It’s after midnight on a Friday and I’m waiting at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport to meet FCO Europe Minister David Lidington off a late flight from London. The airport is packed with people as passengers pour into a city which for over 2,000 years has been a crossroads between Europe and Asia.
One of the first words any student of Turkish learns is kalabalık, meaning ‘crowded’. The intensity of traffic through Atatürk airport, like the packed pavements, hotels and congress centres of the city, is symptomatic of the pivotal role which Istanbul, like the rest of Turkey, is playing in 21st century business and politics.
It also helps to explain why the UK has identified Turkey as one of the top emerging powers with which we must strengthen our economic, cultural and political ties.
The 48 hours surrounding Mr Lidington’s arrival help show what that means. On Thursday evening Lord Green, Minister for Trade and Investment, arrives and heads straight into a networking event with British Business missions from Northern Ireland and London and the South East.
On Friday Lord Green meets British exporters and financial service providers; Turkish inward investors, including a visit to the Florence Nightingale Hospital Group who are opening a new European HQ in London; and visits the UK-Turkey Business Forum and the UK-Turkey CEO Forum.
On Saturday, Mr Lidington and Lord Green attend the UK-Turkish Tatlıdil conference and the Istanbul World Forum; and complete a further intense programme of meetings including bilaterals with Finance Minister Şimşek and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu.
All this comes just a week after a visit to Turkey by Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Business and Enterprise Minister Michael Fallon, and a major conference in London with Turkish law enforcement experts to deepen our cooperation on counter-terrorism and organised crime.
One of the high value opportunities which British companies are pursuing in Turkey is the proposed new third Istanbul airport, due to open in a few years with a capacity of 120 million passengers. Based on the traffic I have seen over my first few weeks in Istanbul there is every sign of the city’s role as an international crossroads continuing to prosper.