31/01/2009

Turkey: an opportunity for Europe

Between a weak Europe, an apathetic Arab world and the United States in a phase of leadership shifting, Turkey was the exception during the fighting in Gaza. Ally of Israel and the United States, it was nevertheless the first to denounce the Israeli offensive and to call the international community to react as an emergency.

Today, as the ceasefire is not complete and that no issue is resolved, Turkey is the one which calls on Europe to treat Hamas as an interlocutor for new negotiations. As a member of NATO, ally of the West, Turkey has also developed in the last months its role as mediator in the Middle East, especially with the launch of peace talks between Syria and Israel. It is first in the name of this ability to serve as a bridge between the West and the Middle East that Europe should be focusing on its relations with Turkey. Indeed, it has succeeded where the EU has failed: to be recognized by all as a credible actor and an effective mediator in the Middle Eastern scene.

Nevertheless, the public support given to Mr Erdogan in the recent incident in Davos summit suggests that Turkey may now have bigger difficulties to remain an ally of Israel.

Turkey is incontrovertible but not only as a mediator since it intends to send troops to the Egypto-Palestinian border to bring stability in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority and may get involved to allow the balance of a future coalition government in Iraq.

The European Union is wrong to be fussy and to look with such a disdain at the chapters constituting the negotiation process of Turkey’s membership to the EU. Europe is wrong not to simply get closer to its neighbour. If Turkey clearly identifies the benefits it may gain from its entry into the EU, the Union curiously seems to find difficulties to see its own interests in such a process.

Would Europe have such a short memory? Isn’t Europe the one that was at risk of seeing its supply of Russian gas dramatically decreased, what is more, in the middle of winter? The EU is also the one which has made of the diversification of its sources of energy one of its main objectives. However, in addition to its diplomatic capabilities and aura which are to add to its economic dynamism, Turkey represents a promise of lower European dependence towards a sometimes unpredictable Russia. The Nabucco pipeline project is now vital for Europe. Brussels and Mr. Erdogan know it. Through a partnership reinforcement, a membership of the EU or simply through the « equal treatment » Mr Erdogan requested, the EU would protect itself from many deadlocks.

What if, finally, Europe was not a chance for Turkey but Turkey a chance for Europe? Let’s hope that Europe will not waste it; indeed Turkey may one day get tired of waiting.

Luce Ricard