A FRANCO-TURKISH RIVALRY IN THE NEAR EAST? THE POLITICS OF A NON-PROBLEM
"Many tensions have bedevilled NATO's military operations in Libya – tensions between France and NATO, between Germany and its allies, and between active and less active partners in the coalition. But it is the clash between Turkey and France that should most worry the EU.
This is more serious than their difference of approach on military intervention to Muslim countries. A strategic rivalry is emerging that is compromising the ability of the West to respond cohesively and effectively to emerging threats. And this rivalry is damaging the EU's relationship with Turkey at a moment when both have much to gain by working together in the southern Mediterranean.
The relationship between Paris and Ankara has long been poor, but it has rarely been worse. Turkey was conspicuously absent from the meeting of leaders in Paris that, on 19 March, established the ad hoc coalition to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. French President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision not to invite Turkey showed how deep the rift between Paris and Ankara has grown.
Usually, acrimony in bilateral relations can be addressed through political dialogue and direct contacts between leaders, but reconciliation looks far away. Sarkozy's visit to Turkey in March added insult to several years of injury, by repeating his opposition to Turkey's bid to the join the EU. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was furious about being frozen out of the Paris summit....
But, while France may have aspirations, the emerging political constituencies in Tunisia and Egypt find Turkey a more interesting model and more appealing partner for their transition processes.
Like France, Turkey has a difficult imperial legacy in the region, but it offers a successful combination of Muslim traditions, democracy and rising prosperity. And, in Arab eyes, the dynamism of its economic growth compares favourably with crisis-ridden Europe's sluggishness. In recent years, as its membership talks with the EU have slowed down, Turkey has focused on being a big power in its neighbourhood. In the process, it has regained self-confidence....
Both Turkey and the EU have much to gain from dovetailing their neighbourhood policies to form a common strategy for the southern Mediterranean. For that to happen, Turkey and the EU would need a high-level political dialogue on foreign policy. That is missing at the moment because Turkey's accession process is nearly at a standstill. Negotiators have no reason to meet to discuss foreign, security and external policies because those chapters are blocked. The EU should therefore establish a foreign-policy dialogue that allows Turkey to work in concert with the Union regardless of the progress of accession talks. This dialogue would be a forum for regular, institutionalised discussions about the aid, technical assistance, political support and economic opportunities that are needed to facilitate the Arab transitions.
Strategic dialogue between the EU and Turkey needs to replace the emerging strategic rivalry between France and Turkey, to establish a smoother and more reliable regional security order led by NATO, and prevent a repeat of the debacles in the Libya crisis".
Heather Grabbe, Sinan Ulgen, "The High Price of Strategic Rivalry," The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 20 April 2011, in www.carnegieendowment.org.
A strategic rivalry between Paris and Ankara in the Near East? The idea or the premise has something distinctly pickwickian about it to the naked eye or the neutral observer. However, leaving that aspect aside for a moment, what are au fond, the politics of this alleged problem? Actually, quite simple: Turkish diplomacy, notwithstanding comments to the contrary (such as in the above article from the Carnegie Endowment), has not exactly 'enjoyed' a good crisis in the Near and Middle East in the past four months. Why is that? Simple: Ankara's very recent prominence in the region (nota bene: prominence per se not the same thing as macht), was to a large extent based upon its taking popular positions in the region over the Arab-Israeli dispute and to a lesser extent, Persia's nuclear standoff with the Western powers. However, the crisis in the Arab world since December 2010, has pushed both issues almost completely aside for the moment. And not only that, but it has brought to the fore, the unpopularity of some of Ankara's friends in the region, exampli gratia, Persia (with its alleged meddling in Bahrain), Syria (with its Baathist regime in crisis), and Libya and its civil war. Given the very close relationship that Ankara has forged in the past five years with each of these powers, one is hard put to believe that many people in the region, still view Turkish foreign policy in quite the same positive light that they did, say this time last year. The fact of the matter is, that if the regime in Damascus comes crashing down in flames, or the country becomes entangled in a Libya-type civil war, then Turkey will be, along with Persia a key loser. Similarly, the fact that the AKP government singularly failed to show any leadership over the events in Libya in the past few months, cannot but have negatively impressed 'public opinion', in the Arab world. Given all the above, I for one cannot for the life of me, see anything to be gained by Europe, involving itself with Turkey and Turkish diplomacy. The inevitable result of such a tie-up, will be that Europe's own prestige and indeed policy will be tarnished by association with Ankara's rather questionable friends in the area. No doubt, Ankara would love to be in a position to associate itself with the monetary assistance that the European Union will be dispensing in the coming years to the new democratic governments in the area. But, I for one, cannot for the life of me, see what possibly the European Union would have to gain in such a relationship. In light of the fact that having barely escaped recently being forever tarred by association with the ancien regimes in Cairo and Tunis, the last thing that European diplomacy needs is to be associated with some of the remaining authoritarian regimes in the region. Or for that matter, their Turkish enabler.