It should not come as a surprise that after experiencing a new stalemate in solving the Iranian nuclear crisis, „intelligence sources” leaked that Israel would not warn the US before attempting to destroy Iran’s unchecked and secret nuclear facilities. The real question is what would be the result of such a pre-emptive attack and if it is a viable threat or just a bluff?
Starting with the Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia and spreading onto Egypt, Libya and most recently Syria, the sudden wave of upheavals in the Mediterranean have created a whole new reality across the Arab world. By showing the limits of their tolerance for the corrupt and autocratic regimes that have governed their countries for decades, the Arab peoples have made it clear that a new era of governance is due in their region. This historical moment is as crucial for the European Union as it is for the Arabs of the Mediterranean. In some aspects, it may be regarded as a wakeup call for the EU after long years of neglect for its southern neighborhood.
Rethinking the European Union’s Economic Relations with the Mediterranean: A Historical Opportunity*
The “short-sightedness, self-satisfaction and feeling of safety with the status quo” have been, in the words of Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, EU’s the dominant attitude towards the Mediterranean, where the “status quo” was in fact mistaken for “stability” for long years. It is perhaps a result of this realization that a new and ambitious European Neighborhood Policy was recently launched by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. Unable to ignore the urgent need for reconstruction in the region, EU provided €140 million of humanitarian assistance to those most in need, and an extra €1.24 billion (totalling nearly €7 billion) was made available for the ENP following the political developments in EU’s southern neighborhood. Indeed, given the failure of the Barcelona process and the inefficiency of the later the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), the current political climate in southern Mediterranean gives the EU a historical opportunity to rethink its economic relations with the wider region, take advantage of a great potential to ensure sustainable security, prosperity and stability within the wider region, and to fix its past mistakes in the inefficient conduction of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.
Brief history: Barcelona Process and Union for the Mediterranean
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) was initiated by the Barcelona Process in 1995 by 15 Foreign Affairs Ministers from EU member states and 14 Mediterranean counterparts. The main goal of the partnership was to gradually establish a free trade area between the EU and Mediterranean countries. Its political aims were equally sophisticated and ambitious as they sought to create “a common area of peace and stability underpinned by sustainable development, rule of law, democracy and human rights”. The EMP specifically aimed at strengthening the economic relations among the Mediterranean non-EU member countries while providing them the necessary financial and technical support to promote a balanced socio-economic development besides equipping them with the tools to build capacity for further development. With the Eastern enlargement phase of the early 2000s and the introduction of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in 2004, the ambitious EMP entered a period of stagnation to gradually transform into an invisible component of the ENP.
Upon the suggestion of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the EMP was eventually re-launched in 2008 as the Union for the Medierranean (UfM). The revised UfM was this time launched by 43 EU member and Mediterranean states. The establishment of this extended partnership received substantial criticism for serving as a political tool for Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign in France, and was moreover regarded as a sign of increased competition between France and Spain over their influence in the Mediterranean region. The new goals set forth by the extended partnership seemed promising in the beginning – the establishment of the Mediterranean Business Development Initiative providing assistance for small and medium sized enterprises, a Mediterranean University for high quality research on the region, extended focus on the environment and transportation, and finally a permanent general secretariat in Barcelona initially raised hopes for a serious improvement in the cooperation between the northern and southern ends of the region. The inadequacy of the bilateral partnerships within the countries of the region and the outbreak of the global credit crisis, however, acted as catalysts for the fast demise of the ambitious goals of the UfM and made way to its perceived failure.
The reasons for the failure of the EMP and UfM could loosely be identified under two main headings – political and economic. The lack of an EU membership prospect and the absence of any clear, concrete and short-term gains for the partner countries served as the most obvious political shortcoming of the EMP. Moreover, the politicization of certain sectors within the bilateral trade agreements (namely agirculture due to the protectionist contraints posed by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy) further watered down the potential incentives for partner countries. Lastly, the shift of EU focus to its Eastern neighborhood during the enlargement process moreover marginalized the Mediterranean from the core of EU’s priorities. The most important economic reasons, on the other hand, have been a serious lack of business interest in southern Mediterranean, and consequently, very low levels of foreign direct investment in the wider region.
Reviving Euro-Mediterranean relations: Motivations
Although the Barcelona process has so far shown to be a failure, there are enough legitimate and pragmatic reasons why the original objectives of the EMP should be revived and given more emphasis by the EU. The strategic significance of the geographical location of the Mediterranean region, rising concerns on uncontrolled migration into the EU from its southern neighborhood and escalating fears of Islamic fundamentalism in the Arab countries could be named as the main (if not the only) reasons why the future of Europe lies in a secure, prosperous and stable Mediterranean region.
Perhaps the most visible reason why the original goals of the Barcelona declaration and UfM should be revived is the EU’s growing concern for uncontrolled immigration. The issue of immigration has been continuously ranking high in priority in the European agenda within the recent years. Catalyzed by the financial crisis, tighter border controls and stricter policies against immigration have become commonplace in member states. The efficiency of such measures, however, is yet to be proven, and therefore remain under scrutiny. This perceived threat of an “immigration wave from the South” has noticeably increased following the revolutionary upheavals in Europe’s southern neighborhood – hundreds of thousands have filled up refugee camps in North Africa, and over 20,000 are estimated to have reached Italian shores. What is certain is that Europe needs to rethink its “cure” for the problem of uncontrolled immigration. Addressing the symptoms of this problem so far has not produced any smooth answers to the issue – targeting the causes, however, have the potential to generate more sustainable solutions. Creating positive incentives and practical means to ensure that potential migrants stay home could therefore be an optimal recipe for controlling immigration. Taking into account the large volume of immigrants coming into the EU from the southern Mediterranean, working towards achieving the original goals of the Barcelona declaration would prove to be useful. Europe should address this problem by shifting its focus on creating jobs in the south of the Mediterranean, and seriously liberalizing its trade regimes to foster growth through trade with the region’s countries. 
The geo-strategic signifiance of the southern Mediterranean and Europe’s trade security together constitute another reason why the EU should rethink and reprioritize its Mediterranean policy. As the former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana has justly observed in a recent article with Angel Saz, the container traffic between East Asia and Europe is crucially dependent on the EU’s southern Neighborhood. Solana and Saz have drawn attention to two important issues related to this container traffic. Firstly, although the container flow from East Asia uses the Mediterranean route (i.e. passing through the Suez Canal), only 28% of the transported goods enter Europe via southern European ports such as Barcelona, Genoa or Marseille. The remaining 72% of the goods are unloaded at northern European ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg, following a longer route through the English Channel. Even though this option involves extra financial and environmental costs, it is nevertheless preferred over unloading at southern European ports due to the superior efficiency of the northern European ports and their more advanced transport infrastructure. Secondly, Solana and Saz emphasize that the Suez Canal must always stay as a “safe and reliable shipping route” in order to avoid the shifting of the route to the southern end of Africa, hence generating even higher costs for trade and the environment, and excluding the Mediterranean region altogether. In brief, the security of the opeations of the Suez Canal is of great strategic importance to Europe and therefore stable political regimes in and around the Mediterranean are of paramount importance for the secure and efficient operation of the economic activity between East Asia and Europe.
Lastly, there have recently been mentions of a possible Marshall Plan for the Arab World following the rapid regime changes and political reconstruction in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The transformation across the region will surely have serious consequences for Europe, as regional peace, prosperity and stability is indeed vital for Europe’s stability in the long term. It is with this motivation that Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini has recently suggested that the revolutionary countries of the Arab world share the same needs with the post-war countries of Western Europe. Although a financial aid package by the EU for the democratizing MENA countries (similar to that of the post-war Marshall Plan) may indeed seem unrealistic given the current financial burden on the EU due to the alarming condition of southern European economies, additional measures could be taken to build on the existing financial and institutional structures. Indeed, what is important in this stage is not how much of its financial resources the EU can allocate to support the democratic transition in the MENA, but how it can work to prioritize the Mediterranean within the existing financial and institutional resources. The ongoing financial crisis, therefore, should not any longer be an excuse for turning a blind eye on the developments in the southern Mediterranean.
Reviving the Euro-Mediterranean relations: Immediate remedies
Having reviewed why the EU should prioritize strenghthening its economic relations with the Mediterranean, it is also necessary to acknowledge the main limiting factors that are currently acting against a stronger Euro-Mediterranean economic dialogue, and outline the most immediate remedies for recovery. The first and most debated of these is undoubtedly the issue of the persisting protectionist measures in European trade, and most notably those in the agricultural sector. As discussed earlier, perhaps the most obvious technical obstacle that has played a role in the failure of the EMP has been the current state of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the resultant illiberal tendency in Euro-Mediterranean trade. Europe seriously needs to liberalize its trade regime if it is to induce any form of economic development and promote democracy in its southern neighborhood. At this critical time when the political character of the entire MENA region is going through a historical change, the EU cannot afford to continue ignoring the need to liberalize the barriers in its trade activity with the newly democratizing Mediterranean.
Secondly, the weakness of the institutional setup of the former EMP has been a very important though less visible limiting factor for the advancement of Euro-Mediterranean relations. The Barcelona process originally promoted the creation of a free trade zone in the wider Mediterranean region, which would provide the basis for enhanced cultural dialogue, promotion of stability and security in the South, and flow of financial and technical aid. When compared with other successful regional free trade agreements, the EMP stands out for not having an advanced institutional framework. The North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada, for instance, could be taken as a good institutional example for the future of the Euro-Mediterranean trade relations. In comparison with the relatively looser Association Agreements between the EU and non-EU Mediterranean states, NAFTA provied a good institutional example with its side agreements and subsidiary organizations, most notably in the areas of labor rights and environmental protection. There is little doubt that the future of the UfM and Mediterranean trade could benefit substantially from such a move towards institutional development and capacity building.
The history of the world shows that the Mediterranean region has been the global center of trade and economic activity for many prominent civilizations like the Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, the Spanish, and Ottomans. The current lack of a healthy and sustainable economic dialogue between the northern and southern ends of the Mediterranean Sea may continue only for a given period of time as the security and prosperity of the wider region is possible only with economic cooperation and extended social and political relations among the region’s countries. The Arab Spring has provided a historical moment for the realization of this regional cooperation, though to achieve this long term goal, EU needs to shoulder the lion’s share of responsibilities. Removing non-tariff barriers to further liberalize its trade regime, and enhancing the backbone of the EMP with a serious instiutional reform are of vital importance for the EU to fulfill this immediate duty. Bearing in mind that the security of the Mediterranean is the security of Europe, EU can no longer afford not to invest in its economic relations with the Mediterranean if it is to pursure a healthy and stable presence.
* Originally published on Turkish Policy Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 65-71
 Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, “EU must fundamentally redesign its Mediterranean policy”, EurActiv, 10 March 2011 (http://www.euractiv.com/en/print/global-europe/eu-fundamentally-redesign-mediterranean-policy-analysis-502981)
Instability is on the rise in the Middle East with civil wars and extensive waves of protests in the Arab countries. Due to the failed peace process with the Palestinians and their aspiration to unilaterally declare their state, Israel is facing an era of limited security, which could become a trigger of increased violence in the region. In this article, I will argue that an Israel, which feels secure and strong, is the cornerstone of the region’s stability.
The summer is quickly passing and the Israeli leadership seems to be paralyzed by the prospect of the Palestinian bid to the United Nations General Assembly to declare their independent state. We can be sure that the majority of the member states will vote in favour of an independent Palestine within the ceasefire lines of Israel’s Independence War (commonly, but mistakenly known as 1967 borders). The question is not the quantity, but the quality of the votes in favour, let us remember that at the end of the Cold War, the Palestinians already declared their state with the backing of the Eastern Bloc and frankly, nothing has changed because of this. Today the problem is not with the coming into being of a Palestinian state, but the exact borders to which Israel would have to withdraw. The three main issues here are the Jordan Valley, the Jewish settlements and the sovereignty of the Palestinian state in security matters. In this article, I will only discuss the first issue as to demonstrate the necessity of a secure Jewish state.
The Jordan Valley is a key geographical item, which protects Israel from any armed threat from the East, and from any infiltration attempt from Jordan. Israel, especially the middle part of the country, lacks any real manoeuvring space for its armed forces, therefore the Israeli military doctrine is based on first stopping the enemy at the borders and then going into counteroffensive and moving the fight to the enemy territory. The Jordan Valley has only a few parts where an invading army could advance through it and even a limited Israeli armed presence could halt the attack until the reinforcements arrive, therefore Israel cannot be surprised. According to the Palestinians, the Israeli military would be expelled from the valley and generally, Israel would have indefensible borders, it would be incapable of protecting its largest cities on the coastline.
For understanding Israeli political and military thinking, we have to understand two key elements of the Israeli/Jewish mindset: the Holocaust and the experience of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. After the Holocaust, and the exterminated 6 million Jews, the Israeli/Jewish way of thinking has incorporated the idea of “Never again”, which means that the Jews have to be capable of defending themselves against any threat, by having a country with strong conventional armed forces, a phenomenon lacking for almost 2000 years. The greatest shock after the Holocaust came in 1973, when Israel was on the brink of destruction because of the surprise invasion of Egypt and Syria. A nation, which has pledged “Never again”, has saw that it almost happened again.
By recognizing this way of thinking, it is important to realise that an insecure Israel will react strongly to any threat against their existence, because Israeli leaders will not give another chance to anyone like they did in 1973. We saw many examples to this rule when the Palestine Liberation Organization used Jordan as a base for their attacks against the Jewish state and the Israeli retaliation made the Jordanian king violently expel in 1970 the PLO (commonly known as the Black September). We saw many times in Lebanon that the meddling of terrorist organisations (formerly PLO, later Hezbollah) against Israel put the Lebanese civilians between a rock and a hard place. When Israel feels secure, it can resort to diplomatic efforts and react in a calm way. But when the Israeli politicians and military leaders perceive that their country is facing an immediate and serious threat (like constant rocket fire from Gaza or Lebanon), their actions will target the source of the threat which usually comes from neighbouring countries and in the end you get a proper war. If Israel would have indefensible borders it would provoke its enemies to use this window of opportunity to cause as much harm as they can, and as a result the Jewish state could be drawn into limited or a regional war, with devastating effect on every country in the neighbourhood.
By giving in to the Palestinian demands and recognising their state without going through the difficult negotiations with Israel, the international community is putting the Jewish state into an unsecure position, which can only lead to more instability in the region. While the Palestinian state is in everyone’s interest (even for Israel because of the demographic trends), it is important that this new state will not present additional threat for Israel. Having Hamas, a terrorist organisation in the Palestinian government is one of the main issues why it is too soon to acknowledge the independent Palestine, and Israel has to be left with secure borders and means to protect itself. The 104 members of the European Parliament who wrote to Catherine Ashton, EU’s foreign relations chief not to accept the unilateral move, which would destroy any chance of the Israeli-Palestinian peace, are a fine example of European decision makers already seeing the great harm which the Palestinian bid at the UN would cause in September.
It should not surprise anyone that the USA is withdrawing from Afghanistan soon after Osama bin Laden has been killed. Combined with the pullout from Iraq and the shaky political situation in other Middle Eastern countries, the European Union is on its way to face the greatest security threat of its existence.
US President Barack Obama has announced recently that he is pulling out ten thousand troops from Afghanistan and another twenty-three thousand next year with the rest staying for a few more years at most. In other words, the Americans consider this battlefront as one that they can soon leave in the “capable” hands of the Afghan national security forces. It is a no brainer, that Afghanistan is going to be a nest of terrorists and ravaged by armed struggle for many years to come, but no NATO country can maintain its participation for much longer. There is not enough money and no will to keep this commitment.
Iraq is a much more serious case since it lies between Iran and Syria, the main players of the Iranian axis, and Hezbollah, which is “just” a junior member of the franchise. At least this was true until the recent crisis of the Assad regime. Anyhow, it is very unlikely that the fragmented Iraqi political elite could hold its stance against the Iranians and their allies without the presence of the coalition forces led by the USA. Power-vacuums cannot exist for long and Iran has many advantages in Iraq. One is the Shiite population, which amounts up to 65% of the total population, the second is the favorable geographical location and the third is the sheer size of Iraq. The third is important because, for example, Saudi Arabia could not throw a few thousand soldiers across the border as it did to save their allies in Bahrain, only a few months ago, since it would require a much larger force to “pacify” Iraq.
After a US pullout from Iraq there is only one thing that can seriously hurt any Iranian ambition for an “empire” stretching from the Eastern Mediterranean to the heart of Central Asia and that is the fall of the Assad regime. A few months ago, Syria was considered one of the most stable countries in the region, but now it seems that they are on the doorstep of a new civil war. Until now, there have been 1400 deaths and the Syrian army is not holding itself back. There are reports that Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is aiding President Assad, their closest ally in an otherwise hostile world. The greatest threat is that Assad and his accomplices can ignite everything around them. Hezbollah is already talking about opening a new front in Northern Israel and Turkey is very agitated about the possibility of an overspill effect of the conflict into its territory as Syrian troops are marching next to its borders.
We could say that the American withdrawal is a good thing, they can beef up their capabilities to fight wars elsewhere and it is true that today 100.000 US soldiers and a serious amount of military hardware are locked at Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Obama has made it clear that the United States has to focus inwards and cut down on public debt, put the country back on a sustainable track. I do not believe that we are facing another era of an isolationist America, but their commitment to a secure world order will be reduced in real terms, leaving gaps behind them in the security establishment of all regions.
As I wrote before, the European Union will soon face the consequences of the reduced American presence in the Middle East. The main question is whether we can fill in the void, or other actors with unfriendly or even hostile intents will take the initiative instead. It is possible to counter these negative forces by aiding domestic groups in Middle Eastern countries, using proxies and by these methods, the military aspect can be minimized (but not eliminated) in the short run. There are signs pointing in the direction of a revised European Neighborhood Policy, as many European politicians (for example, British PM David Cameron) have acknowledged the failure of our previous efforts to reshape the Middle East. These positive trends are overshadowed by the internal problems of the euro-zone, but if both the USA and the EU are turning inwards at the same time, other actors will make their move. By the time we would solve our domestic questions, our maneuvering space would be seriously reduced, especially in such a turbulent region as the Middle East.
At least three major features shape any political entity’s power in international relations: resources, fears and ambitions. Today we see that the European Union has immense resources, like a grand economy, population, territory etc. but it lacks the ambition to act as a major power. At least, no member state wants to sacrifice much of its own sovereignty for a greater international role of the EU. Today it seems that the only way the European integration could be pushed forward is by understanding the risks of not being a superpower. The Middle Eastern security situation after the US pullout could provide such an example and alert European decision makers. However, the more time the European Union wastes by inaction, the greater price we are going to pay in the long run.
So, here it is. The third term with the AKP, the political party that has been making the reforms for the accession negotiations with the EU, the party which the hard-core secular Turks are scared of, the party that made Turkey much more confident in its foreign policy by expanding its range. This more independent approach, according to some, is leading Turkey out of her EU membership goal, even though the leaders of AK Party claim that it doesn’t. They state that EU membership still forms the major goal of their foreign policy, that they will continue making the necessary reforms despite the Cyprus problem and the negative signals coming from leaders like Sarkozy and Merkel. They say, they are not going to be the ones who will leave the table, however, EU should not forget that Turkey is not the country of economic and political instabilities of the past and that the EU needs Turkey as much as Turkey needs the EU.
The signals coming from the EU haven’t changed since the beginning of this journey. ‘We don’t want to lose you, but we are scared to let you in. This is why we are going to continue to give you some incentives to make you feel like you are moving towards the membership while at the same time ‘some’ of the leaders of our member states will oppose your membership harshly based on your identity to give you the feeling that you are not wanted here.’ We all know this story, right? What the EU doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that the negative signals coming from the EU side with greater emphasis on ‘Turkey not being European’ will be of no use to the EU in terms of its higher goal of becoming a global player in world politics. This is even more relevant in the case of recent uprisings in the Arab world. The identity based opposition against Turkey, a secular state ruled by AK Party, which is a party inspirational to many in the Muslim world, will decrease the potential influence of the already-ineffective-EU as an international actor especially in the Middle East and North Africa.
The European Identity Turkey doesn’t have.
Being a Turk with a degree in European Studies is tough. Whenever I go out of Turkey, either for education or for leisure, people keep asking me the same question. ‘So what do you think of Turkey’s membership bid for the EU?’. I always argue based on what the EU is. More clearly, I think it’s hard to achieve if you take the EU as a cultural union, but not that difficult if you see it as a political and economic one. I say this because of two reasons. First is that the EU crumbles up when you dig into issues like identity and culture. There is no clear answer to what European identity or culture is. If you follow the European myths and the argument on religion to find a solid ground, you find yourself at the ‘Christian Club’, ending up with the exclusion of the ‘we believe in multicultural diversity’ option. If you claim that EU has a diversified culture, including different religions, cultures with all their uniqueness then you find yourself at ‘let’s not worry about the cultural identity and move on with what has been unifiying us: politics and economics’. My second reason is related to the first one, very simply, EU is not a cultural union, it is founded on political and economic goals and still operates based on them.
The case with Turkey is very much related to the cultural arguments. The groups opposing Turkey’s EU membership are mostly using the identity card, even the geography and population arguments are based on identity, which is very understandable since our cultures lead us to build our personal identities as well as the national ones. For example, President Sarkozy keeps opposing Turkish membership with the ‘Turkey is not European’ argument. Well, he would have a good point if only we knew which or what European identity he’s talking about. Turkey has a different culture than France, that’s true. Turkey has a different culture than many of the EU member states, true again, but aren’t each and every member states’ cultures different from each other? It is a union of 27 states which of many used to fight against each other frequently before there was the idea of creating a union! If the EU leaders want to make convincing arguments based on identity and culture against Turkey’s membership, I think they should first of all clarify some terms. What is that European identity that opposition team keeps talking about? Is it based on religion? Is it some myth that only seems to convince some of the scholars who know them? Is it democratic values, liberal economy, promotion of rule of law? (Oh wait, these were kind of universal!) Or is it ‘ We believe in multiculturalism’ as it is stated in the official EU documents? Is it a combination of all these? Unless they come up with a proper explanation, the non-EU part of the world will continue to believe that the so-called non-Europeanness of Turkey comes from the religious difference because Turkey has been moving on with a growing economy and reform-making. I am certainly not claiming that Turkey has accomplished the necessary reforms for accession, however, one should acknowledge that Turkey is much different than it was nine years ago when Turkey was a country of economic and political instabilities. In this sense, the identity-based exclusion seems to be a little bit dangerous especially under the light of the changing dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa since an exclusive EU may attract extremism to the region as a reaction.
EU as a Global Actor?
As we all know, massive changes are happening in the Arab world nowadays. The major global players are looking for ways to increase their influence and make the situation favorable to themselves. In this respect, we haven’t seen any constructive steps being taken by the EU as a bloc yet, except for the declarations ‘condemning violence’. The member states don’t seem to agree even on the consequences of the on-going crisis in Libya. EU member states like France and Italy are playing very actively, however EU as a foreign policy actor stays as it was, an impotent regional player. For example, France initiated the operation against Qaddafi to save the civilian lives, right? Then, why couldn’t the leaders of the EU members agree even on the action that are needed to handle the consequences of their operation, namely, the refugees? No positive or constructive response came to Berlusconi’s calls for help to handle the humanitarian crisis of refugees in Italy. (Oh wait, ‘something’ happened with the Schengen visa and France, anyone remembering that story?). The EU members act with their NATO identities, take decisions during their NATO meetings while EU publishes documents condemning violence in Libya, Syria… Is it only me who can’t see any worthy initiative on the EU side or is there really nothing to talk about?
Why Turkey’s AK Party?
Considering what’s said, it doesn’t seem possible that the EU will be able to become a major player unless they choose to cooperate with the AK Party government in Turkey, since they are considered to be a success story with their conservative stance, liberal economic policies and progressive approach in democracy. The claim that Turkey can increase EU’s influence in the Middle East and more generally the Muslim world is nothing new, the new development is the changing dynamics in that part of the world. Despite their ethnic, religious or cultural differences, the people in the countries where riots have been taking place want similar things: jobs, public services and democracy. They want what the AKP has been offering to Turkish people: bridges, dams, hospitals, schools, factories, jobs… They want more equality, not limited to what the political elites have been offering them for years. This is what the AKP has done so far, creating jobs and providing public services to the people, taking the control from the political elite and giving it to the people. With ‘people’ I refer to the masses who have been suppressed by the political elite for years, the ‘people’ who have been excluded from the political and social circles… One can even assert that AK Party has done a similar revolution in Turkey silently, by using the most visible tool of democracy: elections. This is why, maybe not Turkey, but what the AK Party has done in Turkey in nine years can be a model to these countries.
We don’t know if AKP success will continue but now is the time to speed up the accession dialogue with Turkey who is also going through the consequences of the instabilities in her neighbors, namely, Syria. I am not a fan of Turkey’s membership in the EU, however I think the possibility of it makes EU an interesting organization and Turkey a unique case. If the EU decides to update itself, this should take form in speeding up the accession process by removing the political obstacles (you all know what I am talking about: Cyprus) in front of opening up new chapters in the negotiations. Turkey doesn’t have much to lose in case of keeping the relations as inefficient as it is right now, because apparently Turkey seems to be moving on regardless of the slow accession process. Can we say the same for EU though? The EU that struggles to balance the economic crises in its members? The EU that is losing its influence on its neighbors, even on its biggest candidate?
Updating is good.
Considering the failure of the EU policies towards the countries where riots are taking place and the change in Turkey in the last nine years should trigger some action from the EU side to change the exclusive-identity based opposition towards Turkey. ‘Some’ leaders of the EU should realize that those arguments are outdated now, things change very rapidly, so does Turkey, whereas the arguments on the EU side stay the same since the very beginning. The leaders of the EU should accept that EU has not been able to cope with change in Turkey and the changing dynamics in its region. The architect of this process in Turkey, AK Party, has been re-elected with about 50% of the votes. This political party has been a unique case, either people like them or not. They boosted the Turkish economy, they made the Turkish foreign policy much more confident and diverse and they have taken ‘some’ major steps towards consolidating democracy (I’d like to keep my right to wait and see to this but still some revolutionary steps have been taken). The party and its success inspire many Arabs, especially the young ones. This is why Turkey, with the AKP, can actually help the EU to increase its influence in the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world. Excluding the symbol of Muslim democracy from the EU would just lead to decrease the already minimal influence of the EU as an international actor in its neighboring regions.
In this introductory article, I will examine what kind of threats and possibilities does the current power vacuum in the Middle East present to Europe. I will argue that the way the European Union can influence the region will be an indicator of whether Europe can become a great power in the XXI century.
The blame game against the West is experiencing its renaissance among many in the Middle East for supporting the corrupt and highly authoritarian regimes of many Arab states during the last few decades. While on one level this criticism can be justified, the actual situation concerning the European Union (and its predecessors) is even more severe, since European countries were only going with the flow without having a real impact on the political system of the Arab regimes. Accepting the blame is easier, because by this we can maintain the delusion that Europe still has a serious influence over its neighbors, but the reality is that the European Union has a long way to go to if it wants to put real pressure on other countries without the aid of the United States. For the time being let us consider “European influence” as a neutral phenomenon, later I will argue for its necessity.
One might say that “Europe” never had any say in the Middle East, rather individual European powers had. While this observation is true, it is still shameful that France, the United Kingdom and the rest of the EU countries together cannot assert their agenda of human rights and stability. During the Cold War, this was a less important issue, but now, during an era of emerging great powers, it will be very important whether Europe has a stable and cooperative neighborhood, or it will be surrounded by failed states and also by allies of its potential adversaries. This realization had to come during a time of a grand turmoil affecting the region from Morocco to Iran, which has shown, that the corrupt but stable Arab regimes in the end cannot provide security neither to their own people, nor to European countries. On the contrary, they are the reason behind civil war-like situation such as the ones we experience in Libya and recently in Yemen too.
This upheaval in the Greater Middle East region has provided an opportunity for many (mostly regional) powers to fill in the ever-deepening vacuum and the European Union is only one and maybe the least active player in this struggle (except for the isolated and half-hearted intervention in Libya). Our main concern should be the growing Iranian influence in the territories in question. We sat through the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Hamas’ in the Gaza Strip; but Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen are also quickly turning into battlegrounds where conservative forces have to face an aggressive Iranian expansion. The main problem with this process is not the fall of the corrupt old regimes, but the possible emergence of another, much more hostile tyranny, which has its origins in Iran. The theocratic regime has secured its grip over its own people in Iran, by crushing all opposition back home, but in the meantime, it has been preaching “democracy” abroad, when its interests dictated it. No one should doubt that peoples of the Middle East have their right to elect their own government and set their foreign policy until the point that it is not threatening others. Europe is facing a completely new security threat, where from the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the heart of Central Asia, an extremely anti-Western and hostile power is on the rise. The possibly threatening Iranian nuclear program combined with the continuing development of advanced ballistic missile systems is more than enough to make any European politician worried. A sad thing is that it seems that almost every Western and Arab leader understands the risk, but apart from increased economic pressure and numerous speeches, they do not act against this emerging threat. This European passivity and indecisiveness has become a dangerous habit.
There are other “question marks” in the region, mainly Turkey and Egypt. Turkey seems to be at the crossroads between European integration and an independent foreign policy. The former outcome could be the greatest asset for the European Union to stabilize the Middle East, counter the rising Iran and what is maybe the most important aspect, provide all the countries in the region with a vision that is democratic, highly prosperous and authentically Muslim. An independent and possibly bitter Turkey, rejected by the West, could mean an ally for Iran and counter any European attempt to stabilize the region. These are the two extreme ends of the spectrum, but it is easy to see which one is more beneficial for all the parties involved. Time will tell if the new Egypt will turn into a democratic country, which could rally the other Arab countries Nevertheless, a powerful Egypt could pose some risks too, as we could see under the Nasser regime.
At this point, we have to understand that the most threatening prospect of the current processes in the Middle East is not the new order that hostile actors could create, but rather the emerging chaos that an intensifying power struggle in the region would cause. Today our main concerns should be the spread of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, the illegal mass migration to Europe, and the eroding security of trading and supply routes together with the violence committed against the local populations: Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. The situation is bad and we do not see any sign of stabilization in the near future. With the rise of China, India and other emerging powers, combined with the steady decline of the United States (due to its unmanageable public debt and other factors), the European Union will face a completely new international situation. The resources of the Middle East will become even more precious targets for other global powers than they are today and therefore the fight for them will be even more ruthless. If Europe wants to create a vision for itself and therefore the international order, it has to protect its vital interests in its surrounding and also the civilian population against local and also global actors, because this is what the European Union stands for. The expanding integration has the potential to fulfill these tasks, but it has to make a steady commitment to certain values, not just in rhetoric, but in its actions too. This will not be an easy shift from the Cold War routine, where Uncle Sam would protect the weak Western European countries against the Soviet Union. Truly standing on our feet will be costly, but the price we all would have to pay will be much higher if we continue to ignore the threatening signs. The peoples of the Middle East and Europe need a positive vision and an increased cooperation between these actors is one of the key tools to deliver this beneficial outcome, which is a more assertive Europe that can protect itself and contribute to a stable and prosperous world order.