Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Divining Davutoglu

Perhaps the most important part of Turkey's recent cabinet reshuffle was the appointment of Ahmet Davutoglu as the country's foreign minister. As a senior advisor to both prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and president and former foreign minister Abdullah Gul, Davutoglu has largely been responsible for the impressive strides Turkey has made in terms of foreign affairs. In many ways, the AKP's greatest success has been in terms of its foreign affairs, where it has managed to radically change the way it relates to its neighbors and to dramatically raise its regional profile. By appointing Davutoglu to be foreign minister (replacing the mostly powerless Ali Babacan), Erdogan has now brought the wizard out from behind the curtain, something which raises some significant questions about which way Turkish foreign policy might go from here.

In a new analysis for the German Marshall Fund, Soli Ozel -- a professor at Istanbul's Bilgi University and one of the sharper commentators in Turkey -- takes a look at what Davutoglu's appointment might bring, particularly regarding Turkey-EU relations. From his piece:
By making this exceptional appointment, (Davutoğlu is not a member of Parliament and extra-Parliamentary appointments are rare in Turkey in normal times) Erdoğan put Davutoğlu in a position whereby he will have to bear the political responsibility of the policies he devises and implements....

....Turkey seeks to be surrounded by regions that are stable. Beyond the obvious reason of not wanting to face violent conflicts on its borders, this desire for stability reflects the primacy of economic interests in the making of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey regards the neighboring countries as potential trade partners and any deepening of economic interdependence is seen both as beneficial for Turkish businesses as well as enhancing political stability. To this end, the preference in foreign policy choices is for engagement with all plausible actors. I have also contended that Turkey’s relations with the West would be dominated by its links to the United States so long as the sclerosis of the European Union and the comatose nature of the relations between Turkey and the European Union continue. Such a situation presents problems for Turkey’s domestic reform process though, since, in the absence of the disciplining impact of EU accession, Turkey moves too slowly on deepening its democratization.

Such was the context in which Davutoğlu was appointed and the most serious question raised about his term concerned relations with the European Union. EU relations are not solely a foreign policy matter for Turkey and reflect the inclinations and intentions of the government in general, not just the foreign minister. However, Davutoğlu’s earlier, dismissive assess¬ment of the accession process, relegating this to just technical developments in negotiations, led to speculations about the future of the relations under his stewardship.

Davutoğlu responded to the doubts and criticisms with a broad statement to EU ambassadors on Europe Day in which he presented his most comprehensive understanding of Turkey-EU relations to date. He argued that Turkey’s relations with Europe date back to the 11th century and that relations with the EU are just the latest episode of a long-standing engagement. Just as the Ottoman Empire reacted swiftly to epoch-changing developments in Europe (including the Treaty of Westphalia, the Vienna Conference, and World War I), and engaged in transformative political and social reforms, Republican Turkey is responding to the epochal changes of the post-Cold War era. As such, Turkey-EU relations are not conjectural and the goal of integration remains the mainstay of Turkish foreign policy. In his view, Europe’s vision and Turkey’s vision were complementary and the synergy that would come out of these relations would place Europe in an influential position in world affairs. Such a role for Europe, he added, was something that the world needed.
You can read the full piece here (pdf).

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