Turkey’s Accession Process to the EU and the South East European Cooperation Process, speech delivered at a luncheon hosted by the Ambassador of Bulgaria in Turkey, Ankara, 11 March 2008

TURKEY’S ACCESSION PROCESS TO THE EU

and

THE SOUTH EAST EUROPEAN COOPERATION PROCESS (SEECP)

Text of the speech delivered by

Mr. Yaşar Yakış

Chairman of the EU Committee in the Turkish Parliament,

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs

at a lunch hosted by H.E. …, Ambassador of Bulgaria

Ankara, 11 March 2008

Excellencies,

Distinguished guests,

I am extremely pleased to address such a distinguished audience. I would like to thank His Excellency … Ambassador of Bulgaria firstly for having thought to organise this lunch with an interesting theme that is a lively issue since decades, namely the accession process of Turkey to the EU. Secondly for having placed this lunch within the framework of an initiative that is indigenous in the Balkans, namely the South East European Cooperation Process. Thirdly for having invited me to address such a distinguished audience.

This lunch is very timely because very soon, on the 27th of this month (February 2008), an important meeting will be held in Sophia, Bulgaria. It is a meeting of the Regional Desk of the Stability Pact. It is important because the Stability Pact will come to an end at this meeting and it will be replaced by another initiative called Regional Cooperation Council. As you all know, this Council will have a permanent secretariat to be established in Sarajevo. Host country Agreement of this secretariat was signed on September 2004 in Plovdiv. Turkey is among the major contributors to the budget of this secretariat.

The membership to the stability Pact is considered as the waiting room for joining NATO and the EU.

Coming back to the countries represented around this lunch table, namely Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, they are part of another regional initiative called South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). The importance of this initiative is due to the fact that is the only existing project that was initiated by countries of this region, namely by Turkey and Greece.

SEECP may be regarded as a successor of three cooperation initiatives within the Balkan area launched in 1930s (the Balkan Pact of 9 February 1934 of Turkey Greece Romania and Yugoslavia)), 1950s (28 February 1953 Ankara Agreement between Turkey Greece and Yugoslavia and 9 August 1954 Bled Agreement again between Turkey Greece and Yugoslavia.) and 1980s.

Excellencies,

Distinguished colleagues,

I now turn to the main subject that His Excellency the Ambassador of Bulgaria asked me to address, namely Turkey’s accession process to the EU.

            The full membership to the EU is a strategic objective for Turkey. 2007 was a year of a relative slow down of EU accession process in Turkey. However, this cannot be interpreted as a slow down in the determination of Turkey to join the EU. 2007 was a year of elections and a new President, Parliament and Government took office. This diverted the priorities to domestic political issues as to be expected in any democratic country where elections are held.

Turkey is fully aware of the expectations as regards the reform process. In fact, both the President of the Republic and the Foreign Minister have recently stated that 2008 will be the year of the EU in Turkey. These words of the two highest positioned persons could constitute sufficient guaranties that the reforms will continue. Turkey will be trying, at the same time, to eliminate the discrepancies in the implementation of existing reforms.

Another important process in Turkey is the drafting of a new constitution. This process is under way. The new Constitution is largely inspired from the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Therefore, this development in itself will be a major achievement in our reform process.

Having said this, we are aware that two issues stand out. One of them is the article 301 of the Penal Code and the second is the New Law on Foundations.

Concerning the New Law on Foundations, the Justice Commission of the Turkish Parliament adopted the Draft law in its original form on 16 January 2008. The Law will be taken up by the plenary in due course.

As regards article 301, the Turkish Government is working on amending the article and will send it to Parliament for adoption once the deliberations are completed. However we all know that the amendment of the article 301 will not solve the problem entirely. It has only a symbolic importance, because similar provisions are contained in many other articles of the Penal Code and in other laws. Furthermore the biggest difficulty regarding the freedom of expression will continue to stem from the perception of the members of the judiciary, namely from the public prosecutors and the judges. In a country where the rule of law prevails, the executive power has no right to interfere in the work of the judiciary. The alignment of the mentality of the members of the Turkish judiciary with the mentality of the judiciary in the EU countries may take some time.

This is what we are doing in the Turkish side of the accession process. There is also EU side of the coin. Turkey will continue do its best to honor its commitments towards the EU, but we expect the EU to honor its commitments as well. Turkey’s accession process is hampered with pretexts that have nothing to do with the criteria that Turkey was asked to fulfill when it started the accession process. The EU hides itself behind the technicalities of the EU. When a consensus is required to progress in Turkey’s accession process, if one or two countries break the consensus in the EU, the remaining countries should demonstrate their determination to fulfill their commitments.

The EU as an institution and individual member states should stand firm against all attempts to erode previously agreed commitments.

It is unacceptable to accommodate every internal political agenda item of member states to EU documents whenever enlargement or Turkey is being discussed. After all, these attempts seriously damage the credibility of the EU in the eyes of the world public opinion.

We need visible progress to keep the sustainability of accession negotiations and continuation of the public support.

Any attempt to open a debate on the ultimate goal of negotiations is a non-starter and Turkey is not ready to take this as an answer. Such a debate exposes Turkey-EU relations to the risks of unpredictable consequences.

On the Cyprus issue I have this to say: The Turkish Cypriots have been regularly contributing to the UN Secretary General’s efforts to find a comprehensive settlement to the issue. They voted in favor the Annan Plan during the referendum of 2004. They have done so upon the encouragement of the political leaders of the mainland Turkey and the EU. They now rightfully expect the Greek Cypriots and the EU to reciprocate and to reward them for this constructive attitude. The Greek Cypriot side is using time to let the EU forget the support that the Turkish Cypriots extended to the Annan Plan. Once this is forgotten, they will come up with new demands for concessions from the Turkish side. It will be unfair to ask the mainland Turkey or the Turkish Cypriots to make new concessions before their previous constructive attitude is rewarded.

The Finnish Presidency made some proposals to overcome the impasse on the implementation of the Additional Protocol. These efforts failed unfortunately. Developments like these have proven that the EU cannot be a proper forum for the solution of the Cyprus problem, so long as one member insistently acts against any possible conciliation, much the less, reunification.

Time has come for the Greek Cypriots to engage in meaningful negotiations to reach a comprehensive solution under the auspices of the UN. We hope that the elections to be held in the Greek Cypriot side will help pave the way for this objective.

Another lively issue between Turkey and the EU is the fight against terrorism. PKK terror continues to claim many innocent lives in Turkey. No country would ever allow any terrorist organization to find safe haven in its immediate vicinity, as in the case of the PKK in northern Iraq.

The counter-terrorism operations conducted within the framework of the motion adopted on 17 October 2007 by the Turkish parliament only target the terror organization PKK. The military missions are carried out with utmost care to minimize collateral damage on civilians.

Turkey does not want to disrupt Iraq’s already fragile structure. It does not, by any means, covet an inch of Iraq’s territory. Most important of all, we do not consider any segment of Iraqi people, not the least the Kurds, as our foes.

Terrorists are both our enemies and the enemies of the EU countries. Terrorism is a global threat. We have to find efficient ways to deal with it.

The verdict of a court in Belgium caused a very deep disappointment in the Turkish public opinion. This verdict pertained to the judgment of a group of terrorists who killed a big businessman of the Sabancı family. The perpetrator of the assassination is almost rewarded by the court rather than punished. Such verdicts may make Belgium in the future, a safe heaven for terrorists.

Turkey does not receive sufficient support from its EU partners to fight against the scourge of terror. Terror cannot be eradicated if the international community does not cooperate genuinely.

Excellencies,

Distinguished colleagues,

Before concluding my remarks I would like to say a few words on where we stand regarding the negotiations with the EU. 

We have so far opened 6 chapters, one of which provisionally closed:

  • Science and Research-25 (opened and provisionally closed)
  • Enterprise and Industrial Policy-20 (opened only)
  • Statistics-18 (opened only)
  • Financial Control-32 (opened only)
  • Trans-European Networks-21 (opened only)
  • Consumer and Health Protection-28 (opened only)

We have focused our work on meeting the benchmarks of remaining chapters.

With this understanding, “Company Law-6”,  “Intellectual Property Rights-7” and “Free Movement of Capital-4” have been prioritized.

We are targeting at fulfilling the benchmarks of these three chapters and open them during the Slovenian Presidency.

We are also working on the benchmarks of other chapters in cooperation with the Commission.

This concludes my words on Turkey’s accession process to the EU.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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