ANKARA: Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean are overshadowing other areas of vital interest in the EU-Turkey partnership.
In July of this year, the European Union Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, described the febrile anti-Turkey atmosphere prevailing in the parliament in stark terms.
“I thought I saw in the Chamber that Pope Pius V had resurfaced calling for the Holy Catholic Alliance against Turkey and mobilising the troops of Christendom to face the Ottoman invasion,” said Borrell half-jokingly as European Union parliamentarians called for sanctions against Turkey.
Yet, joke or not, it revealed quite a bit about the psychology in the EU parliament as well as Greece’s ongoing lobbying efforts to push the bloc and Turkey into a crisis.
While France has sought to up the ante in the Eastern Mediterranean, Germany has attempted to mediate between Turkey and Greece in a bid to keep Turkey, one of the bloc’s most strategic partners, within its camp.
Turkey’s relationship with the EU however, is much broader and deeper than the bilateral issues it has with Greece.
Co-operation on migrants
Turkey is host to one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with around 4 million refugees.
The Syrian civil war, which is heading towards its tenth year, will continue to produce refugees for many years to come. Turkish-EU cooperation to manage this situation, and to continue to ensure a democratic and stable government emerges in Syria in the future, will be crucial.
Without Turkish-EU cooperation on Syria, a workable solution will be harder to find for its long-suffering people who seek stability.
The EU is already working alongside Turkey to alleviate the burden of the unprecedented volume of refugees it has been shouldering.
Earlier this year, Borrell said, with regards to the EU’s relationship with Turkey: “We have a common interest and that is to end the conflict in Syria. Only in this way will we be able to bring to an end the suffering of the civilian population and contribute to addressing the most significant challenges Turkey is currently facing.”
Turkey has several oil and gas pipelines that run through its territory, providing safe and reliable energy to Southern Europe and beyond.
Over the last two decades, as Europe has become increasingly reliant on Russian energy, it has also created a dependence that has made it difficult to speak out against Russian intervention in Ukraine.
Turkey provides European countries with a much-needed opportunity to retrieve energy from Azerbaijan, Iraq, and potentially one day from Iran, reducing dependence on Russian energy.
Last week’s discovery of gas in the Black Sea, also offers a tentative hope of further sizable discoveries that could boost Turkey’s economy and maybe even offer export opportunities.
Instability in the Middle East
In recent decades, as Turkey’s economic power has increased, it has become a net-provider of foreign aid in conflict-hit countries.
It was one of the first nations to establish direct commercial flights with Somalia, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the country in 2011, becoming the first international leader in decades to visit the war-torn country.
Since then, Turkey has become a significant provider of aid to Somalia. Turkey and the EU have similar goals in the African country, as they do in Syria, ensuring the fighting stops and its citizens are able to stand on their own feet.
Similarly, in Libya, another country in the midst of a civil war, Turkey and the EU have similar goals in that they hope to ensure the internationally-recognised UN government is able to establish its authority and pave the way for democratic elections.
Libya has become one of the main gateways of migrants into the EU, resulting in pressure on Italy and Malta.
Synchronising their policies on these issues, and other areas of common interests could ensure a win-win situation for the EU and Turkey.