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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
EU-Turkey bound together
Conference of Ministry for EU Affairs ''Rethinking Global Challenges: Constructing a Common Future for Turkey and the EU'' Istanbul, Turkey
7 June 2013
Prime Minister, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before speaking about our common future, which is the topic of this conference, we cannot ignore the present. It is difficult not to mention events that have been taking place since over a week only a few hundred metres from where we convene today.
The duty of all of us, European Union Members as much as those countries that wish to become one, is to aspire to the highest possible democratic standards and practices. These include the freedom to express one's opinion, the freedom to assemble peacefully and freedom of media to report on what is happening as it is happening.
Best practices include close attention to the needs and expectations of society, including that of groups that don't feel represented by the Parliamentary majority. Peaceful demonstrations constitute a legitimate way for these groups to express their views in a democratic society. Excessive use of force by police against these demonstrations has no place in such a democracy.
I am happy that even the government admitted that. What is important now, is not only to launch swift and transparent investigation but also to bring those responsible to account.
Democracy is a demanding discipline – not only during election campaigns, but every day. It requires debates, consultation and compromise. Since the beginning of my mandate, I have admired the openness and passion of debates in Turkey. I sincerely wish this to be preserved, but also translated into harmonious and effective decision making. Energising the EU accession process and strengthening democracy by respecting rights and freedoms are two sides of the same coin. And that brings me now to the other side of that coin:
Six months ago, the European Union Member States stated that it is in the interest of both parties that accession negotiations regain momentum soon.
And a few weeks ago, the President of the European Council, Mr Herman Van Rompuy, paid a landmark visit to Turkey, confirming the crucial importance of Turkey for the European Union, - as he put it in his speech in Ankara: "to build new and stronger bridges between Europe and Turkey".
I believe we have now all the cards in our hands to translate these fine words into deeds.
So allow me to share with you how I imagine things few years from now:
• A deeper European Union, multi-layered and more enlargement friendly.
• A European Union, stronger and more democratic, transforming and evolving, reaching to those neighbours who also want to anchor themselves to its democracy, prosperity and stability.
• I imagine Turkey as a democratic and prosperous country that has managed to achieve a peaceful coexistence between lifestyles, beliefs and cultures, based on mutual respect, and on the basis of a permanent dialogue between all segments of society, irrespective of the issues at stake or the political majority of the time.
• Turkey's relations with Europe even closer than now with a broad based inclusive accession process delivering on and driven by the aspirations of civil society and helping to build up public confidence.
• Citizens of Turkey travelling to Europe without visas.
• (I imagine) Goods and services circulating without hindrance from Van to Helsinki and from Istanbul to Lisbon.
• Caspian and Central Asian gas - and who knows, maybe even East Mediterranean gas - running through brand new pipelines across Turkey and into the European Union.
• (I imagine) Accession negotiations obviously in a well advanced state, with many more chapters opened and closed, with the EU as a benchmark for reforms
• The Cyprus issue resolved with a comprehensive settlement re-uniting two equal communities.
I see some sceptical faces so let me go back a little in time. One and a half years ago, commentators and observers in Turkey and Europe had unanimously declared European Union-Turkey relations moribund.
Minister Egemen Bağιş and I thought ahead and we imagined a Positive Agenda for Turkey to help put the accession process back on track.
So, in concrete terms, what have we done?
We were confronted with stagnation in the accession negotiations. So we worked hard to continue Turkey's alignment with European Union standards and policies. On the Turkish side, we pushed away "we deservism" - the notion that progress was deserved and not earned - and on the European Union side: we pushed away doubts about the role of accession negotiations..
Already in the autumn I was able to inform Egemen that a number of important conditions and requirements had been met in different chapters which are being currently blocked, including the chapter on Judiciary and fundamental rights (chapter 23).
We understood that advancing on our mutual concerns and demands in the area of visa, mobility and migration would be a major impetus for our relations. Since then, the Commission has drafted an ambitious visa roadmap that should pave the way towards visa liberalisation and the implementation of the readmission agreement
We observed how beneficial improved cooperation on energy would be for both sides. So we also set up an enhanced energy agenda and dialogue to coordinate our cooperation. My colleague Günther Öttinger and Turkish Minister Taner Yildiz remain focused on this agenda.
We understood that a joint approach on foreign policy would make both sides stronger. So we agreed to improve the strategic dialogue and cooperation between the European Union and Turkey. There is not a single week when Minister Davutoğlu and High Representative Cathy Ashton are not on the phone together. This is particularly relevant in the light of the crisis in Syria where together we try to promote political solution to end the bloodshed.
In this context, be assured of the European Union's great admiration and gratitude for the generosity of the Turkish people, for Turkey's highly professional handling of thousands upon thousands of Syrian refugees sheltered on your territory. I am glad that we can provide 27 Mio Euro support to Turkey for helping these refugees. Just yesterday the European Commission pledged an extra €400 million to support the Syrian people and its neighbours.
Your role in finding the political solution to the crisis is key – and so should be our ever closer cooperation for the future of Syria and the whole region.
We noticed that the Customs Union, although our biggest success so far, also led to frustrations on both sides. So we have decided to review it and explore how to further improve it for the benefit of both sides.
And even though we didn't open chapters, that doesn't mean that there was nothing happening. On the contrary, the European Union committed EUR 4.9 billion for Turkey covering the period 2007-2013. Through this support we have moved Turkey closer to EU standards and policies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In other words, the positive agenda has delivered! It was meant to form a bridge to the accession process. It has - and today, who would dare declare the negotiations dead?
We are in the position to open the negotiating chapter on Regional policy. This would mean an important step in Turkey's preparation for the European Union's policy of solidarity between rich and poorer regions.
As regards political reforms, Turkey has passed judicial reform packages which are significant milestones on the way to full respect for fundamental rights. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Minister Ergin. The 4th judicial reform package in particular is a significant step forward. But it is implementation that matters. And as the recent events have shown – more needs to be done to comply fully with the Copenhagen political criteria.
In short, we have made good progress since last year. But we now need to enter into a new dimension and create a real sustainable momentum that will carry the process further during the coming years. Last month in Brussels, Minister Davutoğlu, when mentioning the chapter on regional policy, added that one single flower does not mean spring has arrived. And I agree that we need a flourishing garden to declare success. We have now planted the seeds. So let's further water and fertilise them.
More concretely, we should work on the following priorities:
I propose we pursue the dialogue that led to the recent political reforms, in the constructive spirit of the positive agenda. This includes work on how to enforce fundamental rights in practice, and to make sure that limitations to these rights are strictly framed, specific and proportionate. You can be assured of our support in this endeavour, which may result in a 5th reform package – to complement progress achieved. And I will continue to make all possible efforts for the opening of negotiations on the two key chapters of the accession process, namely chapters 23-Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, and 24-Justice, freedom and security.
In the area of visa free travel and readmission, let's just start the visa dialogue in parallel with the signature of the readmission agreement! It will allow us to proceed smoothly towards the end goal, namely the possibility of visa free travel for Turkish citizens to all 26 countries of the Schengen area.
As regards accession negotiations, we need to build on the important progress made through the adoption of the new law on trade unions. However, a further step is required if we want to open the chapter on Employment and Social Policy during the next semester. We will continue to work on that with Egemen Bağιş, Minister Celik and the Turkish and European social partners.
But this is still not enough: we want accession negotiations to move into top gear. I understand the frustration of my Turkish friends concerning chapters that have been unilaterally blocked. And I'm working hard to overcome these blockades, whatever their causes. Moreover, the full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol would give a boost to the accession process: several chapters could be opened and some even closed quickly.
Another important priority ahead of us concerns our economies, and we will work successfully together to make sure the success story of our Customs Union, which brought great benefits to both of us, is pursued and developed. It has integrated the Turkish economy into European markets as well as global markets.
The Commission is also prepared to address Turkey's legitimate concerns regarding the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States. We welcome the decision to create a bilateral working group between Turkey and the United States to explore the possibilities in this area We will include Turkey in our trade sustainability study and keep it informed about progress in the course of the negotiations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me finish with a plea. I strongly believe that we have a historic opportunity to solve the Cyprus issue once and for all. The newly elected President of the Republic of Cyprus is truly committed to achieving a comprehensive settlement. Due to the serious economic turmoil his country is going through, and after years and years of blockade, a bit of additional patience is needed – a few months really before the resumption of UN talks is a worthy investment. Let's all give this prospect a serious chance of success.
The countless efforts you have been displaying to put an end to terrorist violence, which was a poison for your country, to bring peace and prosperity to the Southeast of Turkey and to address the Kurdish issue, are starting to bear fruit. This demonstrates the virtues of patience, dialogue and engagement. These same virtues should prevail vis-à-vis developments here in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey.
When you received me in Ankara last year, you invited the European Union "not to give up on its values". These were words of wisdom. I replied by inviting you "not to give up on EU accession". Actually, European Union values, European Union accession - everything is linked.
And here I stand, in front of you, and today let me – by repeating your own words – call on Turkey “not to give up on its values” of freedom and fundamental rights. And let me assure you that we, on our side, have no intention to “give up on Turkey´s EU accession.”
We are bound together – through opening a new chapter and progress in accession negotiations – to create new, sustainable momentum. We are bound to avoid everything that risks to undermine this.
We are bound to succeed together.
Thank you very much for your attention.