Turkey’s EU Process, Andrassy University, Budapest, 26 February 2004


Andrassy University, Budapest, 26 February 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Distinguished audience,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today and to address this distinguished audience on the subject of the process of Turkey’s accession to the European Union

Why does Turkey want to join the EU?

The full membership of the European Union has been one of Turkey’s main objectives in foreign policy. Turkey is determined to achieve this goal and exert every effort to meet the criteria required to secure and initiate accession negotiations with the European Union in December 2004.

Is Turkey a European country?

Turkey has been part of European history since as early as the middle of the 14th century. It was the time when the Ottoman Turks crossed the Dardanelles and reached the European continent.  During the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Turks were, one way or another, part of coalitions among the European countries. These coalitions were formed either against the Ottoman Turks or they were formed by certain European countries in cooperation with the Ottomans against another European country. At that time, there was no doubt that Turkey was part of Europe. It will be unfair to say that Turkey is part of Europe when its cooperation is needed and say the contrary when such cooperation becomes less important.  I believe that Hungary is more aware than many other member countries of the EU that Turkey cannot be regarded as a country outside Europe. Briefly, the Ottomans have contributed for centuries to the shaping of European history.

Westernisation efforts in the Ottoman State became increasingly structured as of the beginning of the 19th century and included significant developments both in the military and civilian fields.

After the proclamation of the Republic in 1923, Turkey initiated a more institutionalised process of westernisation of the country. If we regard the European Union as a union of set of values more than anything else, we may say that Turkey embraces all universal values embraced by the Union. The present government of Turkey does every thing necessary in order to consolidate Turkey’s attachment to these values. Therefore, it will be unfair to question Turkey’s European character.

Major milestones in Turkey’s accession process to the EU

Major milestones in Turkey’s relations with EU are as follows:

–                                Turkey first applied to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959, shortly after the establishment of the Community.

–                                An Association Agreement with the EEC is signed in 1963. This Agreement envisaged Turkey’s full membership after certain stages.

–                                A Customs Union is established between Turkey and the EU in 1996.

–                                During the EU Council held in Helsinki in December 1999, Turkey is designated as a “candidate State destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to other candidate States”.

–                                  The Copenhagen EU Council decided in December 2002 that accession negotiations with Turkey will start “without delay” should the Council be led to the conclusion that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria of the EU.

In this process, the next logical and natural step is the accession to the EU. However the EU is still hesitant on whether a date should be given to Turkey for the start of accession negotiations. Such a hesitation is in contradiction with what EU has done with the other candidate countries. For instance, it was mentioned in the progress report regarding certain candidate countries that, 2 years after the accession negotiations started with these countries, they still did not fully abide by the Copenhagen criteria, while in the case of Turkey the abidance by these criteria is put as a pre-condition for the start of the accession negotiations. I leave it to your sound judgement whether Turkey could be considered as having been treated on equal footing.

Despite this unfair treatment by the EU, Turkey undertook a challenging reform process to harmonize the Turkish legislation and the state structure with the standards of the EU.

The National Programme, adopted in March 2001, comprised general principles and strategy governing the reforms that Turkey would carry out for accession. Turkey has worked seriously and with determination, taking every necessary step to meet the Copenhagen criteria of EU. Significant legislative packages have been adopted and numerous steps were taken. More than 30 articles of the Constitution were amended to eliminate several discrepancies in the field of democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms.

The legislative harmonization packages adopted in June and July 2003 –the sixth and seventh reform packages– have further reinforced previous reforms in the field of fundamental rights and freedoms including the abolishment of the death penalty.

–                                They have ensured a widening of the scope of the freedom of expression by repealing Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Act.

–                                Private broadcasts in languages and dialects other than Turkish are now permitted.

–                                The construction of places of worship such as churches has been facilitated.

–                                The application period for the registration of real estate by community foundations has been extended.

–                                The duties and competences of the Secretariat General of the National Security Council have been aligned with the consultative nature of the Council and with the needs of a democratic executive.

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

After the successful adoption of these reforms by the Parliament, complementary legislative and administrative measures soon followed to ensure their effective implementation.

Turkey is fully aware of the importance of the implementation. This is why the implementation of the reforms is a permanent item on the agenda of the Council of Ministers. Monthly progress reports on the implementation of the National Programme are presented to the Council of Ministers by the Secretariat-General for EU Affairs; a special Monitoring Group has been established at the political level in order to oversee progress made in the actual implementation of the political reforms.  This Group, which is chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, includes also the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior.  These ministers meet on a regular basis with the aim of defining and addressing issues of implementation.  Furthermore, senior officials from the above-mentioned three ministries also take part in these meetings together with 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.

We have already started to observe the merits of these reforms. For instance, a play on women’s rights has been staged in Kurdish language at a theatre in Diyarbakır. The Diyarbakır municipality has put up announcements, both in Turkish and in Kurdish, on public billboards.  The Turkish Minister of the Interior has made a speech in Kurdish at a fair in Diyarbakır. A Kurdish language course (of 17 days) was organised at the Hasankeyf Culture and Art Festival in Batman.  Such actions would have been punishable by imprisonment under previous legislation.

In view of these significant steps, much of the Copenhagen criteria have now been met and Turkey remains committed to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the legal reforms.

 What will the EU gain from Turkey’s membership? 

How will the EU benefit from Turkish membership?  From the EU perspective, Turkey’s membership will help strengthen the EU’s role as a global actor.  If the EU wants to be one of the major players in the global scene, it will achieve this goal more easily with Turkey’s contribution.

As a key regional actor and ally located in close proximity to many existing and potential hotspots 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 the Middle East. In fact, out of 15 hot spots identified by NATO as potential threat to the alliance, 12 are located in areas adjacent to Turkey or in areas where Turkey has cultural or historical ties. These areas are Middle East (including Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran), Caucasus, the Balkans and the Central Asia. I do not want to imply that EU cannot carry out its goals in these areas without Turkey’s contribution. However, I may say without undue modesty that these goals could be achieved more easily, with less effort and resources and with much less acrimony, if it is done in cooperation with Turkey.

The role played by Turkey in the Iraqi crisis is a living evidence of this. The cooperation extended at present by Turkey to the United States is regarded as very important by the United States. It was also an important development when the Turkish parliament denied authorisation to American troops to cross Turkish territory into Iraq in order to open a second front in the northern Iraq. This example demonstrates the importance of both the cooperation and the absence of cooperation with Turkey.

Turkey contributes to the ongoing rapprochement between Europe and Asia and hence helps extend modern values in regions neighbouring Turkey.

Furthermore, Turkey’s membership in the European Union will surely be a symbol of harmonious co-existence of cultures, and enriching the spiritual fabric of the European Union.

Moreover, once Turkey becomes a member of EU, it will be able to contribute much more to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.  With its experience and capabilities in the military field, Turkey will definitely increase the weight of the EU in the global arena.

With Turkey as a full member, the Union will no doubt have a stronger voice.  The prevention and settlement of conflicts that involve the western community of nations and other countries will be easier.  The world will be safer. Above all, it will be a serious blow and an outright response to radical terrorism shaking the world today.

In the economic field, Turkey could become an asset because of its geographical location and its young population.

Turkey is located at the crossroad linking Asia to Europe and serves as a gate to the warm seas for the Black Sea basin countries, namely Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Georgia. On the other hand Turkey is located on the natural route between Europe and basins rich in oil and natural gas such as Iraq, Iran, Caspian Sea and Central Asia

Statistics indicate that, because of the aging population, there will be an increasing need for young manpower in the EU countries during the next decades. Turkey’s population is much younger as compared to the EU average. The age group between 0 and 25 constitute 57 % of the entire population of Turkey. The age group between 0 and 14 constitute 36 % of Turkey’s population, as compared to 18 % in most of the EU countries. There are at present 3.5 million Turks working in the EU countries. 2.5 million Turks have worked in the EU countries and now came back to Turkey. They are adapted to a great extent to the living and working conditions in these countries.

Turkey has a customs’ union with the EU since 1996. Industrial commodities circulate between Turkey and the EU countries free of customs duties. This demonstrates that Turkey’s free market economy will be able to compete with the economies of the EU countries. Therefore Turkey’s economy will not have major difficulty in adapting itself to the economies of the EU countries.

Turkey was recently a target of terrorist attacks.  Why was Turkey targeted?  Turkey, a secular State with a predominantly Muslim population, is a rare and valuable model around the world. It has achieved high standards in a very short space of time in the implementation of democracy. Turkey, with these features, is unique in the Muslim world.  Turkey is a show case which proves that Islam and democracy can live together. This is why it has attracted evil reactions from certain circles. Their aim is to undermine these values. If Turkey is not admitted to the European Union on religious grounds, the fault line between Europe and Islamic world will become wider. You may guess the negative consequences of such a development. Those who aim at destroying the western values favour this fault line to become as wide as possible. Turkey’s membership to EU will demonstrate that there is no contradiction between Islam and western values. This is why Turkey’s membership is so important.

I now turn to the Cyprus question. Turkey was promised in the 1999 EU Summit of Helsinki to be treated on equal footing with the other candidate countries. However this promise is not kept. For instance, the absence of a solution to the Cyprus problem was not mentioned as a potential obstacle to the admission of Cyprus into the European Union while the same problem is referred to as a potential obstacle when Turkey’s admission is discussed.

Actually, the EU mishandled Cyprus question on more than one occasion. However Turkey does not want to get stuck to the past. It wants to look always forward.  It has taken several initiatives in the past to encourage the authorities of the Turkish Republic of the Northern Cyprus to make steps forward. Now both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus committed themselves to support the efforts of the UN Secretary General to find a solution to the Cyprus problem before 1 May 2004 so that a unified Cyprus could become member of the EU.

Turkey believes that the Cyprus question has to be solved regardless Turkey’s EU aspirations. It will also help improve Turkish-Greek relations. But Turkey cannot solve this problem with her own initiative alone. In other words, I do not see how a solution could be achieved, if Turkey’s good will gestures are not reciprocated.

With this major obstacle cleared, Turkey wishes that the EU will not come up this time with new preconditions to start negations for Turkey’s accession to EU.

Thank you for your attention.

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