Turkey emerged as an important intermediary and potential facilitator of talks between Ukraine and Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, moving away from its relative isolationism of recent years and renewing Ankara’s traditional foreign policy of political dialogue and engagement with all its neighbours.
This policy reset delivered a diplomatic success over the summer with the agreement in Istanbul of a deal between Ukraine, Russia and the UN aimed at resuming Ukrainian grain exports blocked by Russia.
This success, coupled with Turkey’s attempts to improve its relations with Western partners as well as regional players, spurred new interest in Turkey-Europe cooperation on both sides, and instilled a sense of optimism for what this new departure might bring in the coming years.
In Europe, the political context had also evolved. After the bitterness of Brexit, the European Political Community inaugurated in Prague in October had brought a possible new framework to improve relations between partners and neighbours. Although there was lukewarm enthusiasm for the EPC in Germany and France, it had the potential to provide a new context for warming up engagement and cooperation not only with important partners like Turkey but also with the United Kingdom. One sign of this potential détente was the announcement in Prague of a possible path for the UK to re-join the North Seas Energy Cooperation mechanism post-Brexit.
In order to explore these themes, the Club of Three held a webinar on the 12th of December in collaboration with the Istanbul-based Global Relations Forum (GRF), building on past cooperation with GRF in 2014 and 2015 during which two senior-level meetings on Europe-Turkey relations were held in Paris and Istanbul respectively.
Some 40 senior figures from business, politics and diplomacy in France, the UK, Germany and Turkey took part in the December event.
The discussion focused on the role that Turkey could play internationally in the context of the war in Ukraine, NATO, and within the EPC. Attention was also paid to the prospect of change following 2023’s general election, specifically in terms of future foreign policy. It was led on the Turkish side by Selim Yenel (President of GRF; Former Undersecretary at the Turkish Ministry of EU Affairs and Turkey’s Ambassador to the EU). On the European side, the two main speakers were Hürcan Aslı Aksoy (Deputy Head of the Centre for Applied Turkey Studies (CATS) at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs); and Charles Grant (Director of the Centre for European Reform).
Participants included: Andreas Nick (Partner, Brunswick (Berlin); Member of German Bundestag 2013-21); Hikmet Çetin (Former Speaker of the Turkish Parliament and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs); Sir David Logan (Vice President, British Institute at Ankara; British Ambassador to Turkey 1997-2001); Joachim Bitterlich (Member of the Scientific Committee, Institut du Bosphore); Yaşar Yakış (Former Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs); Mehmet Onaner (Former Turkish Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN); William Wells (Executive Vice Chairman, Central & South Eastern Europe, Rothschild & Co); Sir Dominick Chilcott (British Ambassador to Turkey 2018-22); Douglas McWilliams (Deputy Chairman, Centre for Economics and Business Research); Bernard Spitz (President Europe and International, French Business Confederation MEDEF); and Murat Karayalçın (Member of Board of Directors, Bayek A.Ş.; Former Turkish Foreign Minister).