Although there basically isn’t anything like a specific chapter of V4-Turkey relations, all the five countries realize the importance of trade cooperation and strategic support. Yet, after Erdoğan tightened his grip to achieve even more power, Visegrad countries prefer to coordinate their positions on issues regarding human rights and civil society via Brussels.
Authors: Lucia Yar, Lucie Tungul, Mateusz Chudziak a Zoltán Egeresi
A PDF version of the text is available on http://bit.ly/V4andTurkey
Current political relations between V4 countries and Turkey are primarily determined by strategic questions – by the membership of all five counties in NATO as well as by the cooperation with regards to the European Union.
The four Central European countries continue to support Turkey’s path to the EU, even though the statements by some of their leaders may often indicate otherwise. Bilateral relations are developing, in particular, based on trade and economic activities, yet cultural cooperation continues to play increasingly important role, particularly in the case of Hungary.
The struggles in the relations between Turkey and old members of the EU, resulting from the difference in perception of interests and threats are not directly reflected in the cooperation between Ankara on one side, and Prague, Budapest, Warsaw and Bratislava on the other. Nevertheless, political situation in Turkey and the nearby region, as well as the relations with Western allies are closely monitored in all four Visegrad countries. These are the reasons why the Visegrad Four leaves the lecturing of Ankara to Brussels.
Visegrad’s feelings towards Turkey’s accession to the EU
Since 2005, which is the moment Turkey officially became an EU candidate country, the V4 countries have generally expressed positive opinions towards Turkey’s membership. In the most recent two years, however, the focus has been on the need for democratization and respecting of human rights as fundamental conditions standing in the way of Turkey’s accession to the EU.
After the failed coup attempt, intervention in Syria, and the development of closer relations between Turkey and Russia, even some of the previous supporters of Turkey’s accession to the EU have voiced their concerns and called for freezing of the negotiations with Ankara or for withdrawal of its candidate status.
With the rise of islamophobia and negative anti-migrant narratives, which have become particularly specific for Central European countries, the negative sentiment towards Turkey has significantly increased despite several politicians’ support for the EU-Turkey deal. Arguments have been mainly political, security-related (dealing with Turkey’s position in NATO), cultural and they also concerned foreign policy. The discussion about economic issues – with the exception of the debate on Turkey’s financial instability since the summer of 2018 – has been missing. Overall, Turkey receives very little attention in the public discourse in the V4 countries.
Prague supports Turkey’s candidacy for EU membership and emphasizes the size of Turkey’s market and its strategic location as a NATO partner with regards to Europe’s security. Since the Czech Republic’s accession to the European Union, prime ministers Mirek Topolánek and Petr Nečas both made positive claims about Turkey’s membership and Turkey’s candidacy was also consistently supported by the former president Václav Klaus.
Among the leaders of V4 countries, it is the current Czech president, Miloš Zeman who has held a particularly relentless position. He has repeatedly spoken against Turkey’s candidacy, while emphasizing growing islamisation of the country, refused the EU-Turkey refugee deal by saying that Turkey was blackmailing the European Union, and harshly criticized the shooting down of Russia’s fighter jet above Turkish territory in the winter of 2015.
Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) remain the strongest opponents of Turkey’s EU membership. It is them who emphasize Turkey’s different culture outside the framework of the Judeo-Christian heritage thus toeing the line of multiple other Christian-democratic parties in Europe. Former Finance Minister and the current Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has stated multiple times that “nobody wants” Turkey in the EU and that Turkey is only blackmailing Europe in the migrant deal case. Despite all of the above, he is himself involved in the negotiations to save the Czech-Turkish project of Adularya powerplant construction, for which the Czech Export Bank provided funding of almost half a billion euro.
The recent cases of activists and people from academia represent a specific example of the perception of Turkish politics in the Czech Republic. Several members of the academia, who fled Turkey after the failed coup attempt found jobs at Czech universities. The case of humanitarian workers Markéta Všelichová and Miroslav Farkaš, who were detained while trying to cross the Turkish-Iraqi border in November 2018, charged with affiliation to Kurdish militia and initially sentenced to more than six years in Turkish prison, has strengthened the negative perception of the “new Turkey” in the Czech Republic.
The Salih Maslem’s case has resonated just as well. In February 2018, Czech court released the former leader of a wing of Syrian Kurds after Ankara had directly requested the release.
Public opinion on the activities of the Czech humanitarian activists seems to be divided between the modern Left (including the Pirate party and a wing within the Greens), which regards them as campaigners for freedom, and others, who view Markéta and Mirek as adventurers with bad luck. Generally, however, the fact that their sentencing was unfair is not disputed. In the case of Salih Maslem, the positive perception of Kurds in the Czech public can be seen, which has increased after the Syrian Kurds’ campaign against ISIS. It is further influenced in the Czech Republic by social media and websites celebrating Kurds’ bravery and shaping an image of a rather progressive community, which the public perceives as a counterbalance to Islamism and the Czech islamophobia blown out of proportion.
Hungary, its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Foreign Affairs Minister Péter Szijjártó declare full support for Turkey’s EU membership. Turkey is viewed as a source of security and an important economic partner. Budapest primarily seeks to avoid repeating of the situation from 2015 and 2016, when Europe was hit by the wave of refugees.
Over the last two years, statements of the Hungarian government regarding the Turkish leadership have been rather favourable. According to Budapest, Ankara has the right as well as the obligation to respond to and deal with terrorist threats. Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister were among the first government representatives from EU countries who visited Turkey after the coup attempt in 2016. Viktor Orbán congratulated the Turkey’s president after this year’s elections before the initial results of presidential and parliamentary plebiscite were known.
A relatively new social phenomenon associated with Hungarian domestic sentiment also related to Turkey’s accession to the European Union, is the growing neo-Turanism, which is also becoming a part of Hungarian agenda. Several organizations, groups and associations advocate the idea of common Turkish heritage in Hungary (including the Jobbik party) and cooperate in organizing various events, for example the Kurultáj Convention, which connects Turkic citizens living in the south of Hungary. The agenda is also enjoying some attention in Turkic countries.
The ruling party Fidesz evaluated the domestic trend and gradually opened itself to Turkic countries. Hungary, echoing the concept of common historical and cultural heritage, joined multiple organizations in this regard. In 2014, Hungary received an observer status in TÜRKPA (Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking Countries), in September 2018, the Hungarian Prime Minister attended the Turkic Council summit.
And in November 2018, Hungary became a full member of TÜRKPA. “Our Turkic brothers have accepted us in their midst”, said the Chairman of Hungarian Parliament László Kövér during the ceremony.
Based on these factors, the Hungarian government does not tend to voice or emphasize the issue of human rights linked to the domestic politics in Turkey and, similarly to other Visegrad countries, leaves this task to Brussels.
Nevertheless, Hungarian media closely monitor the political trajectory of Turkey. While the government-friendly media tend to emphasize the importance of Turkey for Hungary’s security, other more critical media point out the authoritarian tendencies, the high number of detainees and the nature of the regime change in Turkey. Even the most recent visit of Recep Tayyip Erdogan from October this year led to numerous critical opinions in the Hungarian media.
When it comes to Turkey’s accession to the EU, Warsaw is also consistent in its support. The basis for this stance is rooted in the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, signed in 1993, in which both sides committed to mutual support in the effort to “overcome all differences in Europe.”
Ever since the beginning of Turkey’s formal effort to become a member of the EU, Poland has considered this step as a leverage for modernization of this Muslim country. This position has been preserved since the beginning of the previous decade and has not been undermined by the changes in the Polish governments nor the growing controversies and misunderstandings between Ankara and Brussels. The fact that this position has not undergone any modifications has shown the lack of real discussion in Poland about the possible accession of Turkey to the EU.
The official position of the Republic of Poland towards the key areas in the relations with Turkey is rarely stated. Questions regarding the domestic situation in Turkey and its relations with Brussels, EU Member States, the United States and its neighbours have become the subject of public debate, especially in the media.
Poland as an EU member state does not pass individual statements towards Turkey and coordinates its approach based on the position of the European Commission and the European Parliament. In certain cases, where the migration deal from March 2016 plays a role, Warsaw fully supports the Brussels’ model of cooperation with Ankara. Poland considers Turkey as the key country in solving the issue of migration in Eastern Mediterranean.
Just like other European countries, the government in Warsaw distances itself from certain actions against individuals and institutions by the government in Ankara, which Turkey blames for organizing of the failed coup attempt in July 2016, including the Gülen movement. Vistula University and Danube Foundation in Poland have especially been mentioned in this regard. Warsaw did not comply with Turkey’s requests to close down these institutions and extradite several of the institutions’ employees to Turkey. Poland does not accept Turkey’s argument and states that it is not enough for Poland to extradite specific individuals. There are also doubts these individuals would get a fair trial.
Slovak Republic has been supporting the potential full EU membership of Turkey since the start of the accession negotiations and has been rejecting the “privileged partnership“ or any other form of partnership.
Mutual relations between Slovakia and Turkey are currently superb and there are no unresolved issues between us, Slovak Foreign Minister said after his visit to Ankara in 2017. Miroslav Lajčák was equally optimistic during this year’s meeting with Turkey’s president, Foreign Affairs Minister and the Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish parliament.
“Miroslav Lajčák has confirmed Slovakia’s support towards the Turkey’s accession process to the EU after completing all membership conditions while he highly valued the Turkey’s effort in this regard as well as material sources the country is distributing to cope with the refugee wave,” Slovak Foreign Ministry’s press release states and, at the same time, characterizes the current position of Slovakia towards Turkey.
Direct criticism of the way how certain cases are handled, where Slovakia could raise objections, especially in the field of human rights, were apparently not voiced in Ankara by the Slovak diplomacy. Slovakia falls behind in this area and relies on the activities of the European Commission or the European Parliament.
The strongest opponents of Turkey’s joining of the EU in the Slovak government are the members of the Slovak National Party (SNS). “Turkey belongs to Europe neither historically, nor culturally or geographically,” said Andrej Danko, the Party Chairman and President of the National Council, in 2013 and his opinion has not changed.
“European Union promises integration in the future and billions of euro if it does not allow 2.8 million migrants from Syria on its soil. In fact, 75 million of Turks constitute a much bigger threat for Europe than less than three million Syrians,” he said in 2016.
Links: Trade, education and cultural cooperation
Trade in particular is the common incentive for positive sentiment in the meetings of leaders from V4 countries and Turkey. Focus is, however, also put on other forms of cooperation, either in culture or in education. This mutual cooperation is subsequently expressly reflected in the positions of individual countries towards the support of Turkey’s membership in the EU.
Turkish market, with its 80 million customers, is among the major trade partners of the Czech Republic. The volume of mutual trade serves as clear evidence. Trade volume was almost €34.5 billion last year while the Czech exports accounted for €20.5 billion. Among the V4 countries, the Czech Republic is therefore by far the most important trade partner for Turkey.
Škoda Auto automobiles continue to be the main export goods of the Czech Republic along with the accessories and auto parts. Turkey mainly exports vehicles to the Czech Republic; however, the volume of textile industry goods is also significant. The so-called portable entrepreneurship has gained prominence, with small entrepreneurs buying textile, fashion goods and accessories in Turkey and then selling them in the Czech Republic.
Besides tourism, construction industry is being developed within the service sector, where companies such as Metrostav-Ankara Inšaat, or BRC International, take part in tenders for various projects in the other country.
After 2010, since Budapest has been trying to establish closer economic relations with non-EU members (the so-called Eastern Opening), Turkey has played an important role. In 2012 Hungary-Turkey Council was established within Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Budapest opened a trade representation in Turkey, Turkish and Hungarian trade fora have become regular events and the relations at the political level further intensified after 2013.
Although leaders of both countries were planning to increase the volume of mutual trade up to €4.4 billion, its size was around €2.29 billion last year. Approximately 1.9% of Hungarian export flows to Turkey, while the import represents only 0.9%. Turkey’s share in the trade with Hungary is relatively low, however, it does play a notable role in several sectors.
There are roughly 70 to 80 smaller Hungarian companies operating in Turkey that do not belong among the influential actors and their activities focus on tourism and trade. Turkish companies in Hungary are active in several sectors, particularly logistics and transport, construction and tourism.
Almost half of Hungary’s livestock export goes to Turkey. Hungary imports mainly cotton, textile and agricultural goods and the country also attaches importance to the energy sector. Since Budapest plans to diversify its energy exports and seeks routes that bypass Ukraine, the Hungarian government intensely monitors and supports the Turkish Stream project, which puts the government in opposition to the views held in Warsaw, for example.
The cultural cooperation is appreciated primarily by Ankara. Together with Hungarian authorities, Turkey lays out efforts to preserve the Ottoman heritage in Hungary and strengthen its cultural presence in several institutions, for example through Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) or Yunus Emre Institute. In response, Hungary opened its cultural institute in Istanbul in 2013.
Even though the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia organize numerous common events representing V4 in Turkey , Hungarian state and cultural institutions remain the most active stakeholders in this respect. They generate the biggest efforts in promoting the V4 concept (Visegrad dörtlüsüin Turkish) in the country.
In the long-term perspective, direct contacts in the area of economic and cultural cooperation, tourism, or student exchange between Turkey and Poland have been, , satisfactory and they are consistently developing. The volume of trade in 2017 reached €5.73 billion. The value of import from Turkey to Poland reached €2.7 billion, while Poland’s export to Turkey exceeded €3 billion.
There were 136 Polish companies operating on the Turkish market and, at the same time, 150 Turkish companies in Poland. Asseco or MCI Management are among the biggest Polish investment companies in Turkey, both operating in the IT sector.
Poland imports mainly automobiles, textile goods and food products from Turkey. On the other hand, Poland exports electronic devices, power-generating products or communication devices.
As a result of the financial crisis and the decrease in the value of the Turkish lira in recent months, the attractiveness of Turkish goods has increased for Polish businessmen and, at the same time, the ability of Turkey’s market to absorb the goods from Poland has declined.
Student exchanges represent one of the important factors positively influencing the perception of Turkey in Poland and vice versa. Between 2004 – 2014, Turkey was the second most favoured destination for Polish students participating in the Erasmus Programme (almost 4000 students). Turkish students represented the second biggest group of students in Poland under the same programme (almost 13 000 between 1998 – 2014).
As in the Hungary’s case, Yunus Emre Institute is the most active institution when it comes to the promotion and support of Turkish culture. TIKA is present and relatively active as well. One of its roles, in particular, is maintaining Turkey’s relations with the communities that are linked with the Turkish population through ethnicity and language and that live outside Turkey. In Poland, such community represents especially the Tartars minority (approx. four to five thousand people).
Slovak-Turkish relations follow-up on the successful beginning of the Czechoslovak-Turkish cooperation. Since declaring independence, Slovakia has signed 17 different bilateral government agreements and treaties with Turkey in the area of economic, cultural, or even military cooperation. The most recent two government agreements were aimed to simplify the international road passenger and freight transport (2014) and broaden economic cooperation (2007).
There are almost 40 companies with Slovak capital operating in Turkey, particularly in the areas of automobile industry, tourism, wholesale, real estate, engineering and energy sector. Slovak Republic recognizes 36 Turkish companies with business activities in textile industry, services, automobile industry, gastronomy and processing industry. The overall volume of Turkish investments in Slovakia reached €3.28 million in 2017.
Slovak Republic’s export to Turkey reached €734 million in 2017, with nuclear reactors, furnaces, machinery, appliance and mechanical devices along with equipment being the most exported goods. Among the most imported goods to Slovakia were vehicles along with vehicle accessories and parts and as well as clothing and clothing accessories.
Both countries would appreciate closer cooperation in the energy sector and based on a mutually approved memorandum, both countries are to cooperate in the field of renewable resources or nuclear energy.
The cooperation between Slovak Academy of Sciences and Turkey’s TUBITAK has recently brought about a notable and successful series of seven Slovak-Turkish science fora, at which science teams cooperated on projects in the field of biochemistry, neurobiology, pharmacology, physics, seismology, electrotechnology, chemistry, molecular biology, parasitology, biodiversity and informatics.
Given the fact that Slovakia settles the smallest number of Turks among the V4 countries (roughly 500), Turkey’s cultural activities in Slovakia are predominantly centred around the Turkish embassy in Bratislava. The same applies to Slovak embassy in Ankara, consulate in Istanbul and the honorary consuls in Izmir, Bursa, Mersin, Kuşadası, Kayseri, Trabzon, Edirne, Izmit, Manavgat and in Tekirdağ province. Their main role is to generate economic cooperation.
From the long-term perspective, Turkey belongs among the most visited destinations for Slovak tourists. A hundred thousand tourists travel to Turkey every year.
Cooperation opportunities of V4 + Turkey are greater
Given the enormous market and the existing forms of economic and cultural cooperation between V4 and Turkey, a closer partnership of the five countries could bring an array of benefits. Little knowledge of domestic political situation, historical context and economic matters, however, significantly decrease the Visegrad countries’ capability to deepen their engagement with Turkey, although the current economic circumstances are encouraging.
Slovakia currently presides the V4 countries and, among other things, the country has committed to continue with the established format of V4+ negotiations in its programme from July 2018 to June 2019. Slovakia, along with the three other countries, intends to cooperate at different levels mainly with Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries, but also with the United States, Canada, Israel, South Korea and Turkey. It is simultaneously the only plan, in which Ankara is explicitly mentioned.
When it comes to the V4 presiding countries’ programmes, Slovakia seems to be the strongest supporter of the cooperation between “the Four“ and Turkey. Over the last 18 years, Slovakia has been the one most intent to focus on broadening of the cooperation or voicing the support of the country’s EU membership. Since 2000, Slovakia has mentioned Turkey in different contexts in three out of its five presidency programmes.
The first time Turkey was mentioned in the Visegrad countries’ plans was in the 2009 programme introduced by Hungary. Hungary can be viewed as the strongest supporter of Turkey within the Visegrad Group: “Hungarian V4 presidency supports the preservation of the credible course in the accession negotiations with Turkey,” stated Hungary for the first time almost a decade ago.
In general, the cooperation between V4 and Turkey has been “on the table” in eight out of 19 presidency programmes since 2000. The four countries have never considered it their priority, though.
In all of the four Central European countries, the general discourse is affected by the inaccurate and misleading teaching on Turkish history and realities at schools, where Turkey or the Ottoman Empire are almost exclusively portrayed in negative context. According to analysts, information about the positive link between the country and Central European region as well as with Europe in general are missing.
From a broader perspective, it is difficult to look for any room for political cooperation between V4 and Turkey with the EU excluded. Ankara views Brussels and the largest EU Member States as its most important partners, while, with the V4 countries, it tends to prefer cooperation on an individual basis. In this respect, Turkey’s interest is to develop bilateral relations with economic cooperation playing the essential role.