When Ursula von der Leyen took over as president of the European Commission in December she announced that she would be leading a ‘geopolitical commission’ to boost the role of the European Union on the world stage. The challenge of dealing with a rising Turkey is proving to be a test of that ambition.
Turkey’s unique geography bridging East and West has always been of strategic significance to the European Union. That has not stopped the relationship being a tempestuous one. But as Ankara drifts away from the EU, political and economic inter-dependence is so important that neither side can risk a complete cut-off in relations.
The Cold War initiated a natural warming of ties between Turkey and the West as it sided with the western bloc and eventually joined Nato. Following the European Association Agreement in 1964 and joining the Customs Union in 1995, Turkey became a key strategic partner and was recognized a candidate for EU membership in 1999.