework withinwhich to conduct a strategic oreign policy dialogue.But these talks are insufcient and not ramed under theCFSP accession chapter. Moreover, an institutionalizeddialogue would only be the starting point o a joint strategy or the neighborhood. A joint strategy would necessarily gobeyond regular dialogue and oresee joint actions in at leastthree key domains.First, urkey and the EU could closely coordinate theirdiplomatic interventions in the region so as to jointly support transormative change. Indeed there could be auseul division o labor between urkey and the EU interms o diplomacy. Te EU may be better placed to advo-cate universal norms grounded on international law, bethese related to human rights, undamental reedoms,transparency, accountability, or the rule o law. Whenresting on the solid tur o international law, the EU, whose
reputation in the neighborhood is ar rom stellar, wouldbe less subject o criticism. urkey, instead, could ocus itsdiplomatic interventions on more specic political topics,particularly those on which its own experience coners toit greater legitimacy. A notable example is Prime MinisterRecep ayyip Erdoğan’s praise or secularism during his visit to Cairo in the all o 2011. While subject to criticism,the Egyptian reaction would have been ar more virulenthad an EU ofcial uttered the same words. Te act that aleader broadly viewed as Islamist at home was calling outor secularism conerred to Erdoğan a degree o legitimacy EU ofcials would be hard pressed to obtain. Following thesame line o reasoning, one could imagine retired urkishmilitary ofcials advocating the democratic oversight o the armed orces in the neighborhood, or urkish businesspersons calling or export promotion policies. A variety o urkish actors could thus send diplomatic messages toneighboring countries which, while coordinated with theEU, would somewhat dier rom those o EU actors andmay be better received because o the “incompleteness” o urkey’s ongoing democratization process.Second, we could imagine joint EU-urkey action on tech-nical assistance. In this respect, the relevance o EU aiexand winning programs comes to mind, whereby the EUengages in exchanges and training to support the buildingo capacity in the neighborhood. urkey could be broughtinto these programs, bringing to bear its own experience ina number o areas where it has undertaken reorm. One isthe banking sector, where pre-2001 urkey, unlike the EUand like the neighborhood, was bedevilled by problems o clientelism, and has since then engaged in a radical overhaulo the sector by establishing eective regulatory mecha-nisms. Another example is that o urban planning andhousing, critical areas in Egypt, unisia, and Algeria. Unlikethe EU, urkey, having experienced a similar urbanizationprocess and youth bulge to the southern Mediterraneancountries and having overcome related housing problemsthrough the work o the Mass Housing Authority, couldshare its expertise. A nal example is that o small andmedium enterprise promotion, necessary in the Middle Eastand North Arica region where undoing state capture o theeconomy and promoting an independent private sector arearduous tasks ahead. Here, the experience o the urkishchamber o commerce — OBB — could be useully inte-grated in EU programs. OBB, in act, was instrumental inestablishing the Levant Business Forum, which representsbusiness organizations rom urkey, Syria, Lebanon, andJordan. Moreover, by bringing in non-EU member urkey,EU winning and aiex programs could downplay theirocus on the export o the acquis communautaire. Aquispromotion is one o the EU’s main proessional biases.While reasonable in the eastern neighborhood, where theaspiration o EU membership exists, approximation withthe acquis is highly problematic in the southern Mediterra-nean. By including urkey into its programs, the EU’s may be nudged to move away rom merely exporting the acquisand towards responding more eectively to the governanceneeds o its neighbors.Finally, urkey and the EU could together develop an eec-tive multilateral response to the neighborhood. Tere are anumber o key policy questions, ranging rom inrastruc-ture and communications to non-prolieration, combatingorganized crime, and maritime security, which continue towarrant multilateral solutions. However, existing EU multi-lateral initiatives are badly wanting. Te increased degreeo heterogeneity o the region suggests that a workingmultilateral ramework should probably not be as rigid andinstitutionalized as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership,and, more so, the Union or the Mediterranean. Rigidity and institutionalization have been a recipe or deadlock in Mediterranean multilateralism and are likely to be evenmore so in uture. A pragmatic, ad hoc, and probably moresub-regional approach (e.g., building on existing sub-regional groupings such as the 5 + 5, the Western Mediter-ranean and the Arab League) would seem more appropriatewhen dealing with regional problems in a post-Arab SpringMediterranean. Notwithstanding the need or a new multi-lateral initiative, the impulse is not coming rom the EU’susual suspects — France, Italy, and Spain. urkey, or its
Rigidity and institutionalizationhave been a recipe for deadlockin Mediterranean multilateralismand are likely to be even more soin future.

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