Article Of H.e.egemen Bağış, Minister For Eu Affairs And Chief Negotiator, Published In "publico" Newspaper On 03.03.2011

Lizbon Büyükelçiliği 03.03.2011

Turkey: a strong ally and credible partner

The last couple of years have been a period of uncertainty in Europe and the world. The economic crisis that gripped both EU and non-EU states alike showed us one sobering fact: in global politics, like in football, you fail if you do not play well in a team and extend your field of action.

Turkey and Portugal know this lesson too well. Our history shows that neither country was too timid to move forth, be it to the new seas, to new lands, to new alliances, or, in fact, towards the European Union alignment.

As an ocean country, Portugal spearheaded the exploration of the world and undertook the Age of Discovery that is seen as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern Era.

The Ottoman Empire also witnessed geographic expansion, trade and economic growth during the same epoch. The Great Empire has also contributed vastly to the global civilization in the fields of law, literature, art and architecture, as well as to multiculturalism and tolerance in the Ottoman way of governance and daily life.

It is during the Ottoman Empire that the two countries established relations when Vikont de Seixal was appointed as an envoy to Istanbul. It is possible that when he arrived in Istanbul, he was aware of the similarities between this new City of Seven Hills and the one he had come from, also known by the same name.

Both Lisbon and Istanbul, surrounded by water and built on seven hills, served as the capitals of Empires. Lisbon with its Albanian sidewalks, historic buildings, plenty of friendly, open-hearted and easy-going people of the hilly roads reminds Turks ofIstanbul.

Turks, like the rest of the world, think of fado and football when they think of Portugal. Quaresma, Almeida and Fernandes enriched our game – just like our great writers of the 20th Century, Saramago and Pamuk, both translated to each other’s language, enrich our view of life.

In the field of international relations,Turkey and Portugal have pursued similar policies in international organizations, foremost in NATO, the Council of Europe and the OECD and have provided reciprocal support to each other. Turkey, which was a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the years 2010-2011, supported Portugal in the elections for the seat for the non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the years 2011-2012. I hope you will have a very successful membership period.

The good political ties have extended over to trade as well. The trade volume between Turkey and Portugal exceeded 1 billion dollars in 2008 and regressed to 871 million dollars in 2009 due to the global economic crisis. The bilateral trade increased to 739 million dollars during first 9 months of 2010 which is a very promising development. We are willing to further develop our economic relations in the period ahead.

Turkey has also counted on the support of Lisbon, particularly during the Portuguese Presidency of 2000, for its determined drive towards the European Union membership.

This determination has led to radical change in Turkey since the 1960s when Turkey has first declared its intention to become a member of the European Economic Community of the time. The country with a closed economy and a per capita income of 400 Dollars increased the same income to the level of 5,008 dollars in 2005, when we started the membership negotiations with the European Union. Today, six years later, the per capita income is around 11,000 dollars; which exceeds that of some of the EU Member States.

The EU process has already spurred extensive reforms in Turkey. Just to mention a few of them:

· A Judicial Reform and an anti-corruption Strategy were launched.

· Progress was made as regards individual and cultural rights, including the broadcasting of Turkish Radio Television in Kurdish for 24 hours a day and radio broadcasting of TRT in Armenian.

· A Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women was established.

· The Constitutional reform package was approved by a referendum which was held on September 12, wiping off the remnants of the 1980 military coup. This was followed by an ambitious action plan that will further align Turkey with the EU acquis.

These changes in the domestic front directly affect the daily life in Turkey. A religious ceremony in the historical Sumela Monastery, after a lapse of 88 years, and still another in Surp Hac Armenian Church on Akdamar Island in Van welcomed by Turkey’s Christians as well as local Muslims. A Roma Opening was initiated by our government, addressing the issues of our Roma citizens.

On the global front, Turkey is an active and key regional player and a credible mediator / facilitator in critical areas such as the Middle East, South Caucasus, Central Asia, the Black Sea basin, Mediterranean and the Balkans. Serving as an energy corridor between Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, being home to many different ethnicities and religions and having a young and dynamic population, Turkey’s EU accession will strengthen the influence of the EU as a global actor. Turkey will join the EU not to become a burden but to take some of the burden from the EU and contribute to a union of leadership, vision, diversity and unity.

Given its long-standing and strong ties with the European Union, Turkey has five key expectations from its European allies:

The first and foremost is a fair approach and a faster pace in our accession process. Turks feel that since they have demonstrated their commitment to the European Union; so should their European friends. The political blockages that slow down and threaten the current negotiations also decrease the motivation of Turks.

Part of Turkey’s frustration stems from the fact that it is ready for a faster pace in negotiations. If political obstacles are lifted, we could open up to 29 chapters, instead of 13 and close up to 13, instead of 1, in short or medium term.

The second expectation is solidarity with Turkey in its fight against terrorism which threatens the liberties and lives of Turkish citizens.

The third is fairness about the Cyprus issue. It is very unfair that the Turkish relations with the EU should be a hostage to that. It is just as unfair that the Turkish Cypriots, who have said “yes” to the Annan Plan in 2004 should remain in isolation while the Greek Cypriots continue to abuse their membership as if they are the sole representatives of the island. We are blocked by the fact that the EU can not still keep its own promise to bring an end to the isolation of the Northern Cyprus.

The fourth is the issue of visas. Citizens of non-European countries can enter the EU without visas but citizens of Turkey, which is a part of Customs Union since 1996, a candidate since 1999, still wait in line in front of the EU consulates. That is indeed the moment when the Turks feel least European.

The fifth issue is on integrating Turkey to the European common positions and exchanging views on issues of strategic cooperation. What better way to do it than by invitation to the EU summits, as had been the case until 2004? This would also be interpreted as clear commitment to the enlargement process on the part of the EU, which is probably the strongest motivation to the candidates.

Turkey believes that enlargement has been successful in the past and can be a success in the future, making the EU not only bigger, but politically and economically stronger and more credible in the international scene.

All EU enlargements have been important success stories. The Turkish membership to the EU, despite sceptics, will also be so. Just like the Portuguese one has been.

Mehmet Hasan Göğüş Ambassador
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