The Pendulum of Turkish Foreign Policy

It is possible that when the crisis in Turkish-EU relations starts to cool down, the rapprochement phase with Russia will also come to an end as unresolved and new bilateral issues come to the fore.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has accused the European Union of humiliating Ankara and threatened to cancel the agreement to take back migrants if the EU fails to introduce visa-free travel with Turkey. The cooling in the relations between Ankara and the EU started after the attempted government coup in Turkey. Many European politicians argued that the large-scale purges that ensued within the Turkish society make visa-free travel impossible. Natalya Ulchenko, head of the Turkish Studies Department and senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of the Middle East at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, shared her perspective on the future of Turkey-EU relations and how they will be affected by the warming in Russian-Turkish relations.

After the failed military coup in Turkey, the country’s leaders and primarily its president had to make a show of strength by taking a series of spectacular moves on the domestic, as well as foreign policy fronts. This is what the supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party expected, coinciding with the willingness by the Turkish elites to challenge its traditionally close ties with the West, including not only the United States, but also the EU.

In its attempt to flare-up relations with the West, Turkey can use its rapprochement with Russia to its advantage. In fact, ever since the emergence of the bipolar world order, improving relations concurrently with the West and the USSR (Russia) has become a common feature in Turkish politics: more frequently than not, when Turkey sought to distance itself from the West it also pursued closer ties with our country, and vice versa. This is the first point. The second point is that the crisis unfolding within the EU provides Turkey with more room for maneuver in its relations with Europe.

In this case, Turkey’s insistence on a concrete demand to introduce visa-free travel for its citizens within a specific and very short timeframe is indicative of the causes and of the time of the crisis in Turkish-EU relations. Given the formal approach of the European bureaucracy, the EU is unlikely to include a visa-free arrangement among its concessions. The most Turkey can reasonably expect is an increase in financial assistance for resolving the migrant issue.

However, the main issue is not so much about the inevitable nature of the crisis, which by all accounts seems to yield Erdogan political dividends and is thus inevitable, as it is about its scale and duration. This dynamic is not infinite and has certain limits, as was the case in the crisis in Turkish-Russian relations.

The problem does not boil down to the EU being a crucial trade partner, accounting for some 40 percent of trade, over 40 percent of exports and about 40 percent of imports, and the main source of foreign direct investment and loans to Turkey. The quality of these relations is also an important element.

Turkey is a country with both imports and exports dominated by the so-called intermediate goods (70 and 50 percent, respectively), i.e. goods used to produce end products. The fact that trade with the EU is dominated by this kind of goods means that the Turkish industrial sector is, on the one hand, highly integrated into EU production chains, and on the other hand, shows that Turkish manufacturers depend on materials, parts, etc. coming from the EU.

While the crisis in the relations with Russia shed light on its importance for Turkey’s tourism sector, the crisis with European countries in terms of trade and production ties is a threat to the Turkish industry, let alone the economy’s institutional structure shaped according to European rules and standards, at least formally, as part of Turkey’s pre-accession initiatives.

In addition, it is also possible that when the crisis in Turkish-EU relations starts to cool down, the rapprochement phase with Russia will also come to an end as unresolved and new bilateral issues come to the fore. For example, Turkey could be irritated by Russia’s move to build closer ties with Iran. The pendulum will inevitably swing in the opposite direction.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.