Turkey and the European Union need each other, but Turkey's need for the union continues to decrease while the union's need for Turkey grows bigger with each passing day, according to State Minister Egemen Bağış, who is also Turkey's chief negotiator for EU talks. One day, he said, the European Union will look for ways to do away with obstacles standing in the way of Turkey's membership in the union.
The minister was speaking on a televised program, “Sözün Erdemi” (Virtue of Words), hosted by Today's Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş on private Mehtap television, on Wednesday. He spoke about Turkey's efforts to become a full member of the 27-nation bloc in 2010 and its plans to that end for the new year.
“What is behind Turkey’s trouble with opening new chapters [for negotiation] is the Cyprus issue or things brought before Turkey in connection with the same issue. Today we have political obstacles before the opening of 17 or 18 chapters. These obstacles will be overcome some day because Turkey and the EU need each other. … Today Europe is mired in a serious economic crisis. And before them is an economic power they are watching admiringly: the Republic of Turkey.
Turkey is the sixth biggest economy in Europe and the 15th in the world. While Europe’s most successful country, Germany, witnessed an economic growth of 3 percent in the second half of 2010, the figure was 11 percent in Turkey. The average age in Europe is 45. It is 27 in Turkey. We have a young and dynamic population. In addition, we have a dynamic market. Turkey will host the leaders of 150 countries in the spring for a summit of less developed countries. And it will assume the term presidency for the summit for the next 10 years. On the other hand, Turkey is the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC] as well as the co-chairman of the Alliance of Civilizations. Turkey is also one of the reputable countries among the G-20 countries. The EU cannot ignore such an active country,” Bağış stated.
According to Bağış, Turkey’s EU bid is not focused on its aspiration to become a member of the bloc. Rather, it is focused on efforts to raise democratic and economic standards in Turkey. He said Turkey will continue to take steps on reforms included in its national program regardless of the EU’s intentions concerning Turkey’s bid for membership.
“We will change our laws and make our constitution a civilian one that will embrace all citizens of Turkey. And we will take all steps required to adhere to EU standards. It is not important whether the EU opens chapters or not. We will make necessary reforms. What is important to us is the process itself, but not membership in the union. We want to reach the level required to become an EU member. When we reach that level we may not want to become member of the union, who knows? We may head to a referendum and our public may refuse to join the EU. What is important for Turkey is to reach standards in every field and not lag behind European countries,” the minister noted.
Bağış also said Turkey would not make concessions on its Cyprus policy for its EU bid. “We will neither abandon Cyprus for the EU nor the EU for Cyprus. … Our policy is very clear: ports for ports. Let the Greek Cypriots open their ports to us, and we will open our ports to them. The Greek Cypriots should quit acting like spoiled children and launch commercial ties with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [KKTC].”
In response to a question over whether the Turkish nation still would like to see Turkey joining the EU, the minister said Turks complain about the insincerity of the EU and about Turkey’s efforts for membership. “We regularly conduct surveys about people’s thoughts about the EU. Half of our population is warm towards the union, but they do not trust Europeans. Two out of every three Turks, for example, believe that Europeans are not sincere with us. We do not have much to say about this because no other nation has faced so many political obstacles in opening negotiation chapters,” he remarked. The minister also spoke about an attack by Greek Cypriot fans on a Turkish professional basketball team in December. He said he found the fine imposed on Apoel F.C. “very small” and vowed to pursue efforts in the international arena to seek a greater penalty for the Greek Cypriot fans.
On bilingualism, new constitution
Apart from Turkey’s EU bid, Bağış also spoke on ongoing debates on bilingualism and autonomy for Kurds and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) plans for a new constitution.
He said the debates over bilingualism and autonomy are being used by certain groups to “sabotage” the democratic and peaceful atmosphere in Turkey. “There are not only two languages in Turkey. There are many languages. Everyone is free to speak the language they wish. Turkey is experiencing the most democratic and transparent era of its history. But this is disturbing some circles. They are worried that they are about to lose their political gains,” he noted.
He also added that the government would agree to take any steps to ensure a strong democracy but would expect the same good intention of all segments of society. “We say ‘yes’ to democracy and respect other people’s mother tongues. But we also expect everyone to say ‘yes’ to the unity, peace and future of the country.”
Bağış also complained that the Turkish Constitution carries the “spirit” of the coup administration despite partial amendments thus far. A military constitution can bring only minimum democracy to a country, he said, and called on all political parties to prepare a draft constitution to discuss in Parliament. “We can discuss all drafts in Parliament and form a joint constitution to bring together all the promising draft documents,” he added.