EU told to improve relations with Turkey to boost role in Middle East peace process

Former German ambassador advises against abandoning Ankara

Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, says Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan is used to winning elections, but that might change in the future. Reuters
Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, says Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan is used to winning elections, but that might change in the future. Reuters

The European Union must forge stronger links with Turkey to help secure a greater role in the Middle East peace process, a leading German diplomat said at a virtual webinar on Tuesday.

Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, who served as German ambassador in Washington from 2001 to 2006, told Mohammed Alardhi, executive chairman of Bahrain-based alternative asset manager Investcorp, it was in the EU’s interest to improve relations with Turkey.

“We don't do it for the sake of Turkey, we do it for ourselves," said Mr Ischinger, who also served as ambassador in London, former deputy foreign minister for Germany and sits on Investcorp's international advisory board.

“I cannot imagine how we, the EU, could conduct a meaningful role in the greater Middle East if we tried to do it against our big neighbour Turkey. We need Turkey on our side if we want to play a role in Iran, in Syria and in the other conflict regions of the world. We should not abandon Turkey but keep the door open.”

Mr Ischinger's comments came as tension between Palestine and Israel escalated this week after Israeli efforts to expel scores of Palestinian families from an East Jerusalem neighbourhood. On Monday, Israeli police stormed Al Aqsa Mosque and more than 720 Palestinians were injured in the resulting clashes.

Mr Ischinger said the conflict was concerning and he regretted “more than anything else” the EU’s failure to play a more active role in the Middle East peace process.

“We, in the EU, have tended to be seen as bystanders rather than as active shapers and helpers and participants in an effort to help bring peace to this region in particular," he said.

“The European absence from peacemaking efforts in Syria, or Libya and other regional crises over the last decade or so is extremely worrisome. I hope that Europe will begin to understand that if we don't manage to play a more proactive role in Middle East war and peace issues, the unrest, the extremism, the terrorism, the fallout of these conflicts will tend to come our way.”

Smoke billows from Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement. Tensions between Palestine and Israel have escalated this week. AFP
Smoke billows from Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement. Tensions between Palestine and Israel have escalated this week. AFP

While Mr Ischinger described the EU’s relationship with Turkey as “fairly bad”, that may not be the case in the future, he said.

“In terms of future membership of Turkey in the EU, the perspectives are dark and practically non-existent but it is very possible for me to imagine that in the next couple of years that could change again,” he said.

“President Erdogan is used to winning every election. According to the polling, there is now growing opposition in the country. Where will he need to go if he needs help to bolster his own economy? He will need once again to turn to these partners in Europe. So, if you accept the principle of strategic patience, my advice would be ‘let's not abandon Turkey’.”

Germany this week sought to offer a European olive branch to Turkey, telling Ankara that it could send a positive signal to the EU by pulling its troops out of Libya.

A personal feud between French President Emmanuel Macron and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan was developing into a long-term geopolitical rivalry between the two countries, a new report from the French Institute of International Relations said.

The pair have clashed over a series of issues, including Libya, Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Mr Ischinger said he had always been against the EU’s decision to end negotiations about Turkish membership.

"President Erdogan will not be the president of Turkey for the next 200 years,” he said. “There will be a successor at some time, and the possibility exists that Turkey will once again turn more to Europe, and we should offer Turkey this opportunity.”

He said Europe needed to engage in the Middle East peace process and recognise the region as one of the strongest trading and economic blocs in the world.

“Too often, we seem too divided on how to bring to bear the rational voice, the peace voice of the EU," Mr Ischinger said.

"This is really a wake-up call that I hope will remind Europeans that we should not stand aside as conflicts break out again.”

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Published: May 11, 2021 08:38 PM

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