European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood
TUSKON dinner with Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan
Brussels, 15 May 2012
President Meral, Deputy Prime Minister, Commissioner Rehn, Members of Parliament. ambassadors and other distinguished guests,
First I would like to thank Tuskon and its President Mr. Meral for inviting me to this dinner debate – which is yet another example of Tuskon's active engagement in and dedication to European Union-Turkey relations.
I would also like to congratulate the Tuskon representation on its 5th anniversary here in Brussels, which – judging from my own, relatively shorter experience in European Union-Turkey relations – cannot always have been "plain sailing". In this context, I can only praise your motivation and constructive approach to European Union matters.
Despite some stormy periods I am convinced that everybody gathered here tonight has a strong interest in this relationship and Turkey's European Union accession process.
Let me also welcome the presence of both Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan and Vice-President Olli Rehn. Their presence tonight, and their remarks on the economic challenges for Europe, are a very visible statement about the depth of our relationship. It shows that Turkey cares when Europe is facing hard times, and is willing to contribute to Europe's return to growth.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Once more, Tuskon has shown a great skill for timing in organising today's event. We are meeting here on the eve of the official launch of the positive agenda in Turkey.
On Thursday Egemen Bağis and I will jointly kick-off the concrete work on the positive agenda.
I am happy that the Commission's proposal for the positive agenda was endorsed by all Member States and that it was welcomed by Turkish politicians, business representatives and civil society alike. As you know, its objectives are:
first, to give new momentum to reforms in Turkey; and
second, to enhance cooperation in a number of crucial areas of common interest where such progress is both needed and feasible.
The positive agenda complements the accession process, and does not replace it.
Turkey and the Commission have agreed to set up a first list of eight working groups each devoted to a specific chapter of the acquis, where Turkey will be offered support and guidance to intensify efforts for further alignment with the European Union acquis. Involvement of stakeholders such as civil society and the business sector in this process is a key element, as only an inclusive process can bring the support for domestic political reforms that can deliver on the EU accession aspirations.
Here I see a clear role for Tuskon, and I am confident Tuskon will deliver and be one of the leading stakeholders. And we need stakeholders to be active. Stakeholder involvement will allow us to recreate the process which we have missed while the accession process stalled. Stakeholder involvement will help recreate interest and maintain momentum for further ambitious reforms in civil society.
Together with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin I will also chair the first meeting of the working group on Judiciary and fundamental rights (chapter 23), which will take place at the same day. Further working groups will follow in the course of the upcoming weeks.
We will also soon be launching our concrete work on the positive energy agenda when I meet Ministers Bağis and Yildiz together with my colleague, Commissioner Oettinger, in Stuttgart at in June.
In the same spirit, I am working with Commissioner Malmström to make travel of the citizens of Turkey to the European Union easier.
One more area that I want to mention where we are actively improving our strategic dialogue and cooperation is the area of foreign policy. The European Union and Turkey have much to gain from addressing the common challenges in our neighbourhood together.
Let me also explicitly mention how eager we are to build on one of the greatest achievements in EU-Turkey relations, namely the Customs Union. In this audience, I don't need to elaborate on the huge and undisputed success of the Customs Union in terms of trade and investments in Turkey. However, we believe that more should be done to exploit our potential in this area to the full. The Customs Union should be modernised, its functioning improved and its scope expanded. This is the message my colleague in charge of Trade policy, Commissioner de Gucht, and myself conveyed in Ankara last November, and which I repeat today. I have decided to launch a thorough assessment of the Customs Union, which will include a precise analysis of its impact for our economies so far but also suggest avenues to explore in view of its indispensible modernisation. This task will be carried out by an external evaluator and I look forward to sharing the outcome of this exercise with you.
As you see, ladies and gentlemen, the positive agenda is very much based on the conviction that we need to intensify our dialogue and cooperation to solve the challenges we face. Our citizens can not afford that we just pronounce our unconditional positions and let time pass without any progress. Intensifying our dialogue is the only way to find solutions that are mutually acceptable and durable.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by briefly referring to the reforms in Turkey. I know that Tuskon is a strong supporter or further reforms, and that President Meral shares my view that the new constitution is a key element of Turkey's reform agenda.
The concrete work launched by the Turkish Parliament to bring this process forward, including the constructive cooperation of the four main political parties, is a promising start. I understand the Parliamentary committee is now entering the next – and crucial – phase of the process, which is to take up the pen and start drafting. I look forward to a rich and constructive debate, which will maintain the inclusive spirit we have witnessed so far.
Consensus through a democratic, participatory process remains essential if this new constitution is to serve all Turkish citizens.
Preparing the new constitution is not a process for politicians alone. Nor can it be a discussion behind closed doors. It also needs to be as transparent as possible.
Only an integrated process will allow a compromise to be found that respects the diversity of opinions and of lifestyles within Turkish society.
A new civilian constitution can act as a catalyst and provide a basis for further progress as regards the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey.
It needs to find the right balance between protecting society as a whole and protecting the individual citizen; and it needs to consolidate and reinforce the rule of law and fundamental rights of all Turkish citizens, in line with European standards – notably the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
In this context, let me pay tribute to the large number of political reforms already underway or foreseen in the near future by the Turkish government. To maintain this momentum, a swift adoption of the third Judicial Reform Package by the Turkish Parliament, which would maintain the positive steps included in the draft, is essential. And I hope that the fourth Judicial reform package - which is devoted to reforms in the area of freedom of expression and the media and should include changes to the provisions in the Turkish Criminal Code, the Anti-Terror Law and the Code of Criminal Procedures - will soon follow.
These issues will have our particular attention when preparing this year's progress report.
For now, however, I would like to thank President Meral once again for hosting this event.
I am looking forward to a stimulating discussion.