Catalonia Leader Artur Mas Forging a Turkish-Style Foreign Policy Amid Debt Crisis


A biotechnology convention in Boston, meetings with multinational companies in New York, interviews with top media channels, a planned tour to several European states to explain the fiscal deficit: it looks like a pretty tight agenda for Artur Mas, the president of Spain's Catalonia region. But the Catalan government seems to have decided to charge batteries and start an active foreign policy to escape from the Spanish economic disaster. Whereas the Spanish attitude towards its European peers has been described as selfish and superficial by German media, the Catalan government is trying its best to market the region. 

“More active than ever” has recently become the leitmotif of Catalonia´s foreign policy, which has adopt a rhythmic diplomacy since the last month. The new strategy closely reminds of the strategy adopted by Turkey at the beginning of the 2000s with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the helm. Not only did Turkey need a new and active foreign policy to become a significant international actor but also to represent the new interest of the Turkish economic actors. When the Justice and Development Party reached the government in 2002, Turkey’s foreign policy adopted an entire new orientation based on an increasing active role in the region and international arena. The country shifted from having a standstill position without a definite foreign policy to adopting an active role in the international arena. During 2003, nine presidents, fourteen prime ministers, and twenty-five foreign ministers went to Turkey for official visits - bringing Turkey to the forefront of international affairs.

The expansion of economic ties and the promotion of Turkish economic interest were paramount in Turkey’s decision to apply its “zero problems with neighbors” policy. An outstanding number of economic bilateral agreements were agreed upon in record time among Turkey and several Middle Eastern, Maghreb and Gulf countries. But the new foreign policy would have hardly been implemented without the involvement of Turkish economic stakeholders.

Consciously or not, the Catalan government has started to follow a similar approach, distant from the Spanish line of action. If implemented effectively, it could help alleviate the Mediterranean region´s economic situation. Comprising 20% of Spanish GDP and 30% of foreign trade, tiny Catalonia has the chance to overcome it. However, Catalan businessmen have to be brought on board. In the Turkish case, economic actors acted as both driving forces and beneficiaries of the new Turkey’s foreign policy. It is in the interest of the Catalan ones to do the same, even if past affiliations must be rethought.

In Turkey´s new foreign policy, the economy worked as an entry level for a further developed cooperation which situated the country as the key political influential player that is now. In Catalonia the economic situation has already prompted a change on its own foreign policy. Regardless of whether  the non-economic repercussions will apply in the Catalan case, the new strategy must be fully endorsed since it has the potential to work.