Relations between Turkey and most European countries have seriously deteriorated as of late. The ambiance is so odd that even chiefs of intelligence agencies from Europe are criticizing Turkey in the press.
The lack of diplomatic tact, mutual respect, and minimum understanding between allies, has harmed not only government-to-government relations, but they have also damaged, unfortunately, mutual perceptions in public opinion.
Despite this negative ambiance, the United Kingdom has proved, once again, it is quite a different country from the rest of Europe.
This year’s gathering at the Turkish-British Tatlıdil Forum, held in Antalya last weekend, offered a good example about the difference between the U.K. and a number of continental European countries.
The Tatlıdil Forum brought together leading figures from academia, the business world, politics and media to strengthen relations between the two countries. It showed how criticism can be made in a gentlemanly manner, without hurting one’s interlocutor’s feelings, and in order to win hearts, not to break them.
During the meetings, the participants were all very constructive; they tried to find ways to cooperate more, despite setbacks and evident challenges.
The forum’s very existence proves that the U.K. and Turkey share the same analysis about many regional and international issues. The participants have expressed the two countries’ determination to cooperate better in the fight against terrorism, to preserve Syria’s and Iraq’s territorial integrity and to make sure no state uses terrorist groups as instruments of foreign policy.
Moreover, the two countries have expressed their common unease about the growing Russian and Iranian influence in the Middle East.
Both countries are also worried about the Donald Trump administration’s economic protectionism, its unwillingness to engage in the Middle East and the U.S. president’s comments on NATO.
Angela Merkel’s attitude of reinforcing German influence within the EU is also perceived as a common problem.
Beside these shared analyses, the best part of the meeting was its working principle: both countries are aware of the disagreements, but they prefer to talk about the matters they agree on. Thus, they don’t allow disagreements to block communication.
The U.K. is trying to figure out how to build closer economic, commercial, cultural, political and military relationships with Turkey after the Brexit.
Turkey, too, has to study how Brexit will affect Turkey’s relations with the U.K., given the rules of the Turkey-EU customs union.
It is good to start thinking about those right away, in order to be ready when Brexit becomes effective.
If we take the participants’ declarations into account, we can say that a strategic rapprochement between the U.K. and Turkey is very likely in the near future.
In fact, even the EU may be happy to hear that, considering it another way to get rid of the “Turkey problem.”
We don’t know yet, however, what kind of post-Brexit relationship the U.K. will have with the EU. With or without membership, Turkey wants to improve economic ties with the EU.
Nevertheless, if the EU decides to push the two countries away, the U.K. and Turkey won’t hesitate to build a solid and institutionalized framework for cooperation, as the Tatlıdil Forum proves.
We don’t know if the EU wants to get surrounded like this.
Some EU countries seem to be ready to give up on Turkey, but they’d better think twice, given the Brexit atmosphere. In any case, Turkey has always been careful in its relations with the U.K., and it is a chance for the latter to keep the channels of dialogue and cooperation open, even during the most trying times.