The Informal End of Turkey-E.U. Relations after Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Demise

This article was written by Marin Constantin-Alexandru

The paradigm shift in Turkish Foreign Policy was first registered in 1999 with fundamental changes in the basic practices, concepts and principles which structured the foreign policy. A political rapprochement between the two historic enemies Greece and Turkey was observed and also, Turkey was granted E.U. candidate country status at the December European Council of the same year. This fact encouraged Ankara’s political elites to develop a more democratic, proactive and less hard-security foreign policy, departing from the powerful military and the Kemalist[1] establishment of the 1990s.

Further developments were made once the Justice and Development Party (AKP or JDP) came to power in 2002, giving shape to a more aggressive independent foreign policy, especially in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire, phenomenon called ”neo-Ottomanism”[2] by scholars. The period that started in 2002 and continues until the present moment is also known as the AKP era, reflecting prominently in the Foreign Affairs of the country. Nevertheless, the factors that shaped the Turkish Foreign Policy after 2000s were not only internal, but even external (regional and global) factors.


Internal Factors

  1. The most important change in Turkey’s approach to Foreign Policy at the beginning of the third millennium was the rise to power of the AKP in 2002[3]. The newly formed political party has successfully created an innovative framework in order to respond to the regional and international trends, Turkey improving relations with its neighbors (including Syria, Iran and Iraq) and launching its own ”Kurdish Initiative” for a better integration of its own Kurdish population. This new diplomatic activism permitted Turkey even to play the role of a mediator in a range of conflicts (between Lebanese factions, Pakistan and India, Syria and Israel, Hamas and Fatah, and more recently Iraq and Syria), becoming an all-round regional player and diplomatic activist.
  2. The personality of the political leaders plays also a significant role in structuring the Foreign Policy, with the President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the former Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu being the main actors. A good case in point is Erdoğan’s behavior at the WEF (World Economic Forum) in 2009, when he stormed off the stage during a debate in which President Shimon Peres defended Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. This gave Erdoğan domestic and regional recognition. However, the former P.M., Davutoğlu was the main architect of the Foreign Policy that Turkey is following nowadays. After the failure of the ”Turkish Model”[4] project in the early 1990s, the Prime Minister initiated the ”Strategic Depth” doctrine[5], fundamented on five principles: (1) balance between security and democracy, (2) zero problems towards neighbors, (3) proactive and preemptive peace diplomacy, (4) multidimensional foreign policy and (5) rhythmic diplomacy.
  3. Another relevant domestic event for the Foreign Policy was the Turkish military losing of power, following the democratization of the civil-military relations that began in early 2000s.
  4. The increasing gaining influence of the public opinion, especially in the Cyprus and Armenian issues from 2004 and 2008-2009 and the Kurdish Problem from the South-Eastern part of the country.
  5. Besides the political sphere, there are newly emerging elites and actors from different state sectors, such as: Ministries of energy, trade, development and business associations.


External Factors

  1. The end of the Cold War (with the disappearance of the bipolar structure of the international system) and the rise of U.S. as the sole global superpower definitely affected the dynamics of the Middle East and implicitly of the Turkish Republic (War in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the Bush Doctrine involving the War on Terror).
  2. Geopolitical and geoeconomic significance of the region and also Turkey’s geography (new pipelines and strategic cooperation projects that involve Turkey), determining Turkey’s reorientation towards the Balkans, Caucuses and Central Asia and ongoing competition with Iran, U.S. and the Russian Republic.
  3. The 2011 Arab Spring, the development of the war in Syria and the management of the migrant waves, passing through Turkey, being a good opportunity for re-strengthening the Turkey-E.U. relations and bringing again into discussion the E.U. integration issue.
  4. Iranian Nuclear Program that can destabilize the equilibrium in the region.
  5. Increasing anti-Muslim attitudes and nationalist movements in Europe and around the world.

One of the most significant factors that has the ability to structure the Foreign Policy of Turkey after 2000 is, however, a domestic one, more precisely the personality of individual leaders with a central focus on the figures of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ahmet Davutoğlu. As founder of the AKP in 2001, Prime Minister of Turkey from 2003 to 2014 and President of the country from 2014, Erdoğan is definitely a charismatic leader that has great political potential and influence even in the international arena. This fact has been seen in 2009 at the World Economic Forum[6], when a great confrontation occurred between Israeli President Peres and P.M. Erdoğan, who condemned Israel for its attitude towards the Lebanon and Gaza wars, saying things that no one before dared to say.

From that moment on, many international observers of the Middle East have declared that ”Turkey’s Foreign Policy is in ruins”, because of Erdoğan’s grandiose ideas of his role in the world and his desire to transform Turkey into a strong presidential system. Also, after having established close relations with the Assad regime in Syria, Erdoğan broke with his ally, because of his intention to replace Assad by a friendly Sunni-based alliance.

All these factors contributed to Erdoğan’s facing three interlinked challenges[7] that could decisively affect the Foreign Policy of the country:

  1. His relentless pursuing of a constitutional change that would allow him to centralize executive powers in the presidency and the critique that came from the Western democracies.
  2. The escalating conflict with the Kurds which threaten their complete break with the Turkish state.
  3. The deterioration of the Syrian situation promises to weaken relations with the U.S., as Washington strengthened its ties with the Syrian Kurds.

An important number of scholars accuse that Turkish foreign policy is no longer about Turkey, but about Erdoğan, his omnipresence and unchallenged position. Thus, it is claimed that the present state of affairs is the product of his worldview, whims and preferences which caused the ups and downs of the Turkish Foreign policy. But, what missed the European and American supervisors is the fact that Erdoğan’s expansive personality was counterbalanced in matters of Foreign Affairs, by the more prudent and tough-minded Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Academician, former diplomat, Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2009 until 2014, leader of the Justice and Development Party and Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu was the main architect of the Turkish Foreign Policy at the beginning of the third millennium. Thus, it is virtually impossible to discuss Turkish Foreign Policy since 2002 without mentioning his name.

Under the AKP administration, the Turkish Foreign Policy was developed by Davutoğlu, the main principles being listed in his seminal 2001 publication ”Strategic Depth”. As chief advisor of the former P.M., Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on matters of Foreign Affairs from 2003 to 2009, Davutoğlu had a special professional relation with the actual President, being one of the privileged academics which were given the opportunity to put their theory into practice.

Based on a pan-Islamist[8], neo-Ottomanist and anti-Muslim Brotherhood[9]-oriented policy, the present configuration of the Foreign Policy is centered on the following issues: Turkey’s leading role in different regional contexts, liberal elements as conflict resolution and mediation processes, soft power usage, promotion of ”win-win” solutions, the development of a proactive policy commensurate to the country historic and geographic depth and the putting aside of the prominent militaristic image of Turkey. Implementing these concepts in his doctrine, Ahmet Davutoğlu pushed the Foreign Policy approach of Turkey towards a new phase and a paradigm shift, being an extremely influential actor from this point of view.

Davutoğlu’s holistic understanding of the historical and global trends in the 2000s determined him to conceive the foreign policy of  his country based on a sense of active agency and not a reactionary one. Successfully defending the conditions of freedom and security at home, Turkey reoriented its strategy towards a reconnection with people from the region (Syria, Iran, Iraq etc.), promoting an independent foreign policy. Davutoğlu’s new multilateral framework emphasized a valued-oriented approach, with democracy, human rights and popular legitimacy being the main components, as was easily observed in Turkey’s unconditionally supporting the demands of the Arab people in the 2011 uprisings[10].

Following a rift with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ahmet Davutoğlu resigned as prime minister on May 5, 2016 clearing the way for Erdogan to accumulate yet more power. He stepped down as leader of the ruling party, ending a market-roiling struggle over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s quest for greater powers while opening a new chapter of uncertainty in a country pursuing closer ties with the European Union. Since that moment, Erdoğan has been pursuing an “Asiatic model” of development, consolidating power with the help of a small group of unelected advisers. In these conditions,  bad policy choices might well result, damaging long-term growth prospects; the referendum for constitutional change in April won by the pro-Erdoğan party is a proof in this sense.

In conclusion, among a multitude of internal and external factors that shaped the Foreign Policy of the Turkish Republic after 2000, the individual leaders play a major role in the overall equation. Counterbalancing an expansionist Erdoğan, Ahmet Davutoğlu succeeded in promoting a growing economy, democratizing regime and willingness to spread globalization on a regional and global basis. After his demise everything changed in Turkey and will definitely change more, especially the relation with the European Union, from bad to worse.

[1] Eric J. ZURCHER, ”Turkey: A Modern History”, New York, J.B. Tauris and Co Ltd., 2000, p. 181.

[2] Kubilay Yado ARIN, ”The AKP’S Foreign Policy, Turkey’s Reorientation from West to East?”, Berlin, Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Berlin, 2013.

[3] Steven A. COOK, ”Recent History: The Rise of the Justice and Development Party”, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

[4] Tuğal CIHAN, ”The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism”, New York and London, Verso, 2016.

[5] ”The Davutoglu effect” available on-line at:, October 21, 2010.

[6] Geoffrey Allen PIGMAN, ”The World Economic Forum- A Multi-Stakeholder Approach to Global Governance”, New York City, Routledge, 2009, p. 176.

[7] Ahmet DAVUTOĞLU, ”Turkey’s Zero Problems” in Foreign Policy Journal, May 20, 2010.

[8] Friedrich BISSENOVE, ”Neo-Ottomanism, Pan-Islamism and the Caliphate; Discourse at the Turn of the 20th Century”, American University in Cairo: The Middle East Studies Program 2013.

[9] Andrea MURA, ”The Symbolic Scenarios of Islamism: A Study in Islamic Political Thought”, London, Routledge, 2015.

[10] L. ANDERSON, ”Demystifying the Arab Spring: Parsing the Differences between Tunisia, Egypt and Libya” in Foreign Affairs Journal, May-June 2011.

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