Photo Gallery: Turkey's EU Ambitions

Foto: A2800 epa Tolga Bozoglu/ dpa

SPIEGEL Interview with Turkish Foreign Minister 'Turkey and Europe Need Each Other'

Elections are looming in Turkey and, once again, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP party is expected to emerge victorious. SPIEGEL spoke with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, 52, about Turkey's disappointment over Europe and Ankara's influence in the Arab world.

SPIEGEL: Minister Davutoglu, Turkey has been seeking European Union membership in vain for more than 20 years. Why do you even want to be part of Europe anymore?

Davutoglu: I can give you three reasons why we belong in the European Union. First, Turkey has been a part of European diplomacy for centuries. We are not China. Second, Europe needs Turkey for strategic reasons. The EU can only become a major power together with Turkey. And third, we share central political values that are laid down in the Copenhagen criteria. Turkey is an important member of the family of democracies.

SPIEGEL: We took a look at the foreign policy section of your campaign platform. The word Europe doesn't appear in it until page six.

Davutoglu: (laughing) Well, sometimes the most appealing chapters are at the end of a book. This has nothing to do with our preferences. Europe remains our ultimate goal.

SPIEGEL: And yet less than 50 percent of Turks support EU accession today, down from 75 percent in 2004.

Davutoglu: We have to distinguish between the questions of whether people want Turkey to become an EU member and whether they believe it will happen. Only 30 percent respond in the affirmative to the latter question. People have lost confidence. In that respect we are like all southern Europeans: very emotional. We react when we notice that someone doesn't want us.

SPIEGEL: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also a very emotional man, told SPIEGEL that Europe needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Europe.

Davutoglu: That's not an emotional but a very rational statement. Just think of energy security. Do we need Europe to satisfy our demand for energy? No, we need Iraq, Iran and Russia. The Europeans, on the other hand, depend on the Anatolian corridor to get oil and gas. The truth is that we need each other. It's the only way we can prevail against powers like China and India. We should both ask ourselves the question: Where does Europe's future lie?

SPIEGEL: At the moment, many are also asking themselves where the future of the Middle East lies. Did you anticipate the unrest in the Arab world?

Davutoglu: Yes, undoubtedly. Ten years ago, I wrote in my books that there are two historic anomalies in the Arab world: the colonialism of the 20th century, which divided Arab societies, and the Cold War, which contributed to the establishment of autocratic regimes in the region. A transformation like the one the Soviet bloc experienced in the 1990s didn't happen in the Arab world. But now change has come.

SPIEGEL: And what is Turkey's position on this change?

Davutoglu: We have formulated two principles. First, the Cold War is over once and for all, and it's time for change. Second, the transformation has to happen peacefully. These two principles apply to all countries in the Middle East.

SPIEGEL: Really? Why then was Prime Minister Erdogan one of the first to call for then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, while taking so much longer with (Libyan leader) Moammar Gadhafi?

Davutoglu: Because he saw that the Egyptian army was behaving neutrally. It was different in Libya. We had to look on as the country was divided, and we saw that there was no army to protect the people. We understood that there would be a bloodbath, so we tried to keep our channels of communication open on both sides.

SPIEGEL: Isn't it mostly about money? After all, Turkish companies have construction contracts in Libya that are worth billions…

Davutoglu: No, you're completely wrong. We had a humanitarian concern in Libya. We evacuated more than 10,000 people from 63 countries in the first few days of the Libyan crisis. If you are talking about economic interests -- I'm not mentioning any names, but you should ask yourself which capitals Gadhafi visited. Who kissed Gadhafi's hand?

SPIEGEL: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Davutoglu: No comment.

SPIEGEL: And where is the criticism of Syrian President Bashar Assad? Why don't you demand his resignation?

Davutoglu: We believe that Syria is the most important country in the Middle East peace process. It borders Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Besides that, Syria, unlike Libya or Tunisia, is a multi-faith country. Nevertheless, our criteria also apply there: Political change must take place, and it has to happen peacefully.

SPIEGEL: But how is it supposed to happen peacefully, now that thousands are dead?

'There Will be no Authoritarian Policy with Us'

Davutoglu: It would have been easier if the reform process had been initiated in January, when Prime Minister Erdogan flew to Damascus and spoke very openly with Assad. At the moment, the window is only slightly open. However, we will continue to talk to our Syrian friends.

SPIEGEL: Your government has been trying for some time to settle conflicts in the Middle East. What exactly did you achieve before the Arab Spring began?

Davutoglu: Oh, a great deal! At the height of the sectarian fighting in Iraq, we convinced the Sunni parties to become involved in the democratic process. In 2008, we mediated between the factions in Lebanon, and then between Hamas and Fatah and, in 2009, in the dispute between Iraq and Syria. We were unable to complete the Syrian-Israeli peace talks, but it was a success to have started them in the first place.

SPIEGEL: Why did those talks fail?

Davutoglu: At the end of 2008, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Prime Minister Erdogan at his residence in Ankara. He stayed six hours, and we set up a telephone call between Olmert and Assad. A short time later, we were ready to begin direct talks. I called up the Syrians and made them an offer. They said: Okay, we will accept if the Israelis accept. We tried to talk to Olmert the next morning. But by then it was already clear that Israel had attacked the Gaza Strip. Everything changed after that.

SPIEGEL: A new parliament will be elected in Turkey on June 12. What outcome do you expect for your party, the Islamic conservative AKP?

Davutoglu: It could likely be between 45 and 50 percent. A clear majority is what's important. Turkey needs stable conditions.

SPIEGEL: You want a two-thirds majority to be able to amend the constitution single-handedly.

Davutoglu: Well, that would certainly make things easier. But we want to speak with all demographic groups first. We don't want to rush this through on our own.

SPIEGEL: In that case, it would certainly be better if the governing party didn't capture such a large majority.

Davutoglu: That's up to the people to decide. In the past, it was an unelected elite that wrote constitutions. This isn't our approach. We want democratic conditions.

SPIEGEL: Do you appreciate that many Turks perceive Prime Minister Erdogan's growing power as a threat?

Davutoglu: The prime minister always has a strong position in parliamentary democracies. But I have worked for Erdogan for a long time as a foreign policy advisor and then as foreign minister, and I can assure you that the prime minister is always open to advice.

SPIEGEL: But there are fears that the system of checks and balances in your country may be eroding under the AKP -- concerns that Erdogan could become Turkey's Putin.

Davutoglu: No. Every country has its own traditions. Democracy is firmly rooted in Turkey. There will be no authoritarian policy with us.

Interview conducted by Daniel Steinvorth and Bernhard Zand
Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.
Speichern Sie Ihre Lieblingsartikel in der persönlichen Merkliste, um sie später zu lesen und einfach wiederzufinden.
Jetzt anmelden
Sie haben noch kein SPIEGEL-Konto? Jetzt registrieren