Since the signing of the Ankara Agreement in 1963, Turkey It was one of the closest partners of the then European Economic Community. With the signing of the agreement for a Customs Union in 1995 and its consideration as a suitable candidate for accession, it seemed that relations between the Eurasian country and the Union were at their best. Following the rise to power of President Tayyip Erdogan, relations between the Union and Turkey have been deteriorating, until reaching the current situation.
The government of Erdogan, aware of the geostrategic situation in Turkey, has tightened the rope on more than one occasion to exercise pressure on its European neighbors. Its privileged geographical position, bordering on Iran and Iraq and being the country that moves the Syrian war away from the borders of the Union, makes it a main actor to solve important geostrategic challenges. This role has come to interfere in the EU’s own policies, since most of the refugees from the Syrian war who have entered Europe have entered through Turkey and – on many occasions – with the consent of the authorities (causing one of the biggest humanitarian crises in decades).
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Turkey continues to open military fronts throughout the region and is already present in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Eastern Mediterranean and Nagorno-Karabakh
Likewise, since gas was discovered in 2013 in the Eastern Mediterranean, conflicts over the delimitation of territorial waters between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey have been increasing. The Cypriot government, following Turkish explorations, has requested on more than one occasion the imposition of sanctions on Turkey. The drilling in the seabed would not only have caused seismic movements in parts of Greece and Cyprus, but also would have violated – according to these countries – their territorial sovereignty. Despite the lack of a common front within the European Union regarding sanctions against Turkey, The Union has already imposed sanctions against Turkish citizens related to the Government, as well as against companies involved in oil exploration and those who support them.
In addition to tightening the rope with the EU, Turkey also has diplomatic disagreements with the United States. Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, the intersection of accusations and the clash between the two powers has increased, at first they were the accusations of the then vice president, Joe Biden, on the possible financing that the Turkish Government was providing to Al-Nusra (one of the local affiliates of Al-Qaeda), the support of the American troops to the Kurdish militias or the increasing rapprochement between the Turkish Government and Russia from Vladimir Putin. The constant friction has led the Erdogan government to also consider Turkey’s possible exit from NATO, which would mean the definitive break with the West.
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At the height of this dispute, the statements of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, about Islam, caused a new clash between Tayyip Erdogan and the European Union. The Turkish president questioned the mental health of the French leader and called on other Muslim countries to boycott French products as a gesture of protest.
All these acts have been rejected by the European Union, which has been verified through the High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell who has expressed, together with Parliament and the Commission, their rejection of both President Erdogan’s personal attacks and the boycott of French products, which is contrary to the tariff agreements in force between Turkey and the Union. In addition, the turbulent situation in Cyprus has also led to the imposition of economic sanctions by the Union as well as to rethink the commercial relationship that gives a status singular and preferential to Turkey.
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As is always the case when international sanctions turn out to be the tool of choice, the main losers are foreign companies who have made investments and are already present in the market. As for Spanish companies, Turkey has become one of its preferred investment destinations having increased investments from 2012 to 2019 between 3 and 4% per year. In addition to Spanish investment, commercial relations are intense given that Turkey is one of the main destinations for Spanish exports of automobiles and other metallurgical resources, while Turkey -for its part- exports a large quantity of textile products to Spain.
The risks posed by diplomatic tension and instability impairs trade relations with Turkey. In particular, the legal certainty on which the foreign investments already established and that bet on the Ottoman country as a developing market and regional ‘hub’ rest (as it enjoys a privileged position as a gateway to the markets of its surroundings). Proof of your promotion and ambition from the local authorities of consolidate Istanbul as ub financial and commercial of the region is the Istanbul Financial Center project, which aims to turn Istanbul into a center for business by 2022.
However, the Turkish government does not seem to be concerned about the increase in tension and is sparing no effort in clashing head-on with its European allies and the United States. It would seem that Erdogan’s dream of asserting Turkish influence over the region passes – with the support of Russia – through feel comfortable on the target.
* José María Viñals Camallonga. Socio en Squire Patton Boggs.