An interview with a Romanian foreign policy expert on the rise of Turkey in Southeastern Europe as a mediator between the West and the East and on the lack of common identity and vector in Central Europe
The third part of the interview with the professor of European Studies at the University of Cluj-Napoca deals with the regional context of Central and Southeastern Europe. Turkey is on the rise as it successfully applies strategic ambiguity and is a bridge between the West and Russia. Mișcoiu believes it is clear that strategic ambiguity in Romania and Bulgaria is impossible – they are NATO and EU members with clear obligations and responsibilities. As for the wider region of Central and Southeastern Europe, The Three Initiative and other initiatives have become much more full of substance. In spite of that there are nuances and different alignments in the region. The region lacks common capacity to build much more institutionalized existence as a region. Hungary’s positioning also makes regional cooperation more difficult.
Let us now turn towards the region with a few questions. We are observing the rise of Turkey in the regional international relations because Turkey has adopted certain strategic ambiguity. It is something like a mediator between the so-called West and the so-called East, or especially Russia, but not only. So Turkey has maybe a complexity which allows it to be an important player. And what does the rise of Turkey mean for our region, for Bulgaria and Romania especially? Could it mean that these countries will in their own turn, become a little bit more ambiguous, strategically inspired by Turkey? Or could it mean something else? Maybe they could also strengthen themselves as a frontier state, which is exactly the opposite tendency?
Yeah, it’s a very good question, but I think the answer is quite clear. Neither Romania nor Bulgaria will dare to play a different card from the card that is the one of NATO’s and the one of the EU. And this is because of the arguments I presented in the beginning of our discussion, but also because of a perception that there is a need for Romania and Bulgaria to belong to this space. But there is even a more important, much more important need for Romania and Bulgaria to be protected by NATO and the EU. The situation of Turkey is of course very different. I think that Turkey, along with China, is one of the most important beneficiaries of the war in Ukraine in that Erdogan was isolated before playing a very distant card and his relations with his partners in NATO were degrading quite, quite speedily. But this war in Ukraine gave everyone a new life as a regional leader, as a negotiator, as a leader of a country that is able to put people together at the table of negotiations, both from the West and from the East, the Ukrainians and the Russians, other regional and international actors, and moreover, to play a key role for the trade with cereals from Ukraine and Russia towards the south, the global south, and especially Africa, which is one of the most important objectives. Nowadays, as we know, there is a real danger of food catastrophe in lots of regions of the world because of the limitation of cereal exports from the two countries and especially from Ukraine. Turkey played up to this moment very well this role of a regional hub able to discuss with all the partners keeping its own views but at the same time trying to gain in terms of international legitimacy. Neither Romania nor Bulgaria can afford to play such a card. Let’s say limited gains could be made, for instance, for the ports of Constanta and Varna, but this remains at the microscopic level, if we compare it with the large strategy, which is the one of NATO and the EU, that will be more or less implemented voluntarily by the two countries.
Recently a Turkish company got in possession of the Ford automotive plant in Craiova. And also there is a Turkish private national television in Romania. So I would like to ask you, what is what characterizes the relations between Romania and Turkey at this moment?
The relations are quite good. And of course, this is a different situation. If we compare with Bulgaria because there is no common frontier and the Turkish minority in Romania is both small, very well integrated and benefits from a very strong, very strong system of protection and subsidies for development from the Romanian state, apart from the subsidies received from the Turkish state.
But the relations with Turkey are, I would say, good. Of course, Romania did not hesitate to criticize the Erdogan regime when different elements of authoritarianism were on the agenda. But it did so in a very, I would say, a prudent way without escalating at all. And, of course, Romania is open to Turkish investments. It showed that there is almost no restriction to them. And this, of course, will mean that to some extent economically Romania will depend increasingly on Turkey at least more than before.
What’s also interesting is that up to this moment, there were very, very few occasions where Turkey tried to impose or to suggest some cultural-ideological ideas or changes in Romania. There is no such thing as a propaganda machine in Romania. Of course, there is a vocal defense of the regime perpetrated, especially via the officials such as the embassy. But there is only to a very small extent, propaganda concerning some of the ideas of this regime that could be implemented in Romania. And so as it remains at quasi economic level and as some issues such as the type of regime in Ankara are taboo for the Romanian officials things seem to go smoothly on.
Our countries are also part of the region of Central and South eastern Europe, which is usually regarded as one region,but we see that in the situation with the war in Ukraine, its various components or countries react in a different way. For example, Poland seems to be aligned with the UK with regards to Ukraine. Hungary seems to be somehow pro-Russian. Romania, as usual, bases itself on the union of the West, let’s say, of the USA and Europe and Western Europe. And Bulgaria, at least in my view, reaction is usually in very different directions simultaneously. But I want to ask you, what are the perspectives of our region somehow becoming more integrated, developing a feeling of being a region, a feeling of commonness? Could it be something positive for our countries, if this region here, Central and Southeastern Europe, somehow develop both consciousness of some kind of togetherness and also structures, institutions even or initiatives which encourage action and interaction in it.
Yeah. Well, there is a common enemy now for the countries in the region, which is now Russia. And so this pushed to a higher degree of solidarity. And, of course, the initiatives that existed before, like the Three Seas Initiative, going from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea and to the Black Sea were now much more substantivized in terms of institutions. But as you said, there are elements of alignment that are a little bit different. There are nuances. As you said, Poland goes hand in hand with the UK. Romania goes rather on the EU-USA line. Bulgaria is much more hesitant between these strategies and for the moment, the momentum of a common position against the war in Ukraine and against Russia was a positive element. But the more we go in time, the more we see that there is for the moment no common capacity to build much more institutionalized areas in the region. And the fact that we have Hungary with a very different position, complicated furthermore the things, prevents and also offers an alibi to the state leaders to say that until Hungary will not go on the same line, we cannot go for an initiative that would exclude it.
Photo: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan at the NATO 2022 Summit in Madrid (source: YouTube)
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