His audience seemed to appreciate this comment, while Bağış’s counterparts expressed the same desire to take relations between the two countries to a new level. Bağış also concurred that ties between Ankara and Copenhagen, which date back to the 18th century, have been neglected for a long time. “Denmark just recently began supporting Turkey in its fight against terrorism. It also supports Turkey’s EU process and is a host country for some 60,000 Turkish citizens.
It sends about 200,000 tourists to Turkey annually. I am flying to Denmark with renewed hope of a new era in relations,” he told to a group of journalists who accompanied him on his three-day visit, which started on Tuesday.
In remarks made shortly before his departure from İstanbul to Denmark, Bağış said this was his first trip to Denmark in his capacity as chief EU negotiator, though it has been two years since his appointment to the post.
The two countries have had rocky relations in the past few years due to Denmark’s reluctance to disallow the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated Roj TV station from operating within its borders as well as the Danish cartoon crisis that angered many in the Muslim world. Turkey has made many appeals to Danish authorities to revoke the broadcasting permit of Roj TV; however, Denmark has mostly dismissed this request, until very recently when it decided to take legal action against the channel.
But, according to Mogens Lykketoft, the former Danish foreign minister and a deputy in the Danish parliament for the Social Democrats, there might be some obstacles before improving relations, but Roj TV and the cartoon crisis should not be considered to be among them. “The cartoon crisis was not created by the Danish government. Some of us in the parliament also thought that it was unnecessary and it could be understood as an insult to the Muslims. The second issue, Roj TV, is not a question for politicians, but it is for justice; if it can be proven that it has links with terrorism than it will not be allowed,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
Actually Bağış was pleased to see that just a few days prior to his visit, Danish public prosecutors paid a visit to Diyarbakır to investigate the link between terrorist activities and Roj TV. He described this development as a positive one and praised Denmark for exempting immigrants of Turkish origins from a citizenship test -- a decision made one day ahead of Bağış’s visit and referred to as a “goodwill gesture.”
Bağış started his fast-paced program in Denmark with a visit to the Confederation of Danish Industrialists; in all talks and conferences that he participated in he underlined the growing Turkish economy. He frequently recalled that Turkey is the sixth largest economy in Europe and 16th in the world, with a market of 72 million, and that it is one of 10 emerging markets with it economic growth rate reaching 11 percent. He often added that it might become an “engine of growth” for the EU. Bağış invited Danish businessmen to increase trade with Turkey and to invest in the third countries with their Turkish counterparts. He also told the Danes that Europe needs Turkey.
Ole Damkajer, international affairs correspondent for the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende and an observer of Turkish affairs, told Sunday’s Zaman that Denmark is realizing more and more that it must have good relations with new economic powers like Turkey. “I think this need will bring about a more realistic attitude towards Turkey, but this does not mean that they will welcome Turkey into the EU. Our politicians, for example, are referring to the Cyprus issue as something Turkey has to take steps on, not the EU or Cyprus,” Damkajer said.
Actually Turkish-Danish trade volume is increasing on a steady basis and reached $1.8 billion in 2008 but due to the economic crisis this figure declined to $1.2 billon last year. Only 1 percent of all Turkish exports are to Denmark and only 0.3 percent of the imports are from Denmark.
Bağış stressed that Europe, which is still trying to cope with the financial crisis, needs Turkey, saying, “Hold on Europe, Turkey is coming to rescue you.” He said Europe’s need for bigger markets and energy security can be provided by Turkey.
“I am telling my friends that in 10 years Europe might be interested in Turkey more than Turkey will be interested in Europe. We are totally aware of the booming Turkish economy. In addition to that Turkish society has started to change totally and Turkey is establishing strong relations with its neighbors which is another important subject for the EU,” Lykketoft said. He added that if Turkey will be able to fulfill all the requirements that are needed to joint to EU, the EU should be committed to its promise for membership. “It is that simple,” he said and noted that when these requirements are fulfilled Denmark will not be an obstacle in front of Turkey because it will not hold a referendum for Turkey’s EU bid unlike France and Germany.
Damkajer pointed out that defending the idea of Turkish membership to the EU is not a popular case for Danish politicians while the country is also discussing the integration problems of Turks living in Denmark. “Danes are not noticing the success stories of Turks which are plenty but are paying attention to integration problems. The nationalist party is a strong political party and they are not warm to Turkey at all,” he said.
Bağış during his visit also stressed on several occasions that the biggest obstacle in front of Turkey is the prejudgments made about it and in this respect Turks living in Denmark are an asset. One of them, Yıldız Akdoğan, a Danish parliamentarian of Turkish origin from the Social Democrat Party, who met with Bağış during his trip, told Sunday’s Zaman that it is important to tell Danish society about the improvements as well as challenges in Turkey.
“Here the prejudgments are very strong and most Danes are not aware of the economic growth in Turkey. They do not know about the other social changes either. It is important for new Danes of Turkish origin to explain these developments to the society that they are living in,” she said.
Bağış commented that it is not enough to present Turkey only in terms of its economy, so during his visit he participated in the opening ceremony of the “Turkey: Missing star” cultural event and Turkish film festival in Denmark.
On his way back to Ankara when a journalist asked him if he was able to find a partner in the “tango” of bilateral relations he answered “yes.”
“They are willingly to improve relations. Some of their ministers including the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Interior and Health will be visiting Turkey. Actually, in terms of the EU, they were more supportive than some other countries,” he said, adding that Turkey and Denmark can share and shape a common future as they have done in the past.
“We share a common history and culture, much more than most of the other countries in the EU,” he said.