Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez paid an important visit to Ankara on November 17 and participated in the Turkey-Spain intergovernmental summit with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. After the visit – considered important for strengthening long-dormant bilateral relations – trade ties, in particular, should strengthen between the two countries.
In order to make sense of today’s Turkish-Spanish relations, it is necessary to briefly examine the historical context of bilateral relations. In this context, it should be mentioned that both sides were engaged in a tight power struggle in neighboring regions until the 16th century. However, after the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the two sides never entered into major military conflicts. The orientation of Spain to the newly discovered continents for exploration purposes instead of the area dominated by the Ottoman Empire during this period was the main factor that minimized the risk of conflict between the parties.
In fact, the close relationship established between the Ottoman Sultan and the King of Spain through the ambassadors in 1783, a turning point in Turkish-Spanish relations, has remained almost intact until today. Accordingly, it would not be wrong to say that Turkish-Spanish relations are based on positive historical foundations.
Harmonious political relations
Regarding political relations, it can be said that Ankara and Madrid do not have serious and visible problems because there is no area where the two countries are fighting for power in matters of foreign policy. For example, there is no tension between Turkey and Spain like the high level tension between Turkey and France in the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh or Syria.
In addition, both parties are very sensitive to issues that are important to each other. For example, since the two camps are fighting ethnic and separatist organizations – the PKK in Turkey and the ETA (acronym of Euskadi ta Askatasuna or “Basque homeland and freedom” in Basque) in Spain – they are able to understand each other in the fight against terrorism. It should also be noted that the fact that Spain is among the least preferred destinations for militants of the Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ) minimizes possible risks in bilateral relations.
Regarding the European dimension of bilateral relations, Spain is not opposed to Turkey’s accession to the EU, unlike certain other Member States such as Austria, France, the Greek Cypriot administration from southern Cyprus or Greece. In fact, Sanchez openly declared that they “want Turkey to be part of the EU” during the meeting with Erdoğan. Therefore, Madrid’s constructive attitude towards EU membership naturally encourages Turkey to strengthen its relations with Spain.
On the other hand, we must not forget that contrary to the thesis of the “clash of civilizations” that the West tried to produce and impose on the whole world, Turkey and Spain were the pioneers of the project of ‘Alliance of Civilizations in 2005 with the encouragement of the United States. nations. In the troubled times of the post 9/11 era, the alliance has become a unique and inclusive platform for states around the world. Although the international situation did not allow this project to move forward, the co-sponsorship of such a project by the two countries was recorded as an important initiative in all respects.
Positive social perceptions
As for the perceptions of Turkish and Spanish societies in relation to each other, there is obviously no historical, political or cultural basis which could lead the parties to have negative opinions.
Although the Turkish and Spanish societies, which have the characteristics of Mediterranean societies, are geographically located at both ends of Europe, it can be said that they have started to know each other more thanks to the accessibility offered by tourism today. hui. However, it goes without saying that La Liga is one of the most followed sports organizations in Turkey and Spanish universities are frequently preferred by Turkish students under the Erasmus student exchange program.
Moreover, Spain, which is one of the two countries in Europe most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic along with Italy, was almost powerless in the first months of the pandemic and was in desperate need of help. help from other European countries. However, in an environment where countries faced their own problems, Turkey donated medical aid supplies to Spain without expecting anything in return. Turkey’s helping hand in humanitarian diplomacy at such a difficult time naturally made perceptions of Turkey more positive in the eyes of Spanish society.
Expectations for economic ties
Considering the economic dimension of relations between Turkey and Spain, we can see that the volume of trade between the parties has been hovering around 12 billion dollars (151.21 billion TL) for some time, which is good. below the level at which it should be. The problems of the customs union between Turkey and the EU are one of the most important reasons for the low level of trade between Turkey and Spain.
Moreover, the fact that the foreign trade portfolios of the two countries are very similar and the products relatively easy to substitute in their trade can be considered as other reasons for the low level of trade volume.
Important information is that motor vehicles and textile products are prominent among products exported from Turkey to Spain, according to 2020 data. In Spanish exports to Turkey, motor vehicles, plastic products, machinery and mechanical devices are leading. From this point of view, it is understood that agriculture, energy and high-tech products remain important in trade between the two parties.
In addition, 775 Spanish companies have already made direct investments in Turkey worth around $ 10.68 billion. In this regard, Spain ranks seventh among countries making foreign direct investments in Turkey. On the other hand, only 85 Turkish investors are currently present in Spain. This situation reveals that Turkish investors, who cannot overcome the language barrier, are unfamiliar with the Spanish market.
Although well below its potential, the business value can easily reach $ 20 billion with fairs that could be held frequently between the two countries and visits that could be made between potential investors.
So, by overcoming the shallow waters of bilateral trade, there are opportunities to be explored in many different fields, from agriculture to finance, from the defense industry to health. At this point, it should be remembered that Spain is supporting the design process of the TCG Anatolia, Turkey’s first multipurpose amphibious assault ship. On this basis, Turkey’s breakthrough in localizing and nationalizing its defense industry in recent years represents opportunities to increase cooperation between the two sides.
To sum up what has been said so far in one sentence: Turkish-Spanish relations must be in a stronger position politically, economically and socially.