Outlook for Europe and Turkey, Bosphorus Conference, Istanbul, 10-11 October 2008


“Bosphorus Conference 2008”

Istanbul, 10-11 October 2008


Dear Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address such a distinguished group today. I would like to congratulate Centre for European Reform, TESEV and the British Council for their efforts to organise this Conference since 2004 and giving us the opportunity to discuss the highly important issues in Turkey-EU relationship in an informal manner.

Outlook for Europe does not always mean outlook for the European Union. However, for the purpose of the present meeting, I will use the terminology “outlook for Europe” to mean the “outlook for the EU”.

            To simplify my analysis, at the outset, I will assess the outlook for the EU and the outlook for Turkey separately and I will merge them later.

The EU will have to overcome the difficulties that stem from the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. It faced similar difficulties in the past, but overcame them through compromises that are reached at the last moment after a lot of hard bargaining. It may face other difficulties in the future, but I believe that it will overcome them as well. One may expect that, as the number of the member countries will increase, additional difficulties may arise. However I do not foresee a total collapse of the big design that is called the European integration.

As to Turkey, we may put aside for a moment Turkey’s accession process to the EU and try to assess Turkey’s assets independently from this process. Turkey is an important country in the Balkans, in the Black Sea basin, in the Caucasus and in the Middle East. It is an important member of the Islamic Conference Organisation that brings together 57 countries with predominantly Muslim population. It is a reliable partner for the Central Asian Turkic Republics with whom it has close cultural ties. Turkey is an important alternate route for the supply of oil and gas that originate from the Caspian Sea basin. It controls the seaways that link the Black Sea basin countries to what is called the “warm seas”. It has a young and dynamic population.

It is only natural to say that such a country can stand on its own feet without becoming a member of the EU.

Having said this, we may better assess the advantages of Turkey’s accession to the EU. Both the EU and Turkey could achieve what they wish to achieve without Turkey becoming a member of the EU, but if they cooperate closely, they could achieve these targets much more easily, with lesser financial resources, lesser human resources, lesser efforts and lesser acrimony.

Couldn’t the EU cooperate by giving it a “privileged partnership status” and by keeping it anchored strongly in the Western structures as it is suggested in some EU documents?

The Turkish authorities have declared on several occasions, in an unequivocal manner, that they are not prepared to negotiate with the EU for any status less than full membership. If we take these statements seriously, there is no point in insisting on a status other than the full membership. Consequently, one may say, without using a threatening tone, that if Turkey does not become full member of the EU, it will be up to Turkey to determine whether it will remain anchored in the Western structures or not. New power balances are emerging in the region and in the world at large. It is only natural that the Turkish leaders will chose at that time whatever fits better Turkey’s interests in case it is left out of the EU.

Therefore, if the EU does not want to utilize the advantages of Turkey’s membership to the EU, this will be its own choice.

I now turn to the artificial difficulties created by certain member countries of the EU with a view to making Turkey’s accession process as difficult as possible. The French veto on eight chapters on the grounds that the negotiations of these chapters lead to the membership is almost an irony. If these negotiations are not conducted for the sake of full membership, which other reasonable explanation could be given to justify them. However, in my capacity as an official who is directly involved in Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, I believe that Turkey should not get entangled in the statement of every single politician in the EU. There are two reasons for this:

            Firstly Turkey’s interlocutors are not individual politicians of the member countries. Turkey’s interlocutors are the institutions of the EU and the officials who are entitled to speak on behalf of these institutions are on the record to point out that the ultimate goal of the negotiations is the full membership.

            Secondly, Turkey should take into consideration that by the time Turkey will reach the threshold of the accession to the EU, the political landscape will most probably be different from the present one. We do not know whether the political leaders who oppose to Turkey’s membership will still be at the decision-making positions. We do not know how the political situation will evolve in Palestine, Syria and Iraq. We do not know what Iran’s uranium enrichment program will become. We do not know how the situation in the Caucasus will evolve. We do not know the role that Turkey could play in order to help the EU to make its policy prevail in these regions. Without knowing for sure all these important parameters, it is not safe to assess the future.

            For all these reasons, I believe that Turkey should look beyond the horizon and utilize the accession process to the EU in order to put more order to its interior: to make Turkey a country where fundamental rights and freedoms are enjoyed in a more widespread manner; where democracy functions more smoothly; where a transparent market economy prevails and where corruption is brought to a minimum level.

            Thank you for your attention.

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