During a visit to Sweden by President Abdullah Gül that starts Monday, a trip which will mark a number of firsts, the two countries are to sign a strategic partnership agreement to further boost already excellent bilateral relations.
Describing the visit to Sweden, which is the first ever at the presidential level, as “very significant,” Sweden's envoy to Turkey said the strategic partnership agreement will be a “very good platform when we [Turkey and Sweden] look into cooperation in new areas,” obviously excited over the potential the two countries may set in motion in an effort to knit closer ties.
Apart from the strategic cooperation agreement to be signed by the foreign ministers of both countries, business will be a major focus of the president's visit. Gül is being accompanied by more than 100 Turkish businessmen together with the deputy prime minister in charge of economy, Ali Babacan. Also on the trip are Turkey's European Union Minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bağış and Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
The group left for Sweden on Sunday for a three-day state visit to officially start on Monday.
For the Swedish ambassador to Turkey, Hakan Akesson, the prospects for cooperation on the business front are high, and Swedish and Turkish companies “match well.” “An interesting area of cooperation for companies may be in third markets,” he told Today's Zaman, noting that Turkey has knowledge of markets in the region and Swedish firms the technological skills and knowhow.
The trade volume between the two countries totaled $3.3 billion at the end of 2012. The ambassador is hopeful it may increase considerably in the coming years. “My guess is that it's possible to double bilateral trade given the size of both economies and the fact that both economies are growing healthily,” he said. During the visit, the Turkish head of state will not only address a large business forum on the subject of boosting bilateral trade but will also give a speech in the Swedish Parliament, a sign of excellent diplomatic relations.
Around 250 people including journalists were expected to accompany Gül during the visit, in which for the first time in history a minority representative, Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Church Mor Filiksinos Yusuf Çetin, will also take part. Syriacs are a sizable community in Sweden, with nearly 120,000 members, 45,000 of whom are Turkish citizens, according to data from the Directorate of Overseas Turks and Relative Communities.
President Gül, accompanied by his wife, Hayrünnisa Gül, will be received by Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and the queen. With Turkey's profile having grown considerably on the world scene in the last decade, interest in Turkey is relatively high in Sweden. A research institute to be inaugurated with the participation of the Turkish president and the king of Sweden, the Institute for Turkey Studies of Stockholm University, demonstrates the fact very well. The institute, financed primarily by the university, but also by the private sectors of both countries, is fully focused on studies of contemporary Turkey.
Sweden gives full support to Turkey's EU bid. There are three reasons for this, according to the ambassador. The first is that Sweden believes Turkey's membership would make the EU stronger politically. The EU's foreign policy would also gain strength from the knowledge, experience and perspectives Turkey has that the EU does not, such as in issues surrounding the Middle East.
Secondly, Turkey would also strengthen the EU economy with its dynamic economy and young population. And thirdly, social and cultural considerations play a role. “Turkey's membership would clearly show the EU is not a Christian club, but rather a union for members sharing the same values,” Akesson commented.
In Turkey's efforts toward integration into the EU, Sweden has been helping Turkey in the area of justice. The Turkish Ministry of Justice and the Swedish National Courts Administration two years ago signed a bilateral agreement for cooperating in further democratization of the Turkish judicial system so as to enable it to conform to EU standards, a partnership which is proceeding smoothly. Areas of cooperation designated under the agreement include establishing a court of appeals for claims against the government, strengthening confidence in the judiciary, restructuring tasks and court management, and juvenile justice.
Defense is another area Sweden and Turkey have cooperated on for some time. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), which has set out to produce the country's first fighter jet, is cooperating with Sweden's Saab.
Gül cancelled a planned visit to Sweden, which receives Turkish delegations on average twice a year, in September of last year for health reasons.