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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Winning Hearts and Minds: The EU/Turkey Partnership

Bilgi University speech
Istanbul, 11 April 2008


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here today to address this distinguished audience, in this wonderful and cosmopolitan city of Istanbul.

Bilgi is a relatively young University. Yet it has already made its mark, and become one of the finest in the country. Bilgi maintains deep roots in the rich past of your country, while at the same time looking forward. Bilgi University is known for promoting an open intellectual debate on Turkish society and on what lies in the future. It must be a pleasure to be a student at Bilgi, especially on the Santral Istanbul campus, a superb example of post-industrial urban renewal.

I like to look at the European Union in the same manner. This year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our common European institutions. The EU is a relatively young political actor on the international stage. Yet, look at what a success we have already achieved.

Through deep integration between nation-states, we have overcome a past of war and mutual hatred. Thanks to the long-term vision of our founding fathers like Robert Schumann and Konrad Adenauer, we have achieved a new and better European political order based on reconciliation, peace, democracy and prosperity.

We are proud of our successes.

We are building on them for the future.

The European Union is the best answer to the challenges of the 21st century, such as globalisation, climate change, security and terrorism. The Union is a successful example of democratic governance in the globalisation process.

Look at enlargement. Five waves of enlargement have kept the EU relevant and made it more influential. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the prospect of EU accession has been the driving force behind a spectacular economic and democratic transformation of Central and Eastern Europe.

In fifty years of building Europe, we have acquired the political and the institutional experience that has enabled us to enlarge the membership of our Union from 6 to 27. This process continues.

Today, Turkey is an integral part of our agenda for enlargement. Our commonly shared objective is that Turkey becomes a full member of the European Union, with equal rights and equal duties like any other current member.

Many people, both in some EU member States and in Turkey, like to dwell on what goes wrong in our relationship, on the short-term hurdles and difficulties we may encounter. In the EU they may say that Turkey is not ready for membership; while many people in Turkey may say that at the end of the day the EU will not want Turkey in.

To all these people, I say that our present and our future are closely intertwined. It is clear to me that Turkey and the European Union have a shared destiny.

Let me just look at three examples of close links between us.

Our economies and trade have a high degree of interdependence. Turkey and the EU have enjoyed a Customs Union since 1995. The EU is by far the most important trading partner of Turkey, while Turkey is the seventh biggest trade partner of the EU, ahead of countries such as India or Canada. In just four years, EU investment in Turkey has grown from half a billion dollars in 2002 to $15 billion in 2006. With Turkey growing at dynamic rates and expected to become one of the top 10 economies in the world by mid-century, this interdependence is bound to increase.

As regards foreign and security policies, Turkey already plays an important role side by side with the EU. Turkey enjoys fruitful relations with all parties in the Middle East, is engaged in a dialogue with Iran, knows well the Balkans and plays a crucial role in the Iraq neighbours initiative. The EU and Turkey cooperate to make the world more safe and secure. Turkey is a key partner for Europe on foreign and security policy. Its responsibilities can only increase in the future, to address the challenges of our common neighbourhood.

Energy is a third example of our interdependence. Turkey is a major partner for energy supplies to Europe from Central Asia and the Middle East. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is a major step towards increasing security of supplies and mobilising Caspian oil reserves. In the light of the challenges that the European Union faces, regarding diversification and security of energy supplies, Turkey-EU co-operation is certainly set to grow further in the coming years.

These are only a few examples showing that Turkey and the EU have a mutual short and long-term geo-strategic interest in coming together. It is only together that we can engage the forces of globalisation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since my predecessor Romano Prodi visited Turkey in early 2004, we have come a long way on the road to Turkish accession.

  • In October 2005, EU Member States unanimously agreed to start accession negotiations with Turkey.
  • In the year up to October 2006, more than 2,000 Turkish civil servants came to Brussels to discuss and analyse, with the Commission, the content of the EU legislation that Turkey will have to implement to become a Member.
  • We started in-depth negotiations on six policy areas, covering sectors as important as industrial policy, statistics, financial control, health protection and trans-European networks.
  • In the first months of 2008 the Turkish administration has moved forward on more chapters. This should allow us to advance further this year.

Meanwhile, the EU pre-accession programmes in Turkey have attained new records: a pipeline of active operations worth €1.5 billion in grants, to which the European Investment Bank is adding €2 to 2.5 billion of lending every year. These programmes enhance Turkey’s capabilities in all conceivable fields, from Customs modernisation to road transport standards, from food safety to waste water treatment, from human rights in the security forces to the protection of women and children. We are jointly upgrading Turkey’s policies and institutions towards EU standards and this is for the good of the Turkish citizens.

This is what I call real progress.

However, accession negotiations are not just a technical process of gradual alignment and enforcement of legislation. Negotiations are based on shared values and a common understanding of the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

For Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it was a priority to reach the standards of what he called the "contemporary civilisation". This implied allowing all Turkish citizens to benefit from the same degree of freedom and democracy enjoyed by citizens of the countries which now form the European Union.

Turkey has come a long way and brought about a number of far-reaching reforms. These include the abolition of the death penalty, the policy of zero tolerance on torture, the measures undertaken to strengthen the civilian oversight of the military as well as an extensive review of the Civil and the Criminal Codes. More recently, the Turkish Parliament adopted the new law on foundations which is a step towards addressing the specific problems of non-Muslim religious communities.

We all know that a lot remains to be done for Turkey to comply fully with European standards. Freedom of expression remains an area in which reforms are overdue. This concerns, amongst other legal provisions, article 301 of the Criminal Code. On the basis of this article, hundreds of cases have been brought against Turkish citizens expressing non-violent opinions.

I could come up with a long list of issues on which further progress is needed for Turkey. They range from the creation of an Ombudsman, the reform of the Court of Auditors, to civil-military relations, judicial reform, the fight against corruption. It also includes cultural and minority rights, social rights including trade unions, women's and children’s rights.

I am aware that Turkey is undergoing a crucial political debate at the moment. Debates such as the one on the headscarf and secularism are for Turkish democracy to handle. The EU accession process provides limited specific guidance in such debates. But, in more general terms, EU democratic requirements are clear enough to provide an anchor to the Turkish domestic debate. The main yardstick concerns tolerance for each other's beliefs and opinions. Regarding the headscarf the free choice of each woman will have to be guaranteed and such guarantees monitored.

There is also another feature with is part of the EU democratic tradition, and that is dialogue and consensus. No democratic system can prosper in today’s complex and open world without a strong measure of social and political dialogue between all strands of society. This is the way the European institutions work. Consensus and compromise are part and parcel of everyday life.

With or without an EU accession process, Turkish democracy is free to chart its own course for the future. Already, last year, Turkey showed the world the strength and maturity of its democracy.

However, the experience of previous enlargements shows that accession can only be achieved on the basis of a strong political and societal consensus in favour of reforms. In Turkey there is a need for a new, strong momentum on political reforms. This momentum can only be found on the basis of such a consensus.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Turkish accession will not be achieved in one day. It will be a long and at times difficult journey.

Once again, I am convinced that the EU and Turkey share a common destiny.

Our main duty today is continuing our mutual engagement on accession negotiations. The EU commitment remains strong, and we have reiterated it time and again.

The need for domestic political reforms in Turkey also remains strong. Turkey will need to continue vigorously its process of internal transformation, so that Turkish citizens can fully share in the EU community of values, rights and freedoms.

At the same time, fostering the broadest possible consensus on Turkish accession among the population as a whole, both in the EU and in Turkey, is our most challenging task ahead. It requires politicians but also other representative voices of civil society like NGOs, associations, academia, think tanks and business, to play a leading role.

Gaining the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens, Turkish and EU citizens alike, convincing the sceptics about the exciting project of Turkish accession is a common task for all of us in the years to come.

Thank you.

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