The “new Turkey” of the president Erdogan
The past year can arguably be considered a turning point in the political history of Turkey. In August, the president Recep Tayyp Erdogan has been elected president of the Republic, after serving three terms as prime minister, the first directly elected by Turkish citizens.
Such an institutional step marked a substantive strengthening of the very president Erdogan and his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as the former foreign affairs minister and Erdogan’s right-hand man, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been named as new prime minister. Since the last electoral campaign, “new Turkey” has become an important concept in the political Turkish lexicon. As an editorial in the pro-Erdogan daily Yeni Safak argues, «if the attack [on New Turkey] is coming from within, this is called betrayal. New Turkey is not a slogan. It’s not a party expression or a political show. New Turkey is a project. This is the redesigning and re-establishing of Turkey after a century». The recent restrictive action of the government against the press seems to match some features of this insight of the State. On December 14, the Turkish police have arrested twenty-five members of the daily Zaman’s redaction and TV station, including its editor in chief, Ekrem Dumanli. Admittedly, the raids can be easily interpreted as addressed against Fethullah Gulen, the US-based islamic cleric, to which Zaman is closely tied. The move has been sharply criticized by the European Union. Additionally, the Turkey’s parliament has been discussing an “internal security” reform that is going to strengthen the powers of the police in handling demonstrations. The organization “Reporters Without Borders” points out that: «If the bill is passed as it stands, police officers will be allowed “in emergencies” to conduct searches of places, persons or vehicles on nothing more than a verbal order from a superior that must subsequently be confirmed in writing. Arbitrary searches of news organizations and journalists’ homes, which are already common, would inevitably be facilitated, at the expense of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The socio-economic agenda
One of the most thorny issues the Turkish government has to tackle is constituted by the socio-economic agenda. The question has been strongly raised, among others, on the occasion of the Taksim square’s demonstrations in 2013. The prime minister Davutoglu has recently formulated his economic priorities, as Turkey has been taking the G20’s presidency in 2015. It pivots on inclusiveness, implementation, and investment for growth. Despite of political declarations, growth has lost momentum in 2014. After the high rates registered in 2010 and 2011 (around 10%), in 2012 the economy grew around 2%. In 2014 the target of 4% has been revised by the government. A relevant factor in such a drop is the fall of domestic demands and investments. Turkish economy is highly dependent on foreign capital (the current-account deficit hit 7.9% of GDP in 2013). According to the state statistics agency, Turkey’s unemployment rate stood at 10.9% in December 2014 rising from 10.7% in November. The issues of refugees and its economic and humanitarian implications is worth to be mentioned. Over 1.700.000 million Syrians have taken refugee in Turkey since the war began in March 2011. Nearly 30% of these live in twenty-two camps near the Syrian-Turkish border. In September 2014, attacks by the Islamic State against Kurdish towns and villages close to the Turkish border brought hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee to Turkey. As the Danish Refugee Council reports: «In Turkey, refugees outside of camps face integration challenges such as language barriers and very few social ties, resulting in higher tensions with local communities and difficulty finding employment. Syrians in Turkey have very few opportunities to access credit with shops, and landlords generally demand rent/utility payments every month without exception or flexibility. Syrian men who do manage to find temporary jobs (daily, weekly, or sometimes monthly) often complain that they are not paid at the end of the work, and they cannot pursue any legal recourse because they have no right to work in Turkey. They say the Turkish employer will just find another Syrian to replace him, and generally not pay him either».
This issue triggers new dynamics in the labour market and in the very Turkish society. The huge increase of labour supply pushes wages down. A sudden upsurge of Turkey’s population by 1 million people has soared rents by 40-50%, especially in the provinces of Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Hatay. The rising rent and increasing unemployment particularly hit the poorer portions of the local population. The chairman of the Mersin Chamber of Retailers and Artisans, Talat Dincer points out that the «refugees working at wages below the minimum wage and without social insurance cause the increase in unemployment. A solution has to be found soonest».
The next June 2015, the general elections will constitute a significant test in order to assess the real grip of AKP’s power. It will be the occasion to test the institutional Turkish path to a presidential system, with the president Erdogan’s proposal to emend the constitution, and the challenges which the regional panorama presents.
Ankara and Brussels: accession process and common regional challenges
The EU-Turkey relations have recently showed interesting developments after a phase of substantial stalemate mainly registered on the issue of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Remarkable changes have characterized the political life of the two actors in the last year. While a new Commission installed in Brussels, after Erdogan sworn in as president of the Republic and the new prime Minister Davutoglu took his charge, Ankara published a document containing the new strategy of Ankara toward Europe. It highlighted, among others, that «Turkey and the EU are encountering common challenges that underline the importance of Turkey’s accession process in shaping the EU project». In the last period, EU-Turkish relations have been characterized by a certain diplomatic freeze. The crackdown of the nationwide demonstrations of Gezi Park, domestic scandals of corruption and the issue of press freedom have contributed to hamper a constructive dialogue. Although such elements of contrast, the situation seems to be address toward new scenarios. On December 2014, for instance, the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, visited Ankara and held a meeting with Davutoglu. The visit constituted the precious occasion for Mogherini to highlight «the strategic importance EU-Turkish relations and our desire to step up engagement in view of shared interests and common challenges». Then, she added that «we need to improve on the alignment onforeign policy and security policy. It’s never been so low and this is a problem for the European Union, but it is mainly a problem for Turkey». Surely, the essential core of such a renewed European approach toward Ankara has to be found in the increasing threat of the Islamic State. It is a major security concern for the European Union. The reluctance of Turkey in dealing with this issue in a coordinated multilateral effort has prompted the Western leaders to a closer engagement with Ankara. An important in the Turkish-EU relations involves the very perception of Europe by the Turkish public opinion. According to a public opinion survey conducted by the Centre of Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) at the beginning of 2015, Turkey should cooperate with the European Union to have a stronger economy and foreign policy.
Economic and trade ties with EU
With the accession process still alive, some instruments shape the current relations between EU and Turkey. First, they are linked by a Customs Union Agreement, which came in force on 31 December 1995. The agreement covers all the industrial goods and provides for a common external tariff. In the past years, it has been underlined the importance to upgrade the Customs Union into a deeper Union including also the liberalization of services and public procurement. On 9 January, Commissioners Johannes Hahn and Cecilia Malmström met Turkish Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekçi. During the meetings the functioning and improvement of the Customs Union were discussed. The EU is Turkey’s number one import and export partner while Turkey ranks 7th in the EU’s top import and fifth in export markets. Turkey’s main exports markets are the EU, Iraq, Russia, USA, United Arab Emirates and Iran. Turkey’s exports to the EU are mostly machinery and transport equipment, followed by manufactured goods. In the meantime, with reference to gas supply, Turkey has formally started the construction of the Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which when operational by the end of 2018 will carry Azerbaijani gas to European markets and reduce the bloc’s energy dependence on Russia.
Turkey and Russia: competition and cooperation
The aftermath of the crisis in Ukraine entailed a meaningful change in the very relation between Ankara and Moscow, particularly opening a specific dialogue on gas’ dossier between the two countries. On 1 December 2014, Alexey Miller, chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee, and Mehmet Konuk, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Botas Petroleum Pipeline Corporation, signed in Ankara a memorandum of understanding on constructing an offshore gas pipeline across the Black Sea towards Turkey. The agreement marks the end of the South Stream project, which had to transport natural gas from Russia, through the Black Sea, directly to Bulgaria and Europe. «Turkish Stream is now the only pipeline», Gazprom’s chief executive, Aleksei B. Miller, stated. «There are no other variants possible. Our European partners have been notified of this, and their task now is to establish the necessary gas-transporting infrastructure from the borders of Turkey and Greece». As Alexey Grivach, Deputy General Director of Gas Projects at Russia’s National Energy Security Fund, argues: «This huge project brings the Turkish dream of becoming the huge gas transit hub to Europe closer. But first it was based on the gas from the Middle East and the Caspian, and now it is occurring that this hub will be based on the Russian gas. The first loser is Europe which will not have such a great project for the European economy, and even more importantly for some countries, not very rich countries of the EU, like Bulgaria. And they will lose the investments and transit fees, and this will go to Turkey and enforce the Turkish position in the market, and in the region as well».
In the framework of the December 2014’s last diplomatic meeting in Ankara, Putin and Erdogan agreed on some chapters of the bilateral relations. Despite of disagreements on some foreign policy issues like Syria and Ukraine, the two leaders opted to focus on areas of mutual interests as gas and trade relations. On Syria, for instance, Turkey is critical toward al-Assad regime and pushes for his removal. On the other hand, Putin is convinced that a lasting settlement cannot be achieved without Assad. Also, Turkey raised tough criticisms to Moscow about the annexation of Crimea as well as there are disagreements on border disputes in the Caucasus. Although such contentions, there are sound economic ties between the countries. Turkey is the second trading partner of Russia after Germany. The two governments expect to foster their bilateral trade relations from $33 billion to $100 billion by 2020. Moscow will invest $20 billion in constructing the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, the first project of this kind in Turkey.
Akin, Ezgi, What exactly is “New Turkey”?, Al-Monitor, 26 August 2014.
Reform package would leave police even freer to harass journalists, Reporters without borders, 17 February 2015.
 Turkish G20 Presidency Priorities for 2020, For the whole document see: https://g20.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2015-TURKEY-G-20-PRESIDENCY-FINAL.pdf.
 Cetingulet, Mehmet, Syrian refugees aggravate Turkey’s unemployment problem, 9 July 2014, Al-Monitor.
 Turkish Ministry for EU Affairs, “Turkey’s New European Union Strategy,” September 2014.
 Turkey assumed “candidate status” during the Helsinki Summit on 10-11 December 1999. At the Brussels Summit on 16-17 December 2004, the Council affirmed that Turkey fulfilled the political criteria and decided to open accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005.
O’Byrne, Davis, EU energy dream made real as Turkey breaks ground on Azeri gas export route to Europe, Business New Europe Intellinews, 17 March 2015.
 Among the obstacles to the realization of the South Stream there was the EU third energy package. It stipulates the separation of companies’ generation and sale operations from their transmission networks.
 Reed, Stanley, Arsu, Sebnem, Russia Presses Ahead With Plan for Gas Pipeline to Turkey, New York Times, January 21, 2015.
 Kudashkina, Ekaterina,Turkey Hopes to become a Gas Market-Maker Expert says, Sputniknews, 2 December 2014.