The arrival in Britain of Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, for a three-day state visit provides a welcome opportunity to strengthen our ties with a country that acts as a bridge between the West and the Middle East. At a time when so many Arab states are experiencing severe political unrest, Turkey’s potential to act as a force for stability in the region should not be underestimated.
While it has experienced political turbulence of its own in the past – the country’s military staging a coup d’etat in 1980 – in recent years Turkey has made giant strides towards becoming a modern democratic state. Its ruling Justice and Development Party has sought to strike the right balance between the competing claims of its proud Islamic heritage and the desire of its youthful, secular-minded population to achieve social and economic progress. There has also been a dramatic turnaround in Turkey’s economic fortunes, with the country experiencing a growth rate of nearly 7 per cent so far this year, far higher than any of its neighbours in Europe. Some analysts predict it will be one of the world’s top 10 economies by 2050. The success of this moderate Islamic state in achieving rapid economic growth, and in proving the compatibility of Islam with democracy, should certainly serve as a model for pro-democracy campaigners elsewhere in the Muslim world.
These achievements undoubtedly strengthen the case for Turkey’s membership of the European Union, an issue which will top Mr Gul’s agenda when he visits Downing Street for talks with David Cameron today. Although Mr Gul first submitted Turkey’s EU membership application in 2005, it has stalled in the face of strong opposition from France and Germany, which argue that admitting such a large country of 79 million people would upset the Union’s balance.
Even though there is unlikely to be further serious discussion of accession until the crisis in the eurozone has been resolved, it is very much in the West’s interests to reassure Turkey that it remains a highly valued ally. It was not so long ago that, frustrated by Western indifference, the Turks appeared to be strengthening their ties with the virulently anti-Western regimes in power in neighbouring Iran and Syria.
But the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown against anti-government protests in Syria has brought that initiative to an abrupt halt, and has forced Ankara to undertake a serious review of its regional alliances. On that front, Mr Cameron should push Mr Gul to repair his country’s strained relations with Israel, a democratic nation with whom it shares many mutual interests.