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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Turkey and the EU: a multifaceted relationship

Bosphorus Conference - Plenary Debate

Istanbul, 23 October 2010

Dear Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

It is an honour and a great pleasure for me to speak here in this beautiful city of Istanbul, before such a distinguished audience. I especially appreciate the opportunity to talk to you, as this is the first time I am attending the Bosphorus Conference and I am looking forward to a lively dialogue.

Let me start by noting the tremendous transformation our global order is currently undergoing. We are moving to a new multi-polar world order.

The rise of a number of regional powers and alliances is creating a new kind of multilateralism. One where the pursuit of national interests is much more frequently put before a common approach pursued through multinational fora: one where narrow, short-term economic interests risk to override the long-term, strategic interest such as the pursuit of global peace through democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights.

Obviously, that is of concern to the European Union; our success has depended very much on following long-term strategic priorities and overcoming short-term national economic interests. The European Union is value based, and offers a highly developed structure to put these values into practice.

It is therefore in the European interest to influence the design of the new world order. We need to be prepared to lead in shaping the new developing global order, or otherwise we will follow.

This means we will need to develop a new dynamism and focus at the international level, as a means to influence the new realities of international relations, and to address the many interlinked global risks.

The European Union is well-placed to meet the challenges. Our political system that helped the countries of our region transform themselves peacefully into functioning democratic states. Our values based on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and an open market economy have helped to peacefully overcome divisions. In many parts of the world, the European Union is seen as a model that is worth copying implicitly or often even explicitly. When we speak of universal values, people listen.

The concept of enlargement is therefore as much at the core of the future success of Europe as it has been of its past. I see enlargement as serving three purposes. Living through three stages, so to speak:

  • Firstly, democratising Europe and extending the benefits of the single market, and then,

  • Secondly, overcoming the divide in Europe, by seeking to integrate Europe, and now,

  • A third stage of enlargement which is to allow Europe to advance its common values and our governance system as the most effective governance system globally.

This third stage is important, as there are other players offering competing systems of governance. I already referred to these systems, prioritising short term, narrow interests over common values. That is what we compete against.

I take note that nowadays our values are being questioned more openly and more frequently in international relations.

If we want to ensure that the new world order will share our values and reflect our objectives, we need to lead, not follow. Lead on fighting climate change, on protecting fundamental freedoms, on fighting poverty.

In achieving this objective, size does matter. Here in Turkey I say: having Turkey as a full member of the Union does matter. Moreover, we can not afford to lose that very powerful concept of Europe which sticks to its commitments, provided that candidate countries stick to theirs. Of a Europe that says that we will accept any European nation that shares our values and meets our standards.

To be effective, we need to look outward, not inwards. In an increasingly interdependent world, we can not afford xenophobia. This will make Europe lose its voice in the debate about the future global governance.

In this changing international order, with its increased multi-polarity, Turkey is operating with an increased self-awareness. This is a very welcome process as it offers tremendous opportunities. It however also brings increased responsibility.

Turkey is reforming itself and at the same time redefining its role in the world. This process does however not take place in a vacuum. A changing world is also changing Turkey. But in today's multi-polar world, it is hardly conceivable one country alone can shape a new global order on its own. Together we can, this is what we learned from the European Union experience.

If Turkey sees its EU membership as a strategic objective to deliver on both it national and international ambitions, it needs to come closer to EU values. It needs to be understood by the EU citizens. In turn, the EU citizens should understand better what contribution Turkey can bring to their future.

Rightly so, the Turkish leadership sees membership of the European Union therefore as a strategic objective for its national and international ambitions.

On 12 September the Turkish people gave a clear signal that they wished their country to become more democratic. Becoming part of the European Union will help solidify Turkey's transformation into a democratic nation based on the rule of law and respect for human rights, prosperous through its open market economy.

Clearly, the constitutional reforms need to be properly implemented in a transparent and inclusive way. This will determine the extent to which rule of law, independence of the judiciary and women's rights are upheld and improved in practice.

It is also vital that the Turkish government keeps momentum and the constitutional reform process going. A new civilian Constitution, completely replacing the current one, should provide a solid base for the further strengthening of democracy in Turkey in line with European standards. Ensuring broad public consultation involving all political forces and civil society would strengthen the consensus on a new civilian Constitution. After all, a Constitution is for all the citizens.

Drafting the new constitution should provide the unique chance to tackle many of Turkey's most important challenges:

  • One of them would be the reinforcement of fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression. I am saying this against the background of repeated prosecutions and convictions faced by journalists and undue pressure on the media.

  • A new constitution would provide the opportunity to consolidate the Rule of Law via a more impartial and effective judiciary.

  • It would also be the occasion for Turkey to resolve the Kurdish issue and improve the treatment of other minorities, in an open manner demonstrating tolerance. The democratic opening should translate quickly into further concrete reforms.

Allow me in this context to say that the EU continues to unequivocally condemn all acts of terroristm and violence on Turkish territory in the strongest possible terms. Let me stress here very clearly our solidarity with the people of Turkey. This is where we stand together. This is what unites us.

As a member of the European Union, Turkey will also be best placed to defend its interests and values globally; best placed to shape the developing new global order to reflect its values and goals.

But Turkey is not yet a member of the EU, not just yet I would say.

This brings me to the accession process. I believe no one can be satisfied at the current pace of this process. I also believe that we should complement the accession process with a political dialogue that would allow us to pursue jointly the many common interest in our neighbourhood.

Mr chairman, distinguished guests and friends, let me, here in Istanbul, return to the strategic choice that Turkey faces in the light of the ongoing transformation of the world order. And the central role which EU accession plays in deciding Turkey's future.

Just like the EU, Turkey can choose to lead or be led; choose to shape the new emerging multi-polar world order, or be shaped by it. I very strongly believe that it is in the strategic interest of Turkey to move forward as part of Europe, as a full member of the EU.

But this will require political courage. Courage to recognise that yesterday’s linkages are not today’s concern; courage to recognise instead that today’s political decisions are about tomorrow’s opportunities.

In view of the ongoing global changes, Turkey can not afford to wait and see. The time to act on strategic choices is now.

Meeting the obligations of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement is in the strategic interest of Turkey. Normalising bilateral relations with all EU Member States is also in its strategic interest. It will put Turkey in a win-win position, demonstrate its strategic vision, make its voice better heard to address other issues close to its heart and give new momentum to its accession process.

You have all the keys to your future. I invite you to open the door and walk through.

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