Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the Europe Day celebrations to send a resolute message to the European Union. In fact, this is not the first time Ankara has approached the Brussels club with a request to speed up accession procedures, nor is it the first time it has been met with silence in response. Apparently, Turkey is not on the list of priorities for Eurocrats, who are determined to solve the pressing problem posed by the Kiev-Moscow dispute with loans and arms.

By Adrian Mac Liman

But Erdogan is trying to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. The unstable political situation resulting from the war-invasion in Ukraine, the prospect of a global energy and food crisis, the threat of a generalised confrontation that could lead to a nuclear conflict, are elements that should make us think about the future of our strategic alliances, the advantages or disadvantages of contemplating further enlargements of the EU family.

The Sultan puts forward compelling arguments, such as Turkey’s strategic importance for the EU in terms of security, migration, energy and supply chains, all of which have become more relevant since the start of the conflict in Eastern Europe. Turkey has waited a long time since 1999, when the EU formally accepted its candidacy for EU membership. It was the culmination of a process that began in the mid-1960s, when the modern country created by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk began its rapprochement with European institutions. Ankara tried to circumvent the obstacles, more economic than political, that hindered its progress towards its goal. Multiple crises forced Ankara to seek other avenues of integration, more in line with the Ottoman state’s historical tradition. The possibility of launching a diplomatic offensive in Central Asia and the Middle East region was considered, seeking to renew ties with the former fiefdoms of the Ottoman Empire. The geopolitical option, New Ottomanism, which envisages the recovery of the territories administered for centuries by the Sultans of Constantinople, became the workhorse of the Islamist Erdogan. The new Ottomanism is undoubtedly a doctrine very similar to that of Vladimir Putin, who dreams of rebuilding the Russia of the tsars. Less direct, Erdogan prefers to be more cautious.

In recent years, however, the Turkish leader has opted for greater visibility, for more prominence at the international level. On recent official trips, Erdogan has been critical of the handful of victorious countries of the Second World War – permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – that continue to control the destinies of the world.

It is true: a change in the world order has been brewing for some time. The West no longer has the economic and military power it had after the collapse of the USSR. However, Russia is the only nation that continues to stand up to globalisation. In a roundabout way, of course; open confrontation between the super majors seems inconceivable today. Middle powers such as Turkey find it extremely difficult to maintain balance when dealing with the Kremlin or the White House, both of which are very demanding rivals that seek to impose standards of behaviour unacceptable to the heirs of the Ottoman tradition.

Russia plays the card of neighbourhood, historical background and common or converging interests in Asia and the Caucasus region. For its part, America is banking on Turkey’s membership of the Atlantic Alliance, its strategic location, military cooperation and support – direct or indirect – for the Turkish state’s economy and finances. In return, it demands discipline, if not submission, in bilateral relations. This is hard to imagine in peacetime, let alone wartime. The latest measures taken by the White House and NATO – closure of the Bosporus to Russian warships, creation of rapid intervention brigades in Bulgaria and Romania, imminent integration of Finland and Sweden into the Alliance – are not to the Turkish authorities’ liking. But it would be inconceivable to rebel against Washington’s decisions. In these circumstances, the alternative is to play the Europe card to the hilt.

But alas, disappointment! Europeans do not count on Turkey in their strategic planning. The EU security compass, adopted by Brussels on 21 March, which outlines the measures the 27 members will take to defend themselves against new threats and challenges in the Mediterranean region, ignores the presence of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the area. In the opinion of those responsible for Ankara’s geostrategic policy, this is a narrow-minded approach. Either narrow-mindedness or deliberate neglect; Turkey is excluded from the EU’s defence plans. It is true that the Mediterranean has historically been the scene of confrontation between the fleet of the Sultans of Constantinople and the warships of the Christian League, some might say. Other times, some might say. Other times?

Needless to say, the EU’s security compass envisages the creation of an intervention corps of 5,000 officials (actually military) called upon to conduct manoeuvres on land, sea and air. The Turks regret having learned of their creation of the compass through the news.

More worrying may be the development of conflict in the Black Sea. The 1936 Montreux Convention on the Passage of the Straits gives Turkey surveillance of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, as well as the prerogative to facilitate or refuse passage of warships from outside the area. Until the end of the last decade, the presence of one or two Atlantic Alliance warships in the waters of the Negro Sea was tolerated. Anchored at Turkish, Bulgarian or Romanian naval facilities, the American, French or Dutch ships sought to evade Russian naval surveillance. The Kremlin systematically condemned their intrusion into a perimeter historically reserved for the Tsarist flotilla. But yes, times are changing; today, the White House is demanding that Turkey ban Russian warships from the Bosphorus. Quite an unpleasant mission for the cancerberus of the straits.

Banning Russian warships, facilitating the transit of cargo ships carrying tons of wheat, flour, sunflower oil, oil and other goods from Russia or Ukraine, turning the straits into customs posts separating the two worlds… Sad and risky mission for the heirs of the Ottoman Empire, supporters of regional integration and international cooperation.

But it is true: times have changed.