Phone calls from international community leaders to the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi have not stopped, since Egypt’s success in brokering a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, in May. The latest phone call came from the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on June 2nd. Among the many topics that the two presidents discussed in this extremely important and timely conversation, one topic stood out. That is not only because of its geopolitical relevance but also because it was presented in an unexpected manner. This topic is about the current rapprochement efforts between Turkey and Egypt.
According to the readout of the conversation between Michel and El-Sisi, as published by the European Council; President Michel “welcomed the current dialogue between Egypt and Turkey,” as part of the European Union’s strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean. Michel’s interesting and unexpected statements came as part of the discussion on EU-Egypt bilateral relations, with particular focus on continued partnership and investments within the framework of “the New Agenda for the Mediterranean.”
The New Agenda for The Mediterranean is an ambitious trans-Mediterranean project, that was proposed by the European Commission, in February, and the EU Council approved its conclusions, in April. The goal of the project is for Europe to “relaunch and strengthen the strategic partnership between the European Union and its southern neighborhood partners.” That is through guiding the EU's policy towards the Mediterranean region, through a new instrument titled “Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument - (NDICI).” The NDICI will work on both regional and bilateral levels with targeted countries, in the southern Mediterranean region, to implement an economic and investment recovery plan, with a budget of seven billion euros, for the period between 2021-2027.
Despite its sincerity and logicality, the statement by the EU Council President, wherein he “welcomed the dialogue between Turkey and Egypt,” could be seen by the Greeks and their French backers, as an act of betrayal. Amidst the heightened tensions between Turkey and Greece, in the Mediterranean and the Aegean, last summer, the French president criticized the European Union for not taking a strong stance in support of Greece, the EU member, against Turkey.
One can easily claim that the EU’s relentless efforts, in the past few months, to approach and strengthen relations with southern Mediterranean countries, came as a reaction to Turkey’s growing influence over key countries in North Africa. Abandoned by its European neighbors and motivated by the “Mavi Vatan” concept, Turkey has been working, for years, to create a presence for itself in North Africa, and in the Middle East, too. During those years, the European Union was purposefully distancing itself from the Middle East and North Africa region, especially after the Arab Spring revolutions and their chaotic aftermath that empowered terrorism and created an immigrant crisis from the south to the north. Turkey is the only country that generously contained the waves of immigrants fleeing death in their homelands towards Europe.
Today, Turkey has various economic and military agreements with Tunisia and Algeria. Above all that, Turkey has an actual military presence inside Libya, plus a government-approved maritime agreement that allowed Turkey to access maritime zones, that were previously forbidden, due to its decades-long maritime disputes with Greece.
In his conversation with Egyptian President El-Sisi, EU Council President Michel stressed the issue of Libya as a queue for Mediterranean security and stability. The two presidents agreed on the shared interest in a stable and united Libya, the importance of supporting the Government of National Unity (GNU), and the urgency of the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya. The GNU’s Prime Minister and top officials have not spared an opportunity without calling for the removal of mercenaries from Libya. Yet, in March, the GNU approved and extended the military and maritime agreements signed with Turkey under the previous government.
Right now, the Turkish military troops and Turkey-sponsored mercenaries represent the majority of foreign forces inside Libya. Turkey promised to send mercenaries back to Syria in batches. Other foreign forces, like the Russian Wagner Group, still exist on Libyan soil and have not withdrawn despite the many United Nations’ calls and ultimatums.
Meanwhile, Turkey is in the process of reconstructing a healthy relationship with Egypt, which will include economic and military cooperation that will open the economic doors of the southern Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East in front of Turkey. This may put Europe in a less advantageous situation, in the long run. In that sense, some may see the EU Council President’s statement welcoming the rapprochement between Turkey and Egypt as odd and perplexing. However, it is logical and pragmatic. Without agreement and cooperation between Egypt and Turkey, the Mediterranean will continue to suffer from insecurity and instability, which will hinder any future efforts by Europe to benefit from reviving its relations with southern Mediterranean countries.