5: Relations with the EU
As early as 1963, the Turks reached an association agreement with the EU , but since then development has been slow. At the Union’s summit in December 1999, Turkey was approved as a candidate country. Barely six years later, membership negotiations began. Today, these are stomping.
There has always been division within the EU about Turkey, with its more than 70 million Muslim inhabitants, being able to become an EU member. Among the biggest opponents are France and Germany. But countries in Central and Eastern Europe are also opposed. When the EU was to decide in the autumn of 2004 whether negotiations should begin, the liberal weekly magazine Profil in Austria wrote that “the Turks are standing at the gates of Vienna”. What the magazine referred to were the Ottoman attempts to conquer Vienna in 1529 and 1683. At that time, the Turks came with their soldiers. Now – hundreds of years later – a civilian Muslim invasion was under way. Profile was not alone in such opinions.
In addition to historical aspects and a certain Islamophobia, human rights violations and the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus (1974-) have been the main obstacles to Turkish membership of the EU. The AKP and Erdogan have liberalized legislation in a number of areas and, among other things, abolished the death penalty.
But the Turks are far less flexible when it comes to the Cyprus conflict. The EU has demanded that Turkey open its port areas and airports to the Greek Cypriots, who are EU members. The Turks say no because they believe it will mean recognition of the Greek Cypriot government on the island. For this reason, the EU has frozen negotiations on eight of a total of 35 chapters. Brussels has given the Turks a deadline of autumn 2009 to accept the requirements for airport and port openings.
While 73 percent of Turks wanted EU membership in 2004, an opinion poll in 2007 showed that this number had dropped to 40 percent . Many Turks believe that the EU is making too strict demands and that they will never achieve membership of the European Union. The poll in 2007 also showed that only 21 percent of EU citizens want Turkey as a member.
Turkish authorities believe that the country as an EU member can play an important geopolitical role and be a bridge-builder between the Christian-dominated Europe and the Muslim-dominated Middle East.
6: Relations with Iran and the Arab World
Ever since Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran in 1979, Turkey has been on a balance sheet with its Shiite Muslim neighbor. Since the AKP gained power in Turkey, relations with Iran have become more extensive, not least in terms of trade. But the moderate Sunni Muslim Islamists in Turkey are religiously far removed from the radical Shiite clergy in Iran.
Turkey has offered to mediate between Iran and the West in the controversial Iranian nuclear program. This is not just to try to play a major power role in the area; The Turks are also worried that Iran may acquire nuclear weapons. So far, nothing seems to have come out of this diplomatic initiative.
The relationship with the Arab world
Large parts of the Middle East were under the Ottoman Empire. Many Arabs felt oppressed by their Turkish rulers, and there is still much skepticism about Turkey in Arab countries. This has also had to do with Turkey’s relatively close relationship with Israel. For Turkey, the Middle East has not been at the top of the agenda either, but a clear change is underway. This has not least to do with the almost stalled EU negotiations.
According to plus-size-tips, Prime Minister Erdogan has recently visited Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. He has not been in the EU capital Brussels since 2005. Relations with Syria were strained for many years, not least because the Syrians accepted that the Kurdish PKK guerrillas were allowed to have bases in what was then Syrian-occupied Lebanon. Following Turkish pressure, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had to leave Syria in 1998, and relations between the two countries improved.
In May 2008, it became known that Israel and Syria had initiated indirect peace talks with Turkey as an intermediary . When Israel went to war in Gaza, Prime Minister Erdogan made it clear that the Turkish mediatorial role was over – without it having to mean anything in the long run.
Relations with Iraq have also been strained. This is not least due to the fact that the Iraqi Kurds, who are well represented in the Iraqi government, have established their own area of autonomy in northern Iraq. PKK troops are stationed there, and the Turkish army and air force have on a number of occasions attacked PKK targets inside northern Iraq. In recent times, however, relations with both the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq have improved.
Turkey will by all means avoid the establishment of a separate Kurdish state in Iraq for fear that it may lead to increased Kurdish nationalism in Turkey. At the same time, the Turks are interested in a peace settlement in Iraq, both for political and economic reasons.
Arab investors have recently shown greater interest in Turkey, which the country’s authorities are trying to take full advantage of. When President Abdullah Gül visited King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia in early February this year, he brought with him 150 Turkish businessmen.
The reactions after Prime Minister Erdogan’s performance in Davos suggest that in the future, Turkey can expect a further increase in Arab trade relations and investment.