European Commissioner for Enlargement
Conference on "Turkey and the EU Together for a European Energy
Your Excellencies, dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this conference on "Turkey and the EU: Together for a European Energy Policy".
More than ever Turkey has been at the centre of attention during recent weeks.
Let me start by expressing my solidarity to the Turkish people concerning the recent terrorist attacks. The EU condemns and we deeply deplore these terrible attacks against Turkey and its people. Let me ensure you that the EU is at your side in our common fight against terrorism.
I know that these are not easy days for our Turkish hosts and partners. By taking the time to be here with us today, they send out a clear message: Turkey's integration into the European Union is a strategic issue which should not be put aside during an election campaign.
Being a politician myself and having participated in numerous campaigns in my home country, I don't need to be reminded of the importance of elections in a European democracy like Turkey. I follow closely the on-going political debate in Turkey. The stakes are high, and I observe developments with great interest.
As shown by the experience of previous enlargements, the process of accession to the European Union requires above all a broad national consensus, encompassing major political parties and society at large. The prospect of joining the EU must be thoroughly discussed across the whole of society; it should not be reduced to party politics alone.
But the Turkish people need to be able to grasp the direct benefits stemming from the reforms in their daily life. This is the best, even the only way to maintain this much-needed national consensus.
I want to encourage the Turkish authorities to pursue vigorously the legal and economic reforms, which are designed, first and foremost, to enhance the modernisation of the country and are thus in the interests of the Turkish people.
In this context, I welcome the "Roadmap to the EU" initiated by Minister Babaçan and adopted by the Turkish government in April. It is an ambitious programme of reforms leading to alignment with EU standards.
While the technical negotiations on legislative alignment make up the walls and the roof of the house of EU accession, the reforms enhancing the rule of law and fundamental freedoms make up the foundations of the house. And we need a solid foundation.
Core values and principles of democracy and human rights, rule of law, respect for and protection of minorities, still have to be further strengthened. Remaining flaws in the protection of fundamental freedoms should all be tackled as soon as possible, with particular attention to freedom of expression, religious freedom, as well as the democratic supremacy of civil-military relations.
Looking forward, in the months to come, we need to see the next government works and the newly elected Parliament advance the reform process.
Clearly, Turkey and Turkey alone sets the rhythm of reforms. It can be a quick samba, it can be a slow waltz – but the band and the music must not stop, otherwise the process will lose momentum and credibility. Whatever the obstacles we encounter along the road, we must not lose sight of our common objective.
The strategic thinking behind the accession process remains more valid than ever. In a globalised world, the EU and Turkey need each other. It is a core interest of the EU to have a stable, prosperous and democratic Turkey by its side.
Likewise, it is a core interest of Turkey to be integrated into the European Union, which provides a clear, long-term prospect for its on-going modernisation process on the path begun by Kemal Atatürk.
Our mutual interests are substantial and numerous. There is a wide range of geopolitical challenges and opportunities in the region and beyond which the EU needs to address together with Turkey: stabilising Iraq, supporting the Middle East Peace Process, rebuilding relations with Iran, to name just the most pressing ones. Turkey is an anchor of stability in the wider Middle East and a key regional actor in South Eastern Europe.
It provides a major contribution to European peace-keeping missions, such as the one in Bosnia. It is a key partner in the fight against terrorism and illegal trafficking in drugs, arms, and people.
By setting an invaluable example of a democratic state with a majority population of Muslims, Turkey is a crucial promoter of the dialogue between civilisations.
From an economic point of view, Turkish and foreign investors agree with international observers that Turkey's impressive economic growth rates and macroeconomic stabilisation of the last five years owes much to the EU accession perspective. It helped to focus minds and inspired confidence, bringing in much-needed foreign investment from the EU and other countries.
Energy is an area in which the benefits of the accession process are particularly easy to see. The challenges at stake include functioning and security of our societies, as well as the competitiveness and sustainability of our economies!
I rely on the speakers taking the floor after me, in particular my colleague Andris Piebalgs and Minister Güler, to describe and analyse them in some detail.
Turkey and the EU both have much to gain from closer energy co-operation.
Turkey can help the EU secure its energy supply, while integration into the EU's internal energy market will enable Turkey to build a functioning and reliable domestic energy market and the infrastructure needed for its rapid economic growth.
Now is the right time to deepen this dialogue. Securing reliable and affordable energy supplies is a major challenge for Europe today. There is an urgent need for diversification and investment. Turkey has a key role to play in the diversification of energy supply routes to Europe.
Accession negotiations are instrumental in achieving these goals. Preparations of substantive and concrete negotiations on energy are on track, with Member States currently discussing the “screening report” on energy, a necessary step before formally opening the negotiations in this field.
In parallel, the Energy Community Treaty provides an ideal framework for deepening regional energy co-operation. I take this opportunity to reiterate the invitation made to Turkey to join this community, on behalf of all its current members. I welcome the fact that Turkey became an observer to the Energy Community last November, and hope that it will soon be able to join as a full member, assuming its full rights and influence in shaping our external energy policy.
Turkish membership in the Energy Community would be a major step forward in the process of deepening co-operation, and would entail significant mutual benefits at an early stage in the accession process. It would also demonstrate Turkey's ability to integrate itself fully with the EU Internal Market in a key area. What better way to prove the sceptics wrong?
So let’s now concentrate on how we can deepen our cooperation on energy issues, and realise the enormous benefits for both sides.
This is the clear objective of today’s conference. I thank you all for attending today; the speakers and panellists whose contributions will help us better understand the challenges and opportunities we face; and our Turkish partners for their unfailing hospitality, and their commitment in jointly organising this conference.
Energy once was a factor of war. Let’s together make it the tool of our future development.