The Arab Spring has marked a turning point for Europe and world politics. In the Mediterranean area, the global uncertainty is taking place as a new regional order will materialize after the wave of protests in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) area.
One year on, it may be useful to draw some considerations on the events and actors surrounding the Arab awakening. In fact, transitions in this area is happening more or less peacefully, since if Tunisia and Libya are experiencing a quite shift to nationalist governments, others are still affected by repression (Egypt, Bahrain) or, even worse, are not seeing yet a chance for happy ending to their rebellions (Syria).
Given the progressive disengagement by the US from the region – Washington has been encouraging the Europeans to do more in security since the breakup of Yugoslavia, and now it is looking more and more at the Pacific area, as South East Asia will be the main theatre of disputes and warfare in the foreseeable future – two actors may take advantage of a future void left by the Americans, namely the EU and Turkey. Those actors seem to have the responsibility to promote peaceful transition and mark a paradigm shift from the old, US-led, realist pattern supporting dictators and internal repression in the region for the sake of controlling flows of immigration and oil revenues.
The EU has been source of controversies over its approach to the Arab Spring, leading many to wonder whether it has been a success or a failure. Liberals would be optimistic about Brussels’ stance because the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) has made strong contribution to promote democratization and reforms in exchange of economic aid. Conditionality has led to support for civil society and rise in awareness among the Arab people, this resulting in a strong demand for reforms, democracy and accountability. Also, the EU “Partnership for Democracy and Stability with the Southern Mediterranean” has been presented to foster a reenergized dialogue focused on institution-building, closer cooperation and higher standard of governance. To this extent, the ‘Western style’ democracy nurtured by the European Commission has revealed successful. In the light of this one appraises Cathy Ashton’s trip to Tripoli to state the importance of reforms and democracy for growth.
Nonetheless, it has been argued that the EU’s approach to Arab upheaval has been anachronistic and ineffective. In fact, how can Brussels be a credible actor in International Relations if it has presented once more divided and led by national, individual interests? Apart from a ‘common’ stance claimed in press releases and official statements, the reality says that the EU member states were split up. France and the UK pushed for direct intervention in Libya under NATO’s umbrella to enforce the UN 1973 Resolution. Conversely, Italy was not resolute as it joined the coalition after hesitating some weeks. Embarrassment was high when Berlusconi admitted his concern over Qaddafi’s life, economic ties between Italy and Libya being very strong (see ENI’s production in the country). Also, Germany abstained in UNSC vote for no-fly zone, thus it did not intervene in the conflict, this policy mostly driven by domestic politics as Merkel administration feared drop in vote support after lack of consensus on Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The fact that before NATO took full command of operations, the EU countries had presented even a diverse naming for their national military actions says a lot about the degree of coordination within the EU in defence and security policy. The Lisbon Treaty has defined new concepts such as the ‘Enhanced Cooperation’ and stronger engagement through the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, and the European External Action Service. However, this has not led to a departure from what Moravcsik’s liberal intergovernmentalism theorized, notably the interaction of domestic needs and national interests driving foreign policy decisions. As the Libyan intervention clearly demonstrated, countries such as the UK and France pushed for intervention as they were driven by economic concerns, oil revenues. In the light of this, Italy ‘joined’ the ‘coalition of the willing’ driven by the powerful oil company ENI, whose 30% of shares belongs to the Italian state.
On top of that, the old pattern of US dependence and lack of EU’s independent action seems to be repeating despite the official narrative of an increasingly autonomous EU in foreign and security policy. This involves further debates around the EU-NATO cooperation: while NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq has led critics do argue that the transatlantic alliance is serving American global interests, the EU seems incapable of providing the region with efficient security credentials; to put it differently, while NATO is looking for a new, reenergized strategy, the EU Member States are still in search of a common identity.
Here, evidence does support the view of those who believe that the European integration is more affected by national, realist considerations rather than vague concept of European vision, EU security and common foreign policy. However, the EU has the appropriate credentials to play a leading role in the MENA area, by operating as soft power. Among the other things, unlike the US, Brussels has more credibility for the international community to be a major broker in Arab-Israeli negotiations. Its action would not be biased and ideological, but it may take advantage of the new scenario to become a mature actor and outcome Hill’s conceptualized ‘capability-expectation gap’.
Another actor that can offer interesting perspectives in the wake of the Arab Spring is Turkey. The Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has fostered and championed the revolutions across the Arab world through the promotion of the Turkish successful economic model which is compatible with Islamic values. After the ‘wait-and-see’ approach following Libyan and Syrian civil wars, Ankara has supported demands for democratization coming from the Arab people. Nonetheless, it could be advocated that one cannot promote democracy and freedom if it is not in the right position to protect human rights, as Turkey has been widely accused of ignoring Kurdish rights and minorities in the country.
However, supporting rallies have taken place across Libya and Egypt to greet Erdoğan’s stance vis-à-vis their struggle for democracy, enabling Turkey to play the role model for the Arab world, by promoting fast-growing economy compatible with Islamic values. Although Ankara is a key US ally and NATO’s second-largest member, the AKP party has not hesitated in accusing Israel and deepening ties with Iran and Syria, following the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Davutoğlu’s ‘peace with neighbourhood’ tactic.
Some have advocated that the AKP is looking eastwards and it is bringing about the Islamization of the state. Rows with France over the recognition of the Armenian genocide during WWI, as well as deteriorating ties with Tel Aviv after the 2010 Gaza Flotilla accident are examples of those Western concerns. Thus Ankara would be pursuing a ‘plan B’ for improving relations with its close neighbourhood (the Caucasus and the Middle East) given the repeated setbacks in the road to EU Membership. However, further evidence demonstrates that this new approach in foreign policy comes principally as a post-Cold War strategy, national interests prioritized and dominant over ideal West/ East and Islam/Christianity idealistic discourses. Fears of ‘Neo-Ottomanism’ seem to lose emphasis here, since Ankara’s policy seems rather a necessary consequence of a radically changed international environment in the wake of major events such as the 9/11, Gaza War, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The alliance with Israel was conjunctural in opposing the Soviet Union until the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it was doomed to fail as soon as Turkey would emerge as regional leader. It remains to be seen how the Turkish leadership would react if a conflict between Israel and Iran were to break out. Hence, there are many controversies and schools of thought around the Arab Spring while there are still profound divisions within the UNSC on how to prevent Assad regime from killing civilians in Damascus, Russia and China vetoing last UNSC motion.
In sum, given that the US is progressively decreasing its involvement in the Euro-Mediterranean region, the EU and Turkey can play a key role in replacing Washington and stand as leading actors. Those hypotheses may be the future reality if the EU is willing to embrace a collective vision over foreign and security matters, and if Turkey is able to promote its core security interests while not sending ambiguous signals and not ignoring the EU framework, as well as its commitment to NATO and stability in the region.
If Brussels still struggles to become hard power and if Turkey can confirm its soft, balancing attitude in the Israeli-Iranian disputes, it would be not difficult to promote a revitalized Euro-Mediterranean dialogue, endorsing a common agenda and providing a stable and democratic neighbourhood.
To this extent, a redefinition of Turkey’s foreign policy, after reiterated denial of EU membership and arising opportunities in the region to play a leading role and mediate the Israel-Iran confrontation, may seem legitimate. In any case, it should not be excluded that the Brussels and Ankara may find common grounds for coordination in security arrangements within the Mediterranean scenario. As an example, in response to Assad’s repression of protests in Syria, Ankara and the EU Member States have tightened economic sanctions so as to isolate more and more Damascus; may this be the start of a new era for European-Turkish defence relations?
 Schumacher, T. (2011), “The EU and the Arab Spring: Between Spectatorship and Actorness”, Insight Turkey, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 107-119.
 “Libia, la repressione fa più di 100 morti. Berlusconi: ‘Non disturbo Gheddafi’ ”, La Repubblica, 19/02/2011.
 Moravcsik, A. (1993), “Preferences and Power in the European Community: A Liberal Intergovernmentalist Approach‟, Journal of Common Market Studies, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 473- 524.
 Giegerich, B. and Wallace, W. (2010), “Foreign and Security Policy: Civilian Power Europe and American Leadership‟, in H. Wallace, M.A. Pollack and A.R. Young (eds), Policy-Making in the European Union (Oxford: University Press), pp.431- 455. See also Wallace, W. (2007), “European Foreign Policy: A Realistic Aspiration, or an Unattainable Goal?‟, in N. Casarini and C. Musu (eds), European Foreign Policy in an Evolving International System: The Road Towards Convergence (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 3-11.
 Hill, C. (1993), „The Capability-Expectations Gap, or Conceptualising Europe‟s International Role‟, Journal of Common Market Studies, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 305-328.
 See, for instance, Bilgin, P. (2005), „Turkey‟s Changing Security Discourses: The Challenge of Globalisation‟, European Journal of Political Research, vol. 44, pp. 175- 201. And Lesser, I. O. (2010), “Rethinking Turkish-Western relations: A Journey Without Maps”, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, Analysis, 30 June.
 Çandar, C. (2009), “Turkey’s ‘Soft Power’ Strategy: A New Vision for a Multi-Polar World”, Seta - Policy Brief, no. 38.