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European Commissioner for Enlargement
Finnish Business Guild
Your excellencies, business people from Turkey and Finland, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to address this distinguished audience on European-Turkish relations here in Istanbul.
Istanbul is a city of rich history and cultural heritage. I can't help recalling that the shores of Bosphorus have inspired my fellow countryman, Mika Waltari, the author of Sinuhe the Egyptian, to such pearls of world literature as the Sultan's Renegade.
No wonder that they have inspired the Istanbul native Orhan Pamuk to such marvels of world literature that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last year for them.
Be that as it may, in recent weeks when I have observed the scenes and voices in the Turkish body politic and election campaign, I have often wondered whether I am re-reading Pamuk's novel Snow, which is a surrealist-cum-realist X-ray portraits of contemporary Turkey. They are a reminder of the rich variety of cultural, religious and political tendencies that co-exit in contemporary Turkey; Kemalist, Post-Islamist or liberal tendencies.
However, I am glad I have avoided the bad dream of the Kemalist lieutenant leaving his barracks in Kars, as in Pamuk's novel.
Turkey is undergoing a difficult process of transformation, with increasing polarization in the domestic political scene. Many have called this situation a crisis. It is certainly a challenge. I would call it an opportunity, too.
I call it an opportunity because it gives Turkey and the Turkish people the chance to underline their belief in democratic principles; a chance to show that the divisions between the secular and the religious can be overcome in an orderly manner; and that the rule of law and human rights are making steady headway.
If this is the case, then Turkey may emerge from the present transformation with a stronger constitutional and democratic framework, and thus, politically better equipped to address present and future challenges.
I have been encouraged by the demonstrators shouting "no Sharia, no coup, but a truly democratic Turkey.
In this context, the EU accession process functions as a bulwark of democratic secularism. The European Union is based on the principles of religious tolerance and democracy.
Our countries have various practices of separating the state and religion, while the European Union is a community of values, especially of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and market economics.
Our values are fully in line with the first two key words of the preamble of the Turkish Constitution: democratic secularism, or secular democracy - with an accent on the word democratic.
You, as business people and entrepreneurs, know best that political and macroeconomic stability is a pre-requisite for harvesting the benefits of Turkey's closer integration with the European economy and the global market.
These goals are best served by the EU accession process, as it anchors democratic principles, strengthens the rule of law and promotes sound macro-economic policies, while building new policy responses through the alignment of domestic legislation with the European acquis.
The Turkish case is striking. Successive governments were able to carry out sensitive and difficult political reforms, and build an impressive economic track record, with growth reaching 7% this year.
You, as business people, know that these impressive results benefit European citizens too. In terms of stability of the European continent, but also in terms of prosperity and future economic prospects.
If we stop for a second to look at economic relationship between Finland and Turkey, trade flows and other indicators speak for themselves: the steady increase in trade volume [Finnish exports to Turkey increased by 16% last year, while imports from Turkey grew by 8%] is the direct translation of the economic opportunities Turkey offers as a market. And it is no surprise that more and more Finnish companies are in the process of investing in the Turkish market.
I will not shy away from the political responsibility and leadership Finland - the Member State I know best - has shown in Turkey’s accession process. As a Finnish Commissioner in charge of enlargement, I have every reason to be proud of the significant contribution of my own country to the accession process of Turkey.
The city of Helsinki remains associated in the EU’s collective memory by the granting of candidate status to Turkey in 1999. And when, in December 2006, conjectural difficulties in EU-Turkey relations put the whole accession negotiation process into jeopardy, namely the refusal by Turkey to open ports and airports to trade from Cyprus, or what we modestly call “non-implementation by Turkey of the additional protocol to the Ankara agreement”, the Finnish Presidency in office came to the rescue.
Thanks to its mediation efforts, Member States could agree on a new consensus on enlargement and confirmed that accession negotiations with Turkey should continue, except for those issues (chapters) directly linked to the Association Agreement.
Such repeated interventions from Finland for the benefit of Turkey’s EU accession process owe nothing to chance.
I want to recall the important historical bridge between the two countries, including significant similarities in the Finnish and Turkish political mythology. This link goes back to the founding father of the modern Turkish republic, Kemal Atatürk, who made Gregory Petrov’s famous book “The Land of White Lilies” essential reading in Turkish educational institutions.
The book describes the rise of Finnish national conciousness and significance of education and civic society through the national philosopher J.V. Snellman. It is also known that Atatürk was an admirer of General Mannerheim, later the defender of Finnish independence and Western democracy in the Winter War.
The chain then moves on to the political arena, as Urho Kekkonen, the long-serving President of Finland (1956-1981), studied Atatürk’s republican reforms in his youth.
In Finland, we might praise Snellman as national philosopher, Mannerheim as strategic leader and Kekkonen as republican statesman. In Turkey’s national mythology, all three characteristics are in Kemal Atatürk. But all same values are there, underlying factor of today’s Finnish commitment to the accession perspective of Turkey. Maybe because we first and foremost share the same fundamental value of secular democracy, as originally enshrined in the Turkish constitution.
And indeed, strong arguments form the basis for the EU's continued commitments towards Turkey. We want to see Turkey play an ever more important as a bridge between Europe and the Muslim world.
And we, in the EU, need this bridge at least as much as Turkey itself does. Today’s conference on EU-Turkish energy relations, taking place next door, is a clear demonstration of the benefits we can draw from our strategic interdependence.
Energy, once a factor of war, is today the key to any sustained economic development.
EU market rules provide an excellent framework for a strong and effective domestic energy market in Turkey, capable of attracting large-scale investment and sustaining Turkey's impressive economic growth rates.
For the EU, Turkey can play a key role in the diversification of its energy supplies. Becoming a true energy bridge, Turkey can provide new routes for energy imports and enable new producer countries to supply oil and gas to the EU. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in 2006 is a major step.
You, as businesspeople, know best also the strength and dynamism of our economic ties. In fact, economic interdependence is a key force driving the accession process.
The Customs Union between the EU and Turkey is a significant factor in reinforcing this interdependence. It has resulted in considerable trade creation and it contributes to the economic development of Turkey by increasing competition and improving the business climate.
Some figures are particularly striking. If you look at trade, the EU represents today half of Turkey's overall trade volume, and is thus, by far, Turkey's main trading partner. Similarly, EU exports to Turkey have grown at an impressive rate, at an average of 20% per year since 2001.
On the investment side, European companies’ interest in the Turkish economy is unprecedented. Investments more than doubled in one year [from €5.6 Bio in 2005 to €12 Bio in 2006], representing close to 80% of all foreign direct investment in Turkey in 2006.
These are not just some abstract figures. For workers in Turkey and in the EU, economic growth or investment figures directly translate into jobs.
For businesses, they mean new opportunities for future growth. Progress in the accession process should further sustain this trend, by lifting the remaining trade barriers and anchoring macro-economic stability.
This is where I would one day want to see Turkey. We have to recognise that it is not going to be an easy task. The accession process is a long-standing project and its success is dependent on Turkey gathering again the momentum for reforms.
Reforms are needed early on in the negotiations and implementation should be pursued throughout the process. This is true for the reforms enhancing the rule of law and fundamental freedoms but it is as relevant for all other areas, be it in the field of intellectual property or as regards the regime for state aids.
Very soon, Turkey will be put to a concrete test. We trust fully that the parliamentary and presidential elections will be carried out democratically and in line with the rule of law. And we look forward to working with a Turkey that has grasped the chance to turn political difficulties into a demonstration of our common values. That is in Turkey’s interest. It is in Europe’s interest. And it is in the interest of the region and the wider world.