EU-Turkey Relations, Workshop “80 Years of the Turkish Republic in Light of Austrian-Turkish Relations”, Vienna, 31 October 2003


Symposium “80 Years of the Turkish Republic in light of Austrian-Turkish Relations”, Vienna, 31 October 2003

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

         It is a great pleasure for me to participate in this Symposium and address such a distinguished audience. I will focus in my keynote speech, first, on the milestones of Turkish-EU relations. Then, I will say a few words on the efforts Turkey made to fulfill the criteria to join the EU. I will continue with the contributions that Turkey may make to EU and will conclude with Turkey’s expectations from the EU and Austria.

–                          Turkey applied to join the then European Economic Community (EEC), already in 1959, one year before the Treaty of Rome establishing the EEC had entered into force.

–                          In 1963, Turkey signed with the EEC an Association Agreement with the ultimate aim of joining it.

–                          In 1995 Turkey established a Customs’ Union with the EU.

–                          The EU Council held in Helsinki in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate for full membership to the EU and decided also to treat Turkey on equal footing with the other candidate countries.

–                          During the EU Council held in Copenhagen in December 2002, it was decided that accession negotiations with Turkey will start “without delay”, in case the Council is led to the conclusion that Turkey fulfills the Copenhagen political criteria of EU.

The commitment undertaken in Helsinki by EU to treat Turkey on equal footing was ignored in 2002: Accession negotiations with some member countries which have now become full members were initiated before these countries fulfilled all of the Copenhagen criteria. In the Progress Report issued by the EU Commission regarding these countries, it was pointed out that 2 years after the accession negotiations started with these countries, they did not yet fully abide by the Copenhagen criteria. During its meeting in Copenhagen on 12 December 2002, the EU Council turned a deaf ear to Turkey’s efforts to draw the EU Council’s attention to this unfair treatment.

No matter how disappointing it was, Turkey decided not to get stuck to the past and to look forward, consequently it embarked upon an unprecedented set of reforms in several areas including democratization, fundamental rights and freedoms, transparency in economic dealings and elimination of corruption.

Here is a short list of major achievements of Turkey since December 2002:

         Two legislative harmonization packages were adopted last June and July, namely packages labelled as No. 6 and 7 to eliminate remaining discrepancies for compliance with the EU criteria.

With the sixth reform package, we have:

                –  extended the scope of the freedom of expression by

                    repealing Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Act;

                –  enabled private broadcasts in languages and dialects other

                    than Turkish

         – facilitated the construction of places of worship, including churches;

                – and extended the application period for community        foundations to register real estate in their possession

      With the seventh reform package, we have:

           – extended further the scope of the freedoms of expression, assembly and association;

               –  facilitated the learning of languages other than Turkish;

               –  aligned the duties and competences of the Secretariat General of the National Security Council with the consultative nature of the Council and with the needs of a democratic executive;

               –  extended the Parliamentary scrutiny to cover also the use of public assets and public expenditure in the areas outside the budget, including the military expenditure.

After Turkey passed these pieces of legislation, the EU asked Turkey to comply, this time, with an additional criterion, which was not raised when the accession negotiations were to be initiated with the other candidate countries. It said that aligning the legislation with the acquis was not enough and that Turkey should demonstrate the proper implementation of the legislation passed by the Parliament. Turkey does not, of course, reject the idea that all laws passed by the Parliament should be implemented properly. Because, it goes without saying that any legislation is adopted by the Parliament for the purpose of being implemented. What Turkey finds it difficult to understand is why the subject of proper implementation is raised as a precondition only in the case of Turkey while it is tolerated for the other candidate countries.

Turkey is not unaware of its discrepancies on the misinterpretations of the legislation by some law enforcement officers or by the judiciary. But Turkey is not the only country where there are such discrepancies. We believe that they could be eliminated during the negotiations process as it happened in the case of other candidates. But again, for the sake of not getting stuck to the past, Turkey has introduced the following mechanisms in order to eliminate such discrepancies:

–                          The implementation of the reforms is made a permanent item on the agenda of the Council of Ministers.

–                          An office created in the Turkish administration under the name of the Secretariat General for EU Affairs will present monthly progress reports to the Council of Ministers on the implementation of the National Programme.

–                          Furthermore, a special Monitoring Group has been established at the political level to overview progress in the actual implementation of political reforms.

–                          This group is chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and is composed of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior. The three Ministers are meeting regularly to define and address issues of implementation. Senior officials from the three Ministries concerned, including the Secretary-General for EU Affairs, the Head of the Human Rights Department of the Prime Ministry and the Chairman of the Human Rights Advisory Council also participate in these meetings.

            Compliance with the Copenhagen economic criteria does not constitute a pre-condition for the opening of accession negotiations. The Customs’ Union Agreement signed with EU made Turkey’s economy more competitive and integrated with the EU economy than the economies of the new member countries. Still, we continue our efforts towards further integrating our economy with the norms and standards of the EU.

            The financial cooperation between Turkey and EU is a commitment undertaken by EU through the provisions of the Association Agreement signed in 1963.  The total amount of financial support extended by EU to a country of 70 million inhabitants such as Turkey, remained as low as 1.6 billion Euros for a period of 40 years. This amount is the lowest among all countries from the Caribbean Sea to China, which benefited from the financial assistance of EU.

With these few comparisons, I now leave it to your sound judgement whether Turkey is treated on equal footing with the other candidate countries.

Turkey hopes that the financial cooperation in the future will be more satisfactory than in the past and that there will not be any difficulty in the European Parliament to approve the figure proposed by the Commission(that is to say 250 million Euro for the year 2004; 300 million for 2005 and 500 million for 2006). We also hope that this figure will be increased as Turkey demonstrates its absorption capacity.

  Furthermore, in view of the possibility of opening of accession negotiations with Turkey after the December 2004 European Council, we expect that due regard will be given to Turkey in the preparations for the EU’s post-2006 financial perspectives.

I now turn to possible contributions that Turkey may make to the EU when it becomes a full member.

  Turkey believes that its membership in the EU will be a symbol of harmonious co-existence of cultures, and enriching the spiritual fabric of the EU. As a key regional actor and ally located in close proximity to many existing or potential hot spots that are high on the European and international agenda, Turkey can help enhance stability and promote welfare in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Middle East. It contributes to the ongoing rapprochement between Europe and Asia and hence helps extend modern values throughout Eurasia. Once Turkey becomes the member of EU, it will be able to contribute much more to the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Of course, both Turkey and EU could achieve the afore-mentioned goals without each other’s support. But they may achieve these goals more easily and with lesser effort in case they unite their efforts within EU.

With Turkey as a member, the EU will have a stronger voice in the prevention and settlement of conflicts that involve the western community of nations and other countries.

Being aware of the fact that it is Turkey’s task to inform the EU public opinion about its achievements, performance and expectations, the Turkish Government introduced a Communication Strategy by which we are trying toexplain to the European public the strategic, political, economic and cultural advantages Turkey’s membership will bring to the EU.

What do we expect from EU regarding this year’s Progress Report on Turkey?

 We hope that the Commission will state that Turkey has completed the legislative work for complying with the Copenhagen political criteria and that it now focuses on ensuring full and effective implementation of political reforms.

           Furthermore it will be fair to acknowledge that Turkey has a fully functioning market economy.

 We believe that Turkey deserves an encouraging statement to be issued by the European Council in December 2003.

 What could Austria do in order to promote Turkey’s case in EU?

For several reasons, Austria is in a position to better assess Turkey’s case. Both countries inherited an imperial legacy. They had a multitude of contacts throughout last 6 centuries, sometimes in the form of military confrontations, some other times in cooperating against third countries.

 Turkey’s membership will raise the profile of the EU in the projection of common European values and standards to neighboring regions.

         Today more than 200.000 Turks live in Austria and amongst them, more than 80.000 Turks have acquired Austrian citizenship. This is a significant number. Turkey and Austria cooperate in many ways especially in economic fields, from transportation equipments to energy, from food, to electronics, financial services, chemicals, medicine and so on. The Agreements signed between the two countries on the Prevention of Double Taxation, on the Promotion and Protection of Investments and on the Technical Cooperation, facilitatethe economic cooperation.

Turkey’s membership to the EU will no doubt enhance the Union’s global reach, be it strategic or economic, thus its influence. Austria will benefit from this, as well as the other member countries of EU, if not more.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that Turkey’s main objective continues to be the opening of accession negotiations with the EU as of December 2004.

We believe that we have ensured the “critical mass” regarding compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria as far as the legislative measures are concerned.

We are committed to ensure the full and effective implementation of legal reforms. We need in this effort the support and encouragement of you as friends of Turkey.

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