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Turkey ploughs own furrow as Mideast and EU ties worsen 27 septembre 2013

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Financial Times (UK) 27 September 2013, p. 4

By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul

For years, the overarching question about Turkey was whether the country would become more at home in the Middle East or instead continue its decades-long journey towards European standards.

Now an answer has come closer into view: neither of the above. Relations with both regions are in a parlous state.

Much has changed since Recep Tayyip Erdogan , Turkey’s normally irrepressible prime minister, last strode through the UN’s corridors in 2011, just a month after being acclaimed by appreciative crowds in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – the countries of the Arab spring.

At that time, Turkey argued that increasing trade with the Middle East helped to reduce its dependence on Europe. For the first seven months of this year, however, Turkish exports to the Middle East and the Caucasus fell by 13 per cent compared with the previous year.

In August the United Arab Emirates announced it was delaying a $12bn investment in a coal plant Ankara had hoped would reduce its $60bn-a-year energy import bill and provide more secure financing for Turkey’s hefty current account deficit. Taner Yildiz, energy minister, said he hoped the reason for the delay was not political.

But it may well have been. The Middle East, where Turkey once unfurled its ambitions, has become a set of problems apparently without solutions for Mr Erdogan. Syria is an enemy; Iran and Iraq line up behind it; Lebanon is a no-go zone after the kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots.

Moreover, following the Egyptian coup, a second front has opened up. Turkey, which backed the Muslim Brotherhood, had previously announced a $2bn aid package for the government of Mohamed Morsi, the ousted president. Now Saudi Arabia and the UAE are subsidising his military successor, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose government has made clear that Turkish television soap operas are no longer welcome in Egypt and is making life difficult for Turkish exporters. Against such a backdrop, the UAE’s decision to hold off its $12bn investment in Turkey is hardly surprising.

The European outlook is also overcast, if less dramatic. When Angela Merkel criticised Turkey’s crackdown on protesters in June, Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s Europe minister, suggested the German chancellor’s chances of political survival could not be taken for granted. His concerns appear to have been misplaced, given Ms Merkel’s resounding re-election this week.

Meanwhile, Mr Bagis recently predicted that European « prejudice » would prevent Turkey from joining the EU, although he insisted the country would attain European standards all the same.

Some Turkish officials also took the decision to give Tokyo the 2020 Olympics as a slight by European countries.

Neither the Arab revolutions nor Europe’s attack of introversion is the Turkish prime minister’s doing. If the landscape he surveys has altered so much in recent years, the causes primarily lie elsewhere. But Mr Erdogan’s critics charge that Turkey’s problems are exacerbated by the way he hits out at perceived enemies – and former allies – both at home and abroad.

Some changes are on the horizon. Mr Erdogan is about to unveil a « democratisation package » that promises to expand rights for minorities and could soothe tensions at home and with the EU. Turkey is continuing its campaign for a seat in the UN Security Council from 2015 – the vote will be a marker of the country’s international standing.

But Turkey’s regional problems rumble on. And they cannot be dismissed as mere foreign policy. Turkey houses half a million Syrian refugees and the war is bleeding across the 900km border.

No wonder Mr Erdogan feels left in the lurch by the US’s decision not to launch some form of military intervention. And no wonder he decided not to travel to New York to meet the world leaders with whom he used to get on so much better.

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