In his speech at the 14th Ambassadors Conference on August 7, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan announced Ankara’s vision for the 100th anniversary of the Republic as “making Türkiye one of the playmaker actors”.
I wish he had emphasized more the importance of the Republic of Türkiye entering its second century against all obstacles, but a clearer version of his statement is as follows:
“We will strive tirelessly for our country to become a fully independent actor, one that can be the playmaker when necessary and spoil it when necessary.”
We can analyse the sentence it as follows:
- Until 2009-2010, the foreign policy slogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party administration led by President Tayyip Erdoğan was “Zero problems with neighbors”.
- In the 2010-2011 period, the Arab Spring and Türkiye’s involvement in the Syrian civil war led to a departure in the “zero problems” policy.
- In the 2012-2016 period, Türkiye pursued a policy of “Precious loneliness”, as Ibrahim Kalın, now the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), conceptualized it. In a sense it was an obligation.
- After the 2016 coup attempt, the era of “spoiling the play” began. The “pre-emptive” fight against the PKK, Syria and Iraq, intervening in the Libyan civil war, energy wars in the Eastern Mediterranean, supporting Azerbaijan in reclaiming its territories occupied by Armenia… This period can be extended until 2022.
Fidan’s goal of “being a playmaker” could start with Türkiye playing a key role in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Fidan’s EU reproach
One of the most important parts of Fidan’s speech was his reproachful address to the European Union (EU).
Drawing attention to and criticizing the EU’s discussion of excluding Türkiye even from the Balkan geography, Fidan said:
“In an environment where the EU and NATO membership of Moldova and Ukraine are being discussed, the fact that Türkiye’s EU membership process is being stalled is strategic blindness. In the new period, it is important to approach Türkiye-EU relations with a visionary perspective and to revitalize the process with the perspective of full membership. The EU cannot be a real actor without Türkiye. It is important to revitalize the process with full membership.”
Fidan’s is right in his reproach but it is incomplete. It is clear that the EU will have an important strategic leverage with Türkiye’s membership. But the EU is not just a supranational organization with geopolitical priorities; it is not an international security organization like NATO, for example. The EU is essentially a supranational organization based on political and economic union. Starting with the implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, Türkiye faces problems of judicial independence, pluralist democracy and human rights.
Fidan knows very well that the problem is not only about strategy.
The global playmaker, the EU and Türkiye
And then there is this: Why are we so interested in the EU becoming a global player?
I think the answer is clear. But first, let us make these two observations:
Türkiye is not a country that is doomed or will disappear if it does not become an EU member. But it can be a much stronger, richer and fairer country with EU membership, or at least with the EU’s legal, political and economic standards.
The EU is not bound to Türkiye’s geopolitical leverage. Whether it becomes a global player or not depends on the collective decision of EU member governments. But if that is what they want, Türkiye can make a strategic contribution.
Based on this, we can say the following: Türkiye has an interest in the EU becoming a global player.
The aspect that seems to be missing because Fidan did not mention it is that Türkiye needs to improve its democracy and human rights record, for the sake of the Turkish citizens, not the EU. It would be more logical to start developing the play-making capacity by accepting the existing rules of the game.
For example, a turning point would be for Türkiye to start implementing the ECtHR judgements, which was made in compliant with Turkish law with an article of the Constitution after the reform steps taken in 2003-2004 in the Turkish parliament in cooperation with the AKP and the CHP.
And then there is Cyprus
What Türkiye is right about is that it was stabbed in the back by Brussels on Cyprus in 2004, when the Greek Cypriot side was included – against its wishes – as a member representing the Turks, despite the Turkish Cypriot community’s acceptance of the UN Plan.
Today, Türkiye-EU relations seem to be locked on the Cyprus issue.
In the last few years, Türkiye has demonstrated its capacity to disrupt its own geography in strategically important areas from Syria to Libya, from the Eastern Mediterranean to Azerbaijan. It is showing its capacity to be a regional playmaker or a founding actor in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
In order to go one step further and become a global game-changer, it needs to increase both its economic and political power, and relations with the EU are an indispensable part of this.
Fidan is actually saying that.
One last note: After Fidan’s speech, the first panel organized at the Ambassadors’ Conference was hosted by Fidan and attended by the following ministers: Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, Industry and Technology Minister Fatih Kacır, Energy Minister Alparslan Albayrak and Trade Minister Ömer Bolat. This session alone gives an idea of the priorities of Turkish foreign policy in the coming period.