On September 27, GMF Paris hosted an international seminar on the “New International Role of Turkey,” in cooperation with the Forum du Futur and the Association France-Amériques. Following introductory remarks by Ambassador Alfred Siefer-Gaillardin (Chairman, France-Amériques), Admiral Jean Bétermier (Chairman, Forum du Futur) and François Lafond (Director, GMF Paris office), discussions were held in three separate panels. These concentrated on Turkish foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s economic growth and its position as a regional energy hub, and the role Turkey can play as a conflict mediator in the Middle East and its position as strategic gateway to Central Asia. The first panel included GMF Senior Director for Foreign Policy and Civil society, Peter Van Praagh; Yasar Yakis, the former Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the EU Harmonization Commission of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey; and Deputy Chief of Staff to the French Minister of Justice Alexandre Jevakhoff. The debate was chaired by Michel Diefenbacher, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the France-Turkey Friendship Group at the National Assembly.
The speakers focused on the question of how to understand and analyze the evolution of Turkish foreign policy over recent decades and how the current AKP government position should be interpreted by Western partners. The panelists then questioned whether the new international role of the country should be considered as a sign of maturity of Turkish democracy, despite recent decisions that seem to be less in favor of the United States and a public opinion now less eager to join the European Union. The second panel included Director of GMF's Ankara Office, Ozgür Ünlühisarcýklý; Senior Vice President of International Relations at GDF Suez, Denis Simonneau, and Executive Co-Chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide, Stephane Fouks. The debate was chaired by Samir Aïta, Editor-in-Chief of Le Monde Diplomatique (Arabic edition). The participants talked of striking changes taking place within Turkey, with 2010 economic performance indicators illustrating real developments in the country’s domestic market. This was shown to be all the more the case in sectors such as energy, industrial production, corporate communications, and advertising – all areas where Turkey is naturally an attractive, respected and credible partner on the international scene. With energy security now becoming a growing concern, participants talked of the EU’s regard for Turkey as an influential energy corridor and its status as both supplier and consumer (2nd largest natural gas consumption growth per year, after China). The panelists then suggested Turkey’s unique culture and history offers real potential for both domestic creativity and enterprise, which can subsequently boost its markets.
The third panel included Member of Parliament of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, Özlem Türköne; Chair of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at Sciences Po, Professor Gilles Kepel; and Professor Ilter Turan of Bilgi University, Istanbul. The debate was chaired by Ambassador Jean-Claude Cousseran, former French Ambassador to Turkey and Secretary General of the Académie Diplomatique Internationale. The panelists started by explaining how Turkey, a mosaic of both the East and West, has managed to propose an alternative foreign policy strategy to address the complexities of the Middle East.
While Turkey is now emerging as a political leader in the region, a fact also supported by its impressive growth, the panelists pointed out that this new situation will also translate into a declining role for the historically strong Arab leadership in the region. It was then suggested that Turkey was motivated to adopt this new role in response to the threats posed by Iran’s nuclear program, regional terrorism, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his closing remarks, former French Minister for Foreign Affairs Hubert Védrine suggested that the EU must now consider Turkey as an essential strategic player, with whom it would have been honest to better assess the pros and cons of EU accession prior to commencing what will now be a lenthy process. Védrine also outlined support for Turkey’s current attitudes toward its neighbors, adding that he fully understood that Ankara does not only play a hypothetical European card anymore. In a very clear and realistic manner, he then presented an alternative scenario, outlining the possible attitudes of the 27 EU member states vis-a-vis the accession of Turkey to the European Union. In conclusion he said there was no doubt in his mind that Turkey is and will continue to play a key role on the international scene (and not only a regional one) and that a solution will have to be found to the current and unconstructive French/European positions.