Academic journal article Insight Turkey

EU-Turkey Relations in the Context of the Middle East after the Arab Spring

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

EU-Turkey Relations in the Context of the Middle East after the Arab Spring

Article excerpt

Introduction

The EU was slow in responding to the recent developments in the Middle East. It was even criticized for lacking a strategy toward the countries affected by the Arab Spring. Furthermore, the EU sent contradictory signals regarding the democratic transitions and political reforms. Still, it is not clear if it is supporting stability or change. Meanwhile, Turkish foreign policy became more active and assertive searching for a leadership role in the Middle East. Yet, this approach has raised a critical question: whether Turkey follows an autonomous foreign policy from the West, namely the US and the EU, in other words the "losing Turkey" debate. Trying to elaborate on this debate, the article analyzes Turkey and the EU foreign policies towards the Middle East in the context of the Arab Spring with a particular emphasis on the cases of Egypt, Iran, and Syria. These three cases are chosen for two reasons. First, instability in these states has destabilizing outcomes for the whole region, which in return influences the policy priorities of both Turkey and the EU, including security and economic considerations. In this respect, these cases are helpful in understanding the changing approaches of Turkey and the EU after the Arab Spring. Second, these three cases have come to the fore out of the Arab Spring. On the one hand, Egypt and Syria are the two states, which have been highly subject to the destabilizing impact of the Arab Spring. There is an ongoing devastating civil war in Syria; and Egypt entered into a new complicated transition period with the deposition of President Morsi by the army. On the other hand, Iran took advantage of this process, consolidating its role as a major player in the region. It has now become impossible to solve the Syrian crisis without Iran's involvement. In this context, Iran sat at the table with the major powers to talk about its nuclear program with a stronger hand. The six major powers, namely Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, and Iran twice had a meeting and will meet again on April 7, 2014. They are seeking for a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue.

This article argues that even though their strategies are not totally in line with each other, Turkey follows the same objectives that the EU neighborhood policy has pursued towards the Middle East. (1) Meaning, economic opportunity and peace are the main driving forces of its actions. Turkish regional foreign policy should be based on a firm Western and EU anchor accompanied with revitalization of its EU membership process, even if Turkey-EU negotiations have stagnated in the past few years. In this context, the onus is on Turkey to quell concerns about its goals by supporting peace, democracy, and prosperity in the region. Of course, EU membership is not a must for the success of Turkey's regional foreign policy; but as argued by Keyman (2) and Onis, (3) previous experiences indicated that EU membership is important for the success of Turkey's democracy, economy, and foreign policy strategy based on soft power. Indeed, to make full use of its soft power in foreign policy, Turkey's political and economic transformation should be regarded as a success story. Soft power is embedded in the "value-based" definition of power. (4) Furthermore, bilateral cooperation has the potential to create a positive effect on regional transformation, because the EU has financial and institutional resources, while Turkey enjoys more popularity and credibility, thus it can be regarded as a path for inspiration.

Numerous analysts have advocated that Turkey-EU cooperation could better face the challenges the Middle East represents by aligning Turkish regional foreign policy with the EU. (5) They pointed out that Turkey and the EU can work together in helping to reform political systems in the region and that the EU's capacity to disseminate its values and stabilize the Middle East can be enhanced with Turkey's partnership. …

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