Turkish Forum UK, London, 27 November 2003

TURKISH FORUM UK

 London, 27 November 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 I would like to begin by thanking TURKISH FORUM UK for organising this event.  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.

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.

Turkey has been part of European history 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.  In other words, the Ottomans have contributed for centuries  to the shaping of European history.  Westernisation efforts became increasingly structured from 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 any thing 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 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 1995.

–                                 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 Turkey would make for accession. Turkey has worked seriously and with determination, taking every necessary step to meet the Copenhagen criteria and achieve this goal. Significant legislative packages have been adopted and numerous steps 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, complementary legislative and administrative measures soon followed to ensure their effective implementation.  Implementation is important and 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, is also comprised of 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.

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.

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

Moreover, once Turkey becomes a member of EU, she will be able to contribute much more to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.  With Turkey’s 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.

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. She has achieved high standards in a very short space of time. 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. To begin with, Cyprus’s application to become a member of EU is in contradiction with the provisions of Zürich and London Agreements of 1959 and 1960, signed by Turkey, UK, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus. These Agreements are at the same time constituent Agreements of the Republic of Cyprus. In other words, when one of the parties to the Agreements violate them unilaterally, the legitimacy of the State of Cyprus becomes questionable. The Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus provides that any decision on major issues concerning Turkish or Greek community of the Island has to be made with the consent of both communities. Turkish Cypriots did not give their consent for the application of Cyprus to become a member of the EU. Therefore the application is not made in due form. The EU was not able to provide so far a reasonable explanation to this unlawful action.

However Turkey does not want to get stuck to the past. She wants to look always forward.  She has taken several initiatives in the past to encourage the authorities of the Turkish Republic of the Northern Cyprus to make steps forward. The authorities of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus took such initiatives. For instance they opened the borders to receive southerners and see whether these peoples can live together. The results were not discouraging, but the authorities of the Southern Cyprus used several methods to discourage southerners from going to the north. These methods ranged from dissuading the Greek Cypriots from visiting the North, to punishing to jail sentence those who spend a night in the North. In other words, the efforts made by the Turkish side to be as constructive as possible were not reciprocated by the Greek Cypriot side. Despite this negative attitude of the Greek Cypriot side, Turkey will not give up its efforts to continue to work for an early solution to the Cyprus problem. At present, the Turkish government refrains from taking any initiative before the elections to be held on 14 December in Cyprus, because such an initiative will spoil Turkey’s neutrality in this critical domestic issue of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Turkey believes that the period between 14 December 2003 and 1 May 2004 is very important and that it has to be utilized by the parties with utmost eagerness. The Turkish government will not spare any effort to encourage whoever emerges victorious from the December elections to reach an agreement before 1 May 2004.

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.

Another case of mishandling of the Cyprus question stems from the Strategy document issued by the EU Commission in October 2003. Any European country which abides by the Copenhagen political criteria is eligible for starting accession negotiations. Despite this, EU Commission pointed out that “the absence of a settlement could become a serious obstacle to Turkey’s aspirations”. Turkey is not unaware of the fact that the Republic of Cyprus will be sitting as a full member in the EU Council when the question of giving a date for the start of accession negotiations will be discussed in December 2004. Therefore, the Republic of Cyprus may object any Council decision for political reasons. What is difficult to explain in the attitude of the Commission is that such an objection is not raised by Cyprus but by the Commission. Other candidate countries have also problems with their neighbours or with the international community. UK had a similar problem with Spain over Gibraltar. But neither the Progress Report on UK nor that of Spain contained any reference to this problem. In light of these facts, I again leave it to your sound judgement whether Turkey is treated on equal footing.

The Cyprus question is not part of the Copenhagen criteria. Therefore Turkey’s accession should not be linked to the solution of the Cyprus problem. If the EU believes that these two issues have to be linked to each other one way or another, this linkage should be as follows: Turkey’s accession to EU will facilitate the solution of the Cyprus problem and not the other way around, because the Annan Plan presumes that Turkey’s accession is part of the mechanisms contained in the Plan. The logic behind the Annan Plan requires that Turkey’s membership to EU should be secured for arriving at a durable solution to the Cyprus problem.

The solution to the Cyprus problem has to be achieved by two peoples of the Island based on political equality. The destiny of the islanders is closely linked to each other. They have to find an equitable and durable solution. There are successful examples in other regions of the world for the solution of problems comparable to the Cyprus problem, such as in the case of Czech and Slovak republics and the Republic of Serbia and Montenegro. In these two examples the parties agreed to live in peace side by side and not mixed to each other as recommended in the Annan Plan. In these two examples two peoples belonging to similar religions and speaking languages very close to each other agreed to part or to incorporate in their Constitution the right to secede. A convincing explanation will have to be given why a similar solution will not work in Cyprus where the parties to the conflict speak languages entirely different from each other, belong to different religions and have not mixed to each other despite the fact that they live in the same island for more than four centuries. No convincing explanation was given so far for not being inspired from these successful examples.

Thank you for your attention

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