The Partnership Turkey-Europe, Speech delivered in the Research Institute of German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and the Middle East Technical University of Ankara (METU), Berlin, 31 May 2005


Perspectives of a Strategic Relationship 

Berlin, 31 May 2005

 Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


            It is a great pleasure and honour for me to address such a distinguished audience. I would like to congratulate the Research Institute of German Council on Foreign Relations and the Middle East Technical University of Turkey for this timely initiative. It has become all the more timely after the recent provincial elections of North Rhein-Westphalia. The result of the elections revived in Germany an old debate of exact status of Turkey’s membership to the European Union.

French Referendum

The results of the French referendum on the European Constitution came in as I was giving last finishing touches to the text of my present speech. During the campaign for the referendum, the vote was linked, in an incomprehensible way, to Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The opponents of the Constitution claimed that the approval of the Constitution would facilitate Turkey’s accession to the European Union and its rejection will obstruct Turkey’s accession. I never understood the logic of this claim and I still do not understand it. None of my French interlocutors was able to explain to me the logic behind this linkage.

            The rejection of the European Constitution by one of the founding members of the European Union is of course a major blow for the European Union. This rejection becomes all the more meaningful when we remember that the European Convention that drafted the Constitution was chaired by Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, the former President of the Republic of France. However the European Union will not be dissolved as a result of this rejection. It should not be regarded as a step back in the process of integration either. A better description of what happened would be that an expected important step forward could not be taken because of the French rejection.

            As to its effect on Turkey’s accession, I believe that these two subjects are entirely independent from each other. The decision to start the accession negotiations with Turkey was made during the EU Summit on 17 December 2004. This decision is still valid and the negotiations will start on 3 October 2005. I still do not see how the process of negotiations with Turkey could be affected by the rejection. Neither the approval of the Constitution by the French people was going to facilitate Turkey’s accession negotiations, nor its rejection is likely to make it more difficult.

Definition of the word “Strategic”

Now I turn back to the subject of our conference.

Since the title of this conference refers to the “Strategic” relations between Turkey and the EU, it may be appropriate to say a few words on the meaning of the word “strategic” in this context.  I use the word strategic, in the sense of a set of relations that transcends relations in a narrowly defined area. For instance, no matter how successful they may be, very close and deep relations in industrial or agricultural or military or cultural areas cannot be regarded as strategic relations when they are taken one by one. Strategic relationship is a set of relations that transcends the area covered by any of these relations. It goes far beyond the limits of any of such given area of relationship or areas of cooperation. Strategic relationship could be compared to a blanket that covers all of them at the same time.

            Not only it is an overall type of relationship, but also it is a set of relationship of a slightly different nature. It goes deeper, it is more sustainable, it is not shaky, and it is less affected from temporary or seasonal fluctuations.

            UK and USA 

When we look at the picture from another angle, we notice that partners of a strategic relationship may also have, from time to time, divergent interests. The classical example of this is the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The relationship between these two countries is one of the best examples of the strategic relationship. However, we observe, from time to time, that these two countries do fall into dispute. They dispute it with the sprit of conciliation that is peculiar to them. Sometimes this dispute may become painful. But this does not bring to an end strategic relationship between UK and the US.

Turkey and USA

There is a similar situation between Turkey and the US. These two countries have converging interests in several areas. However on the subject of Northern Iraq their interests do not converge entirely. Turkey’s policy regarding Northern Iraq, and more specifically on the subject of the future status of Kirkuk differs from the American policy on the same subject. However, this is not regarded by either side as an element that will put an end to the fruitful cooperation that Turkey and the US enjoyed for decades. Turkey and the US cooperated more than 50 years ego in Korea; they cooperated in NATO during the entire cold war era; they cooperated in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Kossova and Somalia; they are cooperating at present in Afghanistan. They have converging interests in almost all major global issues. I do not know whether Turkey’s relation with the US could be characterised as strategic relationship, but both countries are fully aware of the importance of sustaining the present good relationship.

Criterion to determine strategic relationship

Another point that I would like to clarify is whether there is a criterion to determine strategic relationship. In other words can we say, for instance, that the relationship could be characterized as strategic, if 51 % of the relations between two countries are satisfactory and 49 % are not satisfactory? I do not believe that such a vague concept as strategic relationship could be measured with percentages. The relationship could be characterized as strategic when both sides have overwhelming interest to sustain it.

            Can Turkey entertain Strategic Relationship with EU

After this philosophical definition of the strategic relationship, we may now ask the following question: Can Turkey and the EU entertain strategic relationship? Since my task is only to make introductory remarks, I will leave it to the distinguished speakers who will take the floor after me to elaborate on all aspects of the question. I will confine my remarks to proposing a few titles that the distinguished speakers may wish to develop.

Economic Cooperation

We may begin by the economic cooperation. Since we are talking of cooperation within the EU, do Turkey and the EU have any divergent interest in conducting and sustaining such cooperation?

            Geographic location of Turkey – Energy Hub

Turkey is located in a geographical area that controls the routes to major energy sources. A sizeable part of the oil and gas consumed by the EU countries stems from the Middle-East and Caspian Sea basin. Turkey is the natural and most economical transit route for these sources of energy.

            Last week the Heads of States of four countries, namely Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan attended in the Azeri capital Baku a ceremony to pump oil to a pipeline that will carry the crude oil of the Caspian Sea region to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean coast. The pipeline has a capacity to carry 50 million to of crude oil per year. This pipeline will diminish the dependence of the EU countries on the Middle-East oil and diversify their source of energy.

            In the field or the transportation of natural gas, Turkey is becoming a hub for the EU countries. Turkey receives at present from the Russian Federation 16 billion cubic meters (cum) gas. Another pipeline brings gas from Iran. This pipeline will be connected later to Turkman gas.

A third pipeline will be constructed on the same route as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in order to carry natural gas from Azerbaijan to the Turkish city of Erzurum through Georgia. An agreement is signed for a fourth pipeline to carry Egyptian natural gas to Turkey through Jordan and Syria. This pipeline may also go through Israel if Egypt and Israel can agree on the conditions.

            Further gas pipelines may be added to them if the situation in Iraq is stabilized, one from Iraq to Turkey, the other from Syria to Turkey.

            What shall Turkey do with this much natural gas? Most of the gas to be received from these various countries will be pumped from Turkey to EU countries. An umbrella agreement is already signed between Turkey and Greece to carry 11 billion cum. natural gas from Turkey to Greece and Italy. 3 billion cum. of it will be consumed in Greece and 8 billion cum. will be carried to Italy through a pipeline that will cross Ionian Sea.

            The agreement to carry out the feasibility study is signed for another pipeline project called Nabucco to carry natural gas from Turkey to Austria through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovak Republic. The construction is scheduled to start in 2006.

            We may discuss during this conference whether this pivotal position of Turkey could be beneficial to the EU countries in diversifying and securing their sources of energy.

            NATO’s 15 hot spots

Apart from this, Turkey is located in a geographical region adjacent to many hot spots of keen interest to many EU countries. NATO identified 15 hot spots that may threaten the security and the stability of the alliance. 12 out of these 15 hot spots are located in areas either adjacent to Turkey or in areas where Turkey has some sort of presence. These are the Balkans; the Middle-East including Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iraq and Iran; the Caucasus; and the Central Asia.

Is it an advantage or disadvantage to be close to these areas? This may be a very interesting subject for debate. When we debate this subject we may also remember that the United States thought that they could occupy Iraq without cooperating with Turkey. Two years after the occupation, they stated that Turkey’s refusal to let the American troops to use Turkish territory contributed to their failure, because the resistance would not have been organized so well if a second front were to be opened from the North of Iraq. This time it was an American operation. In the future the EU may be faced with a similar situation and may need to carry out a military operation in an area that threatens its security and interest. Turkey’s cooperation may be useful in such circumstances.

Cooperation in other geographical areas

Apart from regional crises, there may be crises in distant areas such as in Afghanistan. There, it is not geography, but the military contingents of Turkey that may be useful. Turkey has assumed the leadership task on two occasions in Afghanistan. The EU may need to intervene for peace keeping or peace enforcement purposes in other areas of the world as well. If Turkey remains in close cooperation with the EU, it could contribute more to such military operations. So this is another subject that could be debated during the present conference.

Aging population of EU

The problem of aging population of the EU countries is another subject that we may discuss. The figures that I have say that the age group 0-15 years old constitutes in Turkey 32 % of the entire population in Turkey. The same proportion is 17 % in EU-25. The forecast for the  future indicate that as from the year 2009 a severe shortage of labour will become widespread and the shortfall will be around 3-4 million workers by the year 2015. The EU may fill this gap from various sources. Spain preferred to bring workers from South America because of language and cultural affinity. The other EU countries may try other sources.

Millions of Turks proved that they were able to adjust themselves to the discipline and methods of the EU countries. When we asses their performance we have to bear in mind that the majority of Turks living in Germany or other EU countries are the descendents of unskilled workers that Germany had asked in early 60s. They came from remotest villages of Turkey. Neither the Turkish government nor the German government did much, at the beginning, to help them integrate to the German society, because they were expected to go soon back to Turkey. Despite this, some of them were able to overcome tremendous difficulties that they faced and were finally able to integrate more or less into the German society. There were also exceptional cases, for instance, like Kemal Şahin who became an important businessman even at the German scale or Mr. Vural Öger, Cem Özdemir and Ozan Ceyhun who became Member of the European Parliament to represent Germany.

I notice with satisfaction that Turkish government is doing a little more to help them integrate into the German society and into the societies of the countries where they live. The present government in Turkey is determined to increase its efforts to help this integration. I understand that there is also a growing awareness in the German public authorities to do more to facilitate the integration of the foreign workers now that they understood that those who are properly integrated into the society could contribute much more to the welfare of the German society. Therefore we have many reasons to expect that future generations will be luckier from this standpoint. So, this is another subject on which we may hold a useful exchange of views.

Dialogue among cultures

Another subject is Turkey’s belonging to a different (alien) culture. Yes, Turkey is a country with a predominantly Muslim population. But it is also a secular country. Secularism in Turkey is not an abstract principle enshrined in the Constitution and forgotten there. It is properly internalised by the Turkish people and utilized extensively in the daily life. Democratic institutions function properly. These unique features make Turkey a special case in the Islamic world. Turkey’s closer relations with the EU will give to the Islamic world the message that democracy and Islam are not incompatible and the EU is not closed to countries of other faiths if they comply with the required standards.

Turkey’s membership in the European Union will be a symbol of harmonious co-existence of cultures, and enriching the spiritual fabric of the European Union. If the EU gives the impression that it is a Christian Club, this will give a pretext to the fundamentalist organizations to claim that the EU excludes non-Christians and that the world is divided on the basis of the religious fault lines. Such a scenario will look like a reconfirmation of the theory of the Clash of the Civilizations developed by Huntington. I believe that this theory is detrimental to peace and stability in the world. Experience of 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq suggests that the Clash of the Civilizations does not make the world more secure.

Furthermore Islam will not enter the EU with Turkey’s membership. There are at present between 7and 8 million Muslims living in various EU countries. This number will not increase dramatically with Turkey’s becoming member of the EU. However Turkey’s participation in the decision making bodies of the EU will reflect better the problems faced by the Muslims in the EU countries, consequently more appropriate measure could be devised to solve their problems.

Challenges of Turkish labour

Another subject is whether unemployment in Turkey is a threat for the labour markets of the EU countries. Several surveys carried out by various think tanks in the EU countries indicate that this presumption is not substantiated in light of the past experience. When Spain and Portugal was about to join the EU, it was claimed that unemployed labour of these two countries would immediately encroach the labour markets of the industrialised EU member countries such as France and Germany. In fact, what happened after these two countries joined was exactly the opposite of what was supposed to happen. Not only there were not new Spaniards and Portuguese going abroad, but also those who were already in the industrialized countries started to return to their countries. There is no reason why a similar scenario will not take place in Turkey’s case. The common conclusion of many surveys carried out on this subject suggests that, not only the member countries will not need to take measures to deny the entry of Turkish workers in their labour market, but also they will have to take measures to encourage Turkish workers to come to their country.

Other areas of Cooperation

These were a few titles that the distinguished speakers could elaborate in further detail. They may also wish to take up various areas of cooperation and discuss whether Turkey and the EU have divergent or convergent interests in these areas.

Let’s take, for instance, industrial cooperation. Are EU’s interests in this field conflicting with those of Turkey?

Agriculture is an area where several controversial theories are put forward to create an impression that Turkey’s huge agricultural sector will suck much of the EU funds. Surveys and analyses made in this field indicate that, in early stages Turkey may need some adjustments funds to restructure its agricultural sector, but this will not be more than 1 % of the total contributions of the member countries. Turkey offers huge potentials to the EU economies in the agricultural sector. It will be up to the EU countries to utilize these potentials in exchange of 1 % of their contributions at the initial stage of Turkey’s membership to EU.

We may   extend these areas to major international issues such as Middle-Eastern problem, fight against terrorism, Euro-Atlantic cooperation etc. and see whether Turkey’s position on these subjects are any different from that of the EU.

Privileged Partnership

Another subject that could be discussed in this conference is the privileged partnership status proposed to Turkey by the CDU/CSU. My feeling is that this is a non-starter for Turkey for several reasons:

First, because Turkey enjoys already a privileged partnership status with an Association Agreement in force since 42 years and a customs’ union in force since 9 years.

Second, there is no such a status in the European constitution.

Third, it is neither fair nor reasonable to ask a country to implement all decisions to be made by the EU without having the right to take part in the decision making process.


To conclude my introductory remarks I would like to point out that Turkey does not ask the EU to make a favour. It is not going to become a member of the EU if it turns out that this membership is beneficial for both sides. This cooperation will be put into action only in case it turns out that both side have vested interest in this cooperation.

What has to be avoided at this stage is the outright rejection to discuss whether such cooperation is beneficial. The present conference is therefore a very welcome forum to discuss whether a strategic relationship is beneficial both to Turkey and the EU.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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