Over recent years, relations between Turkey and the European Union have been difficult and driven more by crisis management rather than equal partnership. Yet, despite this downward spiral, both blocs remain key partners on domains such as trade, migration and counterterrorism and repeatedly express their interest in developing a more cooperative and constructive relationship. So to what extent could Turkey and the EU collaborate in and with North Africa, more specifically, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria, all of whom have the highest trade volumes with both Turkey and the EU in the region. There are currently no joint projects between Turkey and the EU in Morocco, Algeria or Egypt, although the region is an area of strategic importance for both Turkey and the EU. The recent war in Ukraine has also increased the value of North Africa as a provider of agricultural products and gas for the region. To that end, we can identify five major policy options in which cooperation between Turkey, the EU, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt could be actionable.
The first policy option is cooperation on education with a focus on educational mobility, which calls attention to the need for improvement of education infrastructure in North Africa, especially in Algeria. As this is a collaboration model, it was suggested that the existing EU framework (the Bologna Process) be enlarged to include North Africa. Turkey could use its experience and lead the process of adapting North African countries to the EU framework – and North African countries could be the project owners. Potential risks for such collaboration could be the pandemic, visa barriers, irregular migration, political manipulation, and the rise of xenophobia.
The second policy option, economic cooperation on construction with a focus on public infrastructure, demonstrates that although North African countries have relatively good access to capital markets to boost economic growth, the region is nevertheless in need of substantial investments in public infrastructure. In a collaboration model, Turkey could implement the projects with its high-quality and cost-effective skills in the construction sector. While the EU could develop the project with its technical capacity to design complex infrastructure projects and green technologies, North African countries could own the projects. Such a collaboration model would form an alternative to the Chinese approach. The European Fund for Sustainable Development plus (EFSD+) and the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement are mechanisms that could be utilized for such collaboration. Potential risks for collaboration could be the restrictions against foreign investors in North Africa, bureaucratic delays in project approvals, especially in Algeria, the dominance of the army over Egypt’s construction industry, the tension between the governments of Turkey and Egypt, China’s potential growth in the region, geopolitical uncertainties, and competition between Turkey and the EU.
In the third policy option, cooperation on health with a focus on post-Covid recovery, two areas for collaboration came to the fore: developing local vaccine manufacturing hubs in North Africa and creating research collaboration schemes. The EU’s know-how and technologies and its promise to allocate one billion euros to develop several regional manufacturing vaccine hubs, Turkey’s health capacity and its robust pandemic diplomacy, and North African countries’ ownership of the projects could be the basis of a tripartite collaboration model. The Team Europe initiative on Manufacturing and Access to Vaccines, Medicines and Health Technologies in Africa, and the High-Level Dialogue in the Field of Health between EU-Turkey are some of the mechanisms that could be utilized. Potential risks for collaboration might be the reluctance of Brussels to back a proposed waiver on vaccine patents, the emergence of other international priorities such as the war in Ukraine which has already moved the Covid down the agenda, and clashes with China and Russia due to their initiatives for promoting their own vaccines.
The fourth policy option, cooperation on the green deal with a focus on renewable energy, acknowledges that Morocco and Egypt have taken promising steps on solar energy. In a potential tripartite collaboration model, while the two northern African countries could share their know-how, Turkey could bring in its strong business community and the EU could contribute with its cutting-edge technology and experienced human resources, as well as its extensive funds. The Green Deal, the Agenda for the Southern Mediterranean, and the High-Level Climate Dialogue between the EU and Turkey are mechanisms that could be utilized. Potential risks for collaboration might be the inability of the EU and Turkey to implement the Green Deal and reach carbon emission goals, rising consumption of coal because of the increase in oil and gas prices due to developments such as the war in Ukraine, reluctance on the part of North African countries regarding Turkey’s involvement due to its lack of experience in this domain, and geopolitical tensions in the Mediterranean.
The fifth policy option, cooperation on agriculture with a focus on food security, is related to agriculture, a pivotal sector in the Mediterranean region. In a possible tripartite collaboration model, Turkey could share its technical and training capacities on sustainable agriculture, and the EU could contribute with funding as well as with its capacities on technological facilities and green transformation in agricultural projects owned by North African countries. Horizon Europe, as an extension of Cluster 6 of the Green Deal, could be utilized as a mechanism. Environmental implications of climate change such as forest fires, drought, and famine and competition between Turkey and North African countries on agriculture exports to the EU might pose potential risks.
These tripartite collaborative models are designed to be mutually beneficial for all three blocs – Turkey, the EU and North Africa. It should, nevertheless, be mentioned that current geopolitical uncertainties in the wider region could challenge the implementation of these projects. The civil war in Libya, the political tension between Turkey and Egypt or Morocco and Algeria, and the influence of China and Russia in the region could pose potential risks for collaboration. However, we maintain that such uncertainties make it even more timely to seek opportunities for a future collaborative environment in the Mediterranean as, ‘if the Mediterranean is weak, all Mediterranean countries are weak’.
‘A New Formula for Collaboration: Turkey, the EU & North Africa’ — Research Paper by P?nar Akp?nar, Nienke van Heukelingen, Og?uz N. Babu?rog?lu and Fatin R. Durukan — Clingendael / The Netherlands Institute of International Relations.