“Strategic blindness” is how Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Monday defined the obstruction of Türkiye’s European Union membership process. Fidan was speaking to his country’s ambassadors from around the world as a gathering of diplomats officially opened in the capital Ankara.
Fidan lamented how the bloc discussed the membership of some Balkan countries while thwarting Türkiye’s bid. “It is the gravest mistake in the Balkans to define Türkiye as an ‘outsider’ force, even a rival, in the region, through hypothetical, empty arguments. At a time when the membership of Moldova and Ukraine, all Balkan countries’ membership to the EU or NATO is on the table, it is strategic blindness to hinder Türkiye’s EU membership process. It is essential to have a visionary view of Turkish-EU relations in the new era and revive the process with the perspective of full membership,” Fidan highlighted. He added that an EU without Türkiye would not be truly a global actor.
Sitting on the southeastern corner of Europe, Türkiye has always been kept at a distance by the EU. It applied for membership in 1959, back when it was known as the European Economic Community (EEC). Although commercial ties flourished, Türkiye could not achieve its true ambition, that is, being a full member of the bloc. Decades later, in 2005, Türkiye-EU accession negotiations were launched, with the bloc listing a number of criteria for Türkiye to fulfill for full membership. Several “chapters” were opened as part of this mission to fulfill the criteria. Türkiye carried out several reforms, from the judiciary to governance, to meet the EU’s demands amid hostility from member states that decried Türkiye’s human rights record and the thorny Cyprus question.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month extended his hand to the EU for the revival of the membership process that came to an impasse, even after a landmark 2016 deal to curb the irregular migrant flow to EU countries. Erdoğan has urged the bloc to pave the way for membership just as Türkiye might pave the way for Sweden’s NATO membership, another thorny issue.
Fidan also spoke about Sweden's NATO membership, noting that all members of the military alliance should treat security threats and concerns of other countries equally. He also said “some NATO countries” should end “open or veiled cooperation” with the PKK terrorist group in Syria and Iraq, in a pointed reference to the U.S., which supplies logistics aid to the YPG, the Syrian wing of the terrorist group.
Fidan, a former intelligence chief who was appointed as minister after May 28 elections, said they would concentrate their efforts to adapt measures and embark on initiatives to reduce conflicts in the world, to maintain peace and security, while at the same time, “giving no room to terrorist groups and powers behind them, either in our country or in our region.”
The minister said that the next five years marking the new tenure of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which started after the May elections, are a historic opportunity to achieve Türkiye’s foreign policy goals.
“We will undauntedly work to bolster Türkiye’s position as an efficient, influential, fully independent actor that defines the international agenda and a gamechanger that can also spoil the plots of others,” he said. He also underlined that their vision was a fully national foreign policy independent of any outside influence, “shaped by values of our civilization, aiming to empower the integrity, security and prosperity of our state and nation based on our increasing capability, a foreign policy which will become a center of attraction.”
“We will work with other countries to establish an effective and inclusive international system that embraces humanity, eliminates global injustices, addresses economic inequalities and produces peace, security, stability and prosperity,” Fidan said. With the awareness that major changes require strategic patience and strong will, Türkiye will proceed with “modest but steady” steps, he added.
“While implementing these steps, we will act in line with four basic strategic goals. These are: To establish peace and security in our region, to establish our foreign relations on a structural basis, to develop an environment of prosperity and to advance our global goals,” Fidan stressed.
The biggest threat to security, peace and stability in Türkiye’s region is terrorist organizations and other proxy groups, the minister said. To this end, Fidan said Türkiye will continue fighting terrorists by stepping up its military, intelligence and technological capabilities at home while ensuring effective cooperation with friends abroad.
He reiterated Türkiye’s call for change in the current global system, “which fails to bring peace, justice and stability for most of the world.”
“We witness rivalry between major powers escalating tensions and polarization on a global level. The international system, further away from a balance, includes unforeseeable developments, and this fuels fragility,” he said.
For Türkiye, the United Nations Security Council is the most prominent example of an unjust international system. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long criticized the unrepresentative nature of the Security Council’s five permanent members. He argues that because the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia – use their veto power for their own interests, the disadvantaged countries are paying an “unfair price.”
“It is not possible for the U.N. Security Council, which acts by considering the priorities of only five permanent members, to prevent conflicts and establish peace, stability and security,” Erdoğan said last year. The president often summarizes this unjust system with his slogan, “The world is bigger than five.”
Fidan stated that the international system was exposed to simultaneous challenges in political, military, economic, environmental, technological and social fields. “We see several challenges, from armed conflicts and terrorism to irregular migration, xenophobia, Islamophobia and climate change, trigger, feed each other.” He pointed out that the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict further escalated the worries and introduced new challenges, from global inflation and stagnation to energy crises and food shortages.
The minister said they would insist on finding a way to end the Russia-Ukraine conflict and establish peace while noting that the recent escalation in the conflict was worrying. He said as executors of the Montreaux Treaty, their priority was maintaining calm in the Black Sea and preventing any moves that may endanger it.
“We will continue our talks with all sides to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative that affects every household in the world. Türkiye is the only actor capable of ensuring this,” he said.
He stressed that increased prosperity brought by globalization was not fairly shared internationally, and bodies tasked with international and regional governance were mostly insufficient to resolve the problems and at times, reluctant to solve them. “Some countries chart their course on their own while we see protectionism and discrimination increase in economic and social fields,” he underlined.
Speaking on Türkiye’s relations with its neighbors and reaction to developments in neighbors, Fidan pledged a consistent policy.
On Syria, he noted that they would remain a defender of the “political process to end the conflict in Syria, based on territorial integrity.” “We will exert efforts so that Syria will not be a haven for terrorist groups and an arena for proxy wars,” he said, referring to YPG and U.S. support for the terrorist group, as well as the role of other countries siding with the Assad regime.
Fidan noted that they would also speed up efforts for the safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. Russia’s long-standing effort to open a channel of dialogue between Türkiye and the Bashar Assad regime paid off last year, as the defense ministers and intelligence chiefs of Türkiye, Russia and the Assad regime met in Moscow. Any normalization between Ankara and Damascus would reshape the decadelong Syrian war. Turkish backing has been vital to sustaining the moderate Syrian opposition in their last significant territorial foothold in the northwest after Assad defeated opponents across the rest of the country, aided by Russia and Iran. The resumption of ties between Türkiye and the Assad regime also means relieving Türkiye’s burden of hosting Syrian refugees.
“We also advocate territorial integrity and political stability for Iraq and will support Iraq to weed out the terrorist groups in its territory, primarily the PKK,” he said.
On ties with Greece, Fidan noted that they were looking to adopt a “positive agenda” in relations with all neighbors. He said the current positive atmosphere between Türkiye and Greece prevailed and Türkiye was sincere in its efforts (to improve ties with Greece) and hoped Greece would exhibit the same sincerity.
Türkiye and Greece remain at odds over maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean, a dispute that affects irregular migration into the EU, mineral rights and the projection of military power. Türkiye says it is Greece turning to aggression, especially by arming Aegean islands close to Turkish shores, with the aid of, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently said, “their friends at the White House.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that he agreed with Erdoğan during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12 to initiate new “lines of communication” and to maintain “a period of calm.” High-level talks between the two countries are expected to take place in the Greek city of Thessaloniki later this year.