Zeynep Özler, a Turkish expert for the Economic Development Foundation (IKV), sets out her viewpoint about Turkey's situation within the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).
A project of “Mediterranean Union” as proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy during his electoral campaign in early 2007 and which later evolved into “Union for the Mediterranean” was set up to serve basically three objectives. The success of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) can be evaluated against the yardstick of progress achieved in these areas. These are addressing the marginalization of the Mediterranean in the world economy, tackling the shortcomings of the EU’s Mediterranean policy and reinforcing the role of France in the Mediterranean.
In the context of EU policy-making, UfM is not a brand-new project but rather a ‘polished’ Barcelona Process. Although established in 2008, the UfM became operational only recently. While the EU, a Union of 27 members, is criticized for slow decision-making and significant red tape, it becomes harder in the UfM, a Union of 43 members with varying and at times conflicting interests to reach consensus on major areas. Although the founding motto of the UfM, which is to promote stability and prosperity in the region is highly ambitious as well as vague in nature, in reality the success of the UfM is dependent on the quality and quantity of the available working projects that have the power to bring tangible positive benefits to the region. Unfortunately, to date, no flagship projects can be uttered or most of the prominent projects are said to be under the pipeline.
Looking at the composition of the members of the UfM, apart from the common denominator of belonging in the Mediterranean, one can hardly find a common ground for improving further cooperation. Furthermore, the major dividing lines or a set of chronic problems (Israel-Palestine, Sahara and Turkey-Cyprus) render policy formulation virtually impossible. Such being the case, there should be overarching interests and objectives to transcend the present disagreements and hostilities, which prevent the UfM from moving ahead. This is non-existent for the time-being.
The recent uprisings in the North Africa and Middle East have shown that the UfM has failed considerably in delivering concrete reforms in the region. The recent calls by several EU Member States to change the EU neighbourhood policy and the UfM to allow the EU to accompany the transition and reforms in progress in the region is a manifest display of this. There is urgent need to ‘redesign’ the UfM. The current developments, which point to the collapse of the UfM might either be a window of opportunity for revision of the project or lead to its ultimate deterioration.
Where does Turkey stand in all of this? In the first place, Turkey has been hesitant and suspicious about joining the UfM. The discomfort arose from the fact that UfM is the brainchild of Sarkozy, who is vocal about opposition to Turkey’s EU membership and whether Sarkozy’s ulterior motive was to keep Turkey out of the EU by offering the backbone of the UfM instead. Although the assurances that UfM is not a viable alternative to Turkey’s EU membership are not perceived as totally persuasive, Turkey does not want to be excluded from the regional cooperation mechanisms in line with its multilateral foreign policy, especially in a geography, where it plays a strategic role and has vested interests.
To date, Turkey has not reaped any particular benefits by being in the UfM but has preserved its prominent role and used it as a pragmatic political tool to continue to assert its influence in the region and to make sure that it is not sidelined in any of the ongoing and planned initiatives and projects, be it energy security or civil society dialogue, but making sure at every step that it is not a substitute but rather a supplement to the EU membership. At this moment of ‘winds of change’, it is best to watch from a distance the new shape of things, before taking further steps in or out of the UfM.
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Source photo : Zeynep Özler