Turkey’s Accession Process to the EU, Speech delivered at the University of Zagreb (Croatia), 15 December 2008

TURKEY’S ACCESSION PROCESS TO THE EU

University of Zagreb, Department of International Relations, Zagreb, 15 December 2008

At the outset I would like to express my great pleasure to be here with you. For me this opportunity to address you at this distinguished institution is a great privilege.

            As you know, I am here on an official visit to your Parliament, in my capacity as the Chairman of the EU Committee in the Turkish Parliament. During the planning of this visit, I insisted to have an opportunity to have such a discussion at an academic institution. As the academics, the students and other concerned individuals having an interest in Turkey, addressing you and discussing your questions is very important for me. I am grateful for your presence.

Croatia’s membership negotiations

            Delivering this speech in Croatia has a particular significance for me, because Turkey and Croatia have started the negotiation process together. We are very happy to see that the accession process of Croatia is progressing and your full membership is envisaged to occur within a foreseeable timeframe.

            For certain reasons which I will discuss in detail later, Turkey and Croatia have different time frames for membership. Nevertheless your membership will make us very happy; we will consider successful completion of your accession negotiation process as a contribution to our efforts. I believe, when Croatia becomes a full member, it will be another member in the European Union supporting Turkey’s membership. As Turkey and Croatia, we have been undergoing the same process; I am sure as a member Croatia will give a strong support to Turkey’s accession negotiations. We very much count on your future support.

Turkey’s accession process

            Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s membership application to the European Economic Community. Following this application of 1959, the Association Agreement with the EEC was signed in 1963. Finally in 2005, Turkey’s accession negotiations have started, together with Croatia.

This has been a long process and has not been concluded yet. There are many reasons of this long delay. One principal reason is the dynamic nature of the European integration. When the idea of a European Union was born in the minds of the European Founding Fathers, the European political landscape was totally different. Now we have a different Europe. This is the result of tremendous changes which have happened in the course of last five decades.

            Needless to say, this changing landscape also affected Turkey’s accession process. Turkey’s dynamics also influenced this process and the Turkish interest in the EU membership has not been the same. Nevertheless, the interest of Turkish people in the values represented by the EU and the overall European integration process has always been very strong. Those values, namely democracy, human rights, fundamental rights and freedoms, rule of law have been the aspiration of Turkish people and they will remain so regardless of the progress of the accession process.

Accession negotiations

            Accession negotiations with Turkey have started in 2005. The screening process started in the same year and was concluded in 2006. Eight chapters have been opened for negotiation so far. Currently eight other chapters are suspended and four others are blocked.

            I do not want to go into detail of the negotiation agenda, unless you have specific questions. Nonetheless, I would like to emphasize a serious discrimination experienced by Turkey. The chapters are categorized as those leading directly to membership and those that are not. This is difficult to understand.

            Every chapter covers a specific area of the acquis communautaire and every area is equally important for harmonization of the domestic legislations with the EU legislation. Therefore by definition every chapter leads the acceding country to membership. If the aim of the negotiations is not membership, it is difficult to understand why the process is still continuing.

            As I have already mentioned the dynamic nature of the European integration. We fully understand the different opinions about the enlargement process and their influence on the politicians. We have full respect for every opinion regarding the enlargement and Turkey’s accession.

            If conclusion of each chapter is regarded as an irreversible progress, this is groundless, because the decision regarding the accession a new member is a single undertaking. Even if the negotiations on every chapter are concluded, nothing is agreed until the final decision is taken. So the negotiations which should be carried out at technical level are unnecessarily politicized. At the end of the negotiations each and every member will have the opportunity to say their final opinion.

Turkey’s Road Map

            In this context, Turkey believes that this difficult period of the negotiations will not last forever. We are rather looking to the future. Turkey’s determination will continue and we will do our homework.

            Turkey has recently released “Turkey’s Program for Alignment with the Acquis”. This is a road map established by Turkey itself and it covers the objectives set by Turkey for the period of 2007-2013. This is a unilateral commitment and shows Turkish government’s determination to complete the necessary reforms.

            As you know it very well as regards Croatia’s accession process, the support of the EU side is always important for the success of the reforms.

Objectives of Turkey

            When we set the objectives to be attained in the course of the negotiation process, our primary concern is reaching certain political, economic and social standards. Regardless of the outcome the accession of process, these reforms will be there and with these reforms we will have a more democratic political system, a stronger and more competitive economy and a more prosperous society. We are already looking beyond the horizon and we expect the EU side to do the same.

Parameters of today

            When we discuss the accession of Turkey we should limit our scope within the current parameters. Today main arguments taken into consideration are the concept of “clash of civilizations” and the energy security of Europe and Turkey’s possible contributions in these fields.

Parameters of the future

         This is in a way oversimplification of the issue. Likely parameters of the future will be more complex. I will just name a few issues which will appear on the agendas of the future leaders of Europe.

            Firstly, according to the present demographic trends, the population of Europe is aging. The experts are already warning about the negative effects of this trend on economic production, especially in services sector and social security systems. For a sound economy, there is a need for proper production and consumption patterns, as well as regular labour and employment structures.

            Secondly, the EU has reached crossroad where it has to make choice between remaining as an economic community and becoming a soft power in world politics. The volatile region where the EU is situated and its proximity to other critical regions make this choice more urgent for the EU. If the EU is keen on pursuing a European foreign and security policy in a volatile geographic region, it needs likeminded partners. Therefore, its cooperation and coordination with Turkey can make its foreign and security policy more efficient and effective.

            Thirdly, Turkey being the 17th biggest economy of the world and moreover promising further growth in the near future has a lot to contribute to the economy of the European Union.  In fact this is a mutual benefit both sides. The Customs Union and economic stability provided by the EU accession process have contributed to the economic growth that has been achieved by Turkey in recent decades. Nevertheless, dynamic nature of the Turkish economy and its currents trends also contributes to the European economy as a trading and investment partner.

Parameters of international politics

          Since we are at the department of international relations, maybe I should go into some detail about the parameters of international politics.

            It is enough to look at a map to see the challenges faced by the European Union in the future. Just to name a few, Iraq, Iran, Caucasus/Georgia, Black Sea, China-India and Russia are some of the issues for which the EU has to formulate a coherent policy. As a result of the enlargement, the EU is now closer to many regions such as the Caucasus and the Middle East.

            Both Turkey and the EU may pursue their policies individually in those regions but as partners coordinating their efforts and cooperating in formulating their policies they can be more effective and credible in maintaining peace and stability in those regions. Turkey is a regional power and adjacent to most of these volatile regions. Without Turkey, the policies of the EU may not have the desired effect.

Caucasus/Georgia

            Just very recently, the Georgian crisis has shown the precariousness of the stability in the Caucasus. We have also seen that the potential ramifications of such a crisis regarding the regional security.

            In recent decades, we have witnessed historic changes which created a new era of international cooperation, ending the hostilities and bloc politics of the last century. Even the extent of the European integration which was unimaginable two decades ago is a result of these changes.

            If the regional crisis cannot be contained properly and immediately, we risk return to new cold wars. Needless to say no one is to gain from such a negative development.

Black Sea

         As the recent “Black Sea Synergy” initiative of the EU has clearly shown, the EU cannot remain indifferent to exigencies of its geography. And, these exigencies cannot be addressed properly without taking into account the regional realities. Thus, the EU has taken this initiative in the Black Sea region, also involving Turkey and Russia.

Iraq, Iran and the Middle East

        The emergence of the EU as a potential political power, in addition to its economic power forces it to take more active role in world issues such as Iraq, Iran and the Middle East. Regarding these issues, the EU policies coordinated with Turkey have more chance to be successful, because of Turkey’s historic ties and its geographic proximity and the credibility it enjoys in the region. Recent initiatives taken by Turkey in the Middle East and their success constitute an evidence of this fact.

Energy security

        This list is not a definitive list of the sensitive areas requiring involvement of the EU. I just mentioned a few of the issues of our common interest. Nevertheless one common denominator is apparent in all these conflicts. They are all related to the energy security of Europe and Turkey.

            In recent years, the importance of the energy security has been proven again. Diversification of energy sources and energy routes are necessary for sustainable energy security. For the energy security of Europe Turkey is the most suitable partner. A mechanism accommodating the demands and interests of both the EU and Turkey will not only be an answer for the consumer countries but for many source and transit countries of the region.

Stabilizing effect of the EU membership

       As our past experience clearly shows, the EU, as a soft power, has always had a stabilizing effect in its region. The EU membership has also contributed positively to resolution of several conflicts. EU members not only constitute an element of stability themselves, but they also have a positive effect on their neighbours and the countries in their regions. Thus, Croatia’s EU membership is to constitute an element of stability in Balkans. In a similar manner, Turkey’s membership to the EU will have the same effect in the Caucasus and the Middle East as well as the Central Asia.

Importance of the continuation of the reform process

        As you have already experienced, accession negotiations is a long process. It has its own dynamics, in addition to the effects of the progress of the European integration. Continuation of this process not only induces and encourages the candidate country’s reform process, but it also helps the stability in a wider area. Therefore, the leaders of the EU have to bear in mind their responsibility while they give their messages to the world. At the end of negotiation process each and every member of the EU has a power to cast their vote freely.

            As the course of European integration has shown a decade is a long time to make definitive forecasts, so after a negotiation process lasting a decade or more many things may change, the EU may change, the candidate country may change. Therefore, as responsible leaders, our primary concern should be the successful continuation of the negotiations that have already started, instead of speculating for the future.

Turkey and Croatia

      Turkey and Croatia have enjoyed very good and friendly relations since the independence of Croatia. As two candidate countries of the EU, we carried this friendship to the EU sphere. I believe with the EU membership of Croatia, this will continue further and you will be our friends in Brussels.

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