The participants at this Aspen European Dialogue session held in Istanbul observed that the problems being experienced by the euro area in the wake of the financial crisis are linked to certain global trends (particularly movements in commodity prices). These global pressures, it was noted, have in turn triggered or fueled popular uprisings in the Arab world, with glaring socio-political consequences. The close interconnections between the context within Europe and that on its “doorstep” have been thrown into sharp relief, with the events taking place in the Mediterranean underlining the great level of interdependence that exists between European economies and the rest of the international system. Accordingly, it was felt that any debate on the future prospects of European countries must fully take into account this complex and rapidly-evolving scenario.
The changes unfolding were seen as forming part of a wider process of modernization, which has suddenly (though not unforeseeably) picked up pace. Adopting a rational approach based on policies that are both long-term and not strictly regional in scale has therefore become a strategic priority: Europe must combine a capacity for rapid response to emergency situations with a comprehensive vision of its international role.
Indeed, the threat of contagion risks spreading beyond the countries currently affected, to take in the entire Middle East and Central Asia, and perhaps even moving southwards through the African continent. It was acknowledged that the current difficulties could represent the tip of the iceberg of a geographically much more extensive phenomenon. As some of the countries in question are also key players in energy markets, any significant degree of instability could also have serious consequences for an already shaky economic recovery.
The participants pointed to the volatility of energy prices, and those of commodities in general, as indicative of a massive shift in the global economic fulcrum. Whilst there has been no real energy shock, nor any surge in inflation of the likes seen in the 1970s, the pressure on commodity prices has already slowed down the recovery, especially in poorer areas of the world. Europe too, it was conceded, is feeling the effects of its heavy energy dependence and, more directly, of its interdependence with the Mediterranean region.
Nevertheless, there was no complete consensus among the participants regarding what the changes sweeping through the Mediterranean might mean for the relationship between Europe and Turkey. Some felt that the underlying interests of each are diverging, whilst others were of the view that, at least in principle, they are converging – notwithstanding the fact that much uncertainty persists regarding their respective abilities to pursue convergent policies to further their interests. Either way, Turkey is holding itself up as – and indeed should be recognized as representing – a possible role model or at least a source of inspiration for the delicate political, social and economic transitions in progress.
Given this backdrop, the participants emphasized the need for a radical shake-up in the EU’s approach to the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, entailing a move away from predetermined models or policies to open discussion on how to formulate criteria and initiatives together with countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. It was stressed that a capacity for co-decisionmaking would be pivotal to that end, clearly necessitating a respect for local specificities, it being precisely in this regard that Turkey could serve as an invaluable bridge.
Finally, there were those in attendance who considered it necessary within this process to take into account certain institutional innovations, starting with the suggestion of moving towards a multilateral framework modeled on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which was instrumental in the 1970s in shaping more constructive East-West relations. As things currently stand, the opposing shores of the Mediterranean have yet to develop a balanced forum within which to manage many unresolved issues. In conclusion, bearing in mind the crucial importance of private investment as a driver of sustainable growth in the region, the participants discussed the more technical proposal of establishing a Regional Bank for Reconstruction and Development.