Offer of closer economic ties mixed with threats reflects complex relationship between Turkey and the bloc.
Turkey wants to resolve conflicts and make more friends while turning its region into an “island of peace”, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
Speaking to thousands of supporters at a party congress held amid a new surge in coronavirus cases, Erdogan said he was “determined to increase the number of our friends and resolve hostilities in the region”.
“We will continue to shape our relationships with every country from the United States to Russia, from the European Union to the Arab geography in line with Turkey’s interests and our people’s expectations,” the Turkish president told his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) congress in the capital Ankara.
“As a country located in the heart of Africa, Asia and Europe, we do not have the luxury to turn our backs on neither the East nor the West,” he said.
Despite a big jump in new COVID-19 cases, which reached 26,000 on Tuesday, the congress was packed with thousands of AK Party members and delegates who travelled from across the country, drawing criticism online.
But Erdogan talked up Wednesday’s address as an important moment in Turkish politics, in which he intended to lay out the country’s future course.
Erdogan also tried to reassure foreign investors spooked by the dismissal of the market-friendly central bank chief, saying Turkey’s economy will prevail.
“I call on foreign investors who invest in our country to trust Turkey’s power and potential,” Erdogan said.
“The fluctuations of the past few days most definitely do not reflect the fundamentals of Turkey’s economy, real dynamics, potential or its tomorrow,” he said.
Erdogan last week dismissed central bank head Naci Agbal, who had raised investor confidence and shored up the Turkish currency following a series of interest rate increases. He replaced him with Sahap Kavcioglu, a banking professor who has argued for lower rates, in line with Erdogan’s economic thinking.
The move raised fears about Turkey’s possible return to unconventional monetary policy and caused the Turkish lira to plummet. Erdogan has long argued that high interest rates cause inflation, although higher rates typically shore up a currency and help combat inflation.
The Turkish leader also called on citizens to put any foreign currency or gold they kept at home into banks to help the economy.
Turkey has been at loggerheads with NATO allies as well as Arab rivals in the Middle East, angry at Ankara’s increasingly assertive foreign policy.
But in the past few months, Turkish officials have sought to lower the temperature with frequent references to turning a “new page” in relations.
This month Turkey said it established diplomatic contact with rival Egypt for the first time since 2013. Erdogan’s message of peace reflects a broader change in tone following years of military campaigns in Syria, Libya and Iraq.
Turkey’s involvements have caused frustration in Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which support the opposing side in Libya.
Turkey’s relations with the West, including France and the United States, were further hampered by Ankara’s search for energy in disputed Eastern Mediterranean waters.
Tensions have dissipated somewhat since Turkey withdrew a research vessel from the region, restarting talks with Greece for the first time since 2016, although Athens on Wednesday again condemned Ankara’s “aggression”.
The conciliatory steps improved Turkey’s investment climate and helped the lira, which rallied after losing nearly 30 percent of its value last year.
But the Turkish currency plunged by as much as 14 percent this week after Erdogan sacked the central bank governor.