And now what? How do we handle our relationship with Turkey after it has gone back to being a State with strong authoritarian traits and, at the same time, remains a Country bordering both with the European Union and with a warring Syria and that, within NATO, has the second-largest armed force in terms of numbers and is a relevant market outlet for our exports? Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano puts it in two sentences at a given point of the half-hour interview with the Corriere della Sera. They effectively summarise what, to all intents and purposes, remains Italy’s approach after the referendum that Recep Tayyip Erdogan called to pave the way to further increasing his powers: “One thing is cooperating with Turkey on issues of common interest, for example on fighting terrorism and within NATO. Another thing is sharing some of its methods.” In the minister’s opinion, there should be no confusion between the two outlooks.
After winning Sunday’s referendum by a hair’s breadth, Erdogan promised to reintroduce the death penalty in his Country. Minister Alfano, don’t you think this is a way of definitively waving off Turkey’s accession to the EU, the world’s largest geographic area banning capital punishment?
“Turkey’s accession to the European Union is not on the table right now. In any case, any decision relative to the assumption of reintroducing the death penalty would draw it even further apart from the EU.”
Doesn’t what is going on in Ankara create difficulties within NATO?
“Its presence within NATO reinforces multidimensional cooperation systems providing for cooperation at military security level, in fighting terrorism and on issues of common interest. But this does not mean ready accession to the EU or lack of concern for the statements made by the OSCE.”
The Organisation for the Security and Co-operation in Europe believes that during the Turkish referendum campaign “essential fundamental freedoms” were “limited” by the state of emergency that was in force. Do you find it difficult to dialogue with Turkey after it reacted to the attempted coup d’état in 2016 with 45,000 arrests and the permanent or temporary layoff of 130,000 people?
“One thing is cooperating with Turkey on issues of common interest, for example on fighting terrorism and within NATO. Another thing is sharing some of its methods.”
Over the last couple of decades, our Country has had a role: keeping relations between Ankara and Brussels as relaxed as possible. Even Rome’s irritation after the departure from Italy to Kenya of the Kurd Abdullah Ochalan, who Turkey judged to be a terrorist to be extradited, was overcome in 1999 thanks to efforts by sections of the centre-left and centre-right. Is Italy’s role over now?
“We are convinced that Turkey, which is located halfway between the East and the West, has a fundamental role to play. Some suggest to isolate Ankara and Moscow. I don’t want to evoke noble principles or lofty ideals. It is simply not to our advantage. We need to be realistic. I remember something that happened when I was minister of the interior.”
“In January 2015, we started noticing the arrival in Apulia of large ships from Turkish ports. It was a strange phenomenon: traffickers abandoned them with the autopilot set on route to Italy, expecting them to be rescued. We had the suspicion that some of them not only contained migrants but also possibly terrorists. I met with representatives of the Turkish Government. I told them we had information on their ports. We solved the problem with their help: no more ships departed with that same system along that route. This is just an example: it stands to show that we need to cooperate. Another thing altogether is sharing legislative methods and orientations.”
Gabriele Del Grande, the journalist arrested in an area of Turkey access to which was banned to foreigners, is now being held on administrative charges and should be expelled. Why isn’t he being repatriated yet? And do you think it is appropriate for an allied Country to adopt similar measures against a journalist?
“We have activated all our channels, both there and here. We have been reassured, have informed the family, and have asked that everything be solved as quickly as possible.”
Erdogan often takes things too far. First with Russia, often with the EU. What do you think he’s aiming for?
“His intention seems clear enough: he’s trying to increase his influence within global dynamics. Starting with the significant role played in fighting international terrorism. He wants to be capable to discuss with the big powers on an even playing field while representing a traditional and at the same time innovative approach. I see rare signals showing that this is favoured by incidents in which other people, in addition to not performing their duty, don’t completely fulfil their tasks.”
Is Erdogan taking advantage of the vacuum left by the EU and more generally by the West?