Turkey has entered 2014 with a heavy load from 2013, facing a fraught year ahead.
Increasing political uncertainties have aggravated an already shrinking economy, exposing its main weaknesses, namely its reliance on foreign investment to finance its large current-account deficit. Turkey’s economy is now considered to be one of the most vulnerable among the emerging market countries.
After December’s political earthquake, caused by a corruption scandal going right to the core of government, we are likely to see domestic politics continuing to shape the agenda in 2014. With local elections in March, presidential elections in August and possible early elections before the scheduled parliamentary vote in mid-2015, the next 12 months will be a politically charged period, looking inward. Yet, the New Year also promises to be a difficult one internationally, with Turkey facing serious foreign policy issues in an increasingly unstable neighborhood.
The country may be pre-occupied with its internal problems but the world’s eyes will be on it in 2014.
Turkey is ranked as one of the high-risk countries for possible social unrest in 2014 by the Economic Intelligence Unit of the Economist.
The editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, tweeted on the 31st December that there were five things to watch in 2014: financial risk in shadow banking and insurance; Turkey; Sino-Japan rivalry; water wars and the Scottish referendum.
I could add several other things to watch worldwide. Almost all of them are likely to impact on Turkey.
2014 will be a year of continuing upheaval in Europe with a major shake-up in the political forces throughout the continent. In May, elections for the European Parliament are likely to bring anti-EU parties to the forefront of European politics. This is not good news for Turkey’s relations with the EU and it is a worrying development for millions of Turkish nationals living in European countries.
Even without these possible changes within the EU, the fallout from the Gezi protests and the most recent attempts by the Turkish government to interfere with the judicial process have reinforced the prevalent sense of unease about Turkey.
The departure of the highly unpopular Egemen Bagis from the post of the minister for European Affairs is a positive development. His replacement, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is a familiar name for the member countries of the Council of Europe, but his first statement after taking over from Bagis inviting “European friends to avoid pre-conceived convictions and to be more vigilant while commenting on developments about Turkey’s internal developments with political dimensions,” do not bode well.
With Greece taking over the EU presidency, the deadlock over Cyprus may once again come to the forefront of Turkey-EU relations.
2014 will be a make or break year for the Middle East. If the breakthrough accord reached between the world powers and Iran on November 24 is implemented, the region will see important changes. As a result, Turkey will find itself under closer scrutiny not only for its relations with Iran but also for its policy over Syria, too.
The civil war in Syria, where there seems to be no end to death and destruction, will continue to pose serious security risks for Turkey. The US-Russia sponsored Geneva II conference in January may or may not deliver any results. The UNHCR expects the number of Syrian refugees to reach up to 4.1 million in 2014. In Turkey, the number is likely to exceed one million.
In the meantime, Turkey’s other neighbour Iraq is once again becoming volatile with resurgence of rebellion against the government of the Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in its western region. Turkey’s closer energy links with Iraqi Kurdistan will continue to cause friction with the Baghdad regime as well as the United States.
In spring 2014, the US is expected to present a framework agreement on Israeli-Palestinian talks to bring the conflict to an end.
With its relations with Israel and Egypt being at an all-time low, Turkey is not likely to be a serious regional actor in the Middle East in 2014.
2014 is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. There will be many commemorations in Europe and elsewhere but Turkey will be bracing itself for another centenary the next year, the 100th anniversary of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians.
Whichever way you look at it, a turbulent year awaits Turkey.
All the same, I wholeheartedly hope for a Happy New Year for every one of you.
This post is also available in: Turkish