TURKISH POLITICIAN: “LET THE EU MEMBER STATES BE RELUCTANT”
Interview made by Evelyn Kaldoja of Postimees daily, Estonia,
with Mr Yasar Yakis
8 October 2010
If the European Union does not admit Turkey as a member, despite Turkey’s efforts, then the Union must take into consideration that a country with a position such as Turkey will not remain “in limbo”, said the Chairman of EU Harmonization Committee of the Turkish Parliament and former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis in an exclusive interview to Postimees, during his visit to Estonia this week.
How would you describe the present situation of Turkey’s progress on the road to accession with the EU? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Actually, there are almost no weaknesses; Turkey is full of strengths, because the country is making its best effort to improve the standards of democracy and human rights. Whether it joins the EU or not, the reforms are being made mainly for the benefit of the Turkish people.
Turkey is the 6th largest economy in Europe, in absolute figures the world’s 17th economy. Based on Purchasing Power Parity, it is the 16th biggest economy in the world. Turkey has a very young population: 57% are less than 25 years of age. Youths up to 14 years of age constitute 36% of the population; in the EU the same figure is 17 %.
A hundred years ago Turkey was considered to be “the sick man of Europe”. Now it is the healthiest economy in Europe. Turkey has a very important strategic location. NATO has identified 15 hotspots in the world, which are important in view of stability and interests of the alliance. 13 of these hotspots are located in close proximity to Turkey: namely the Balkans, Near East the Caucasus. Central Asia is not a close neighbor but Turkish presence there is very strong due to ethnic and linguistic ties. Naturally we are not saying that if the EU countries do not cooperate with Turkey then they cannot do anything in those regions, however by cooperating they can achieve their goals more effectively and with lesser resources.
Speaking of immediate neighbors, then what are the relations between Turkey and Israel and the US, NATO´s largest member after the incident this spring involving the ships en route to Gaza?
There is a strong Jewish lobby in the US and it acts very emotionally regarding everything that concerns Israel. However we are talking about Israel’s military attacking a civilian vessel in the international high seas, which is considered piracy according to the international law.
The truth is out there, regardless of the lobbyists, it does not affect the facts: Turkey is a strong ally of the US, who has the second largest army within NATO, and US and Turkey are cooperating in many areas in the world. I do not believe that this will hurt Turkey’s relations with the US in long term; there are just some unfortunate developments. We asked Israel to fulfill five conditions, out of which they have fulfilled three. They have returned the bodies of nine killed, released the captured civilians and the vessel. Israel has not formally apologized and paid retribution to cover the damages caused to the ship and to the passengers.
It is in the interests of both Turkey and Israel to maintain good relations, because they are the only democracies in the region. We used to cooperate extensively in both military training and acquiring equipment for the army; in addition Turkey is a good communications channel between Israel and several Near Eastern countries, such as Syria for example. I hope that both countries will deal with this situation very seriously to restore the previous level of bilateral relations because if the present situation will continue, both countries will lose; however, Israel has much more to lose than Turkey.
The recent polls show that the support of Turkish people to join the EU has decreased. Why?
The biggest reason for this is the behavior of several leaders of the EU member States who say that Turkey has no place in Europe and at most should be given some sort of privileged partnership status. This has caused disillusionment in the general public.
The other reason is similar to what happened in Estonia: the support to joining the EU was very strong at first but following the start of the accession talks, the support decreased. In some countries the political parties under whom the country joined the EU were not re-elected at the subsequent elections because the people felt they were too conceding. I think this applies to Turkey as well. When the accession talks were opened, there were circles within Turkey, such as the military, industry, judiciary, who thought that the EU is not as good as they had hoped. They thought that it is all the other segments of the society that have to make reforms and not them.
The third reason is that in the new foreign policy developments, Turkey gained new self-confidence: if the EU member States are reluctant to admit us, let them be so, we shall wait and see where it leads. Turkey shall continue to give her best to become a full member of the EU, however, if we are not admitted, then a country of the size of Turkey; with a young population and dynamic economy and a good strategic location will not remain indefinitely in limbo. It is up to the EU to consider the consequences of such a development.