‘A stronger Europe; with Turkey, and a stronger Turkey with EU’ by Rızanur Meral*

May 17, 2012, Thursday/ 17:24:00

We are celebrating the fifth year of the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists’ [TUSKON] EU office. We launched our office with Mr. [Ali] Babacan [Turkey’s economy minister] in 2007.

We [as TUSKON] have been outspoken of the importance of [the] EU accession process for our country since the foundation of the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists. That is why establishing TUSKON’s EU Office was one of the first decisions of our board in 2005.

Our ongoing support for the continuity of the EU process does not stem from an ideology. But rather we have witnessed the positive outcomes of the reform process since the beginning of the last decade. Also we lived through the prosperity of these reforms [that] have [been] brought both to our economy and democracy. The EU membership leverage has helped us to overcome some initial steps to reform and also brought more self- confidence to the people of our country. Unfortunately today we are not able to use the same leverage just because the public attention to the calls for reform for the EU accession process has eventually decreased.

We hope the new political atmosphere in France may clear the way to continue the negotiation process with the opening of new chapters. This may bring up the EU leverage back for further reform process in Turkey. However, we have not lost our belief in the values and standards of the EU, and we will still pursue our demand to continue the reform process in line with EU acquis and norms. It is a basic reality that having reforms faster and stronger would be much easier if we could foresee a membership date to the EU. Nevertheless, we cannot underestimate the value chain of the reform process for EU accession in Turkey just because some EU member states are having troubles with their internal politics.

Herein, I would like to address an issue that is also very critical. After the recent financial crisis, and the public debt problems of EU member states, we have witnessed that the perception of EU in Turkey has started to turn into a “shaking Europe[an] tragedy.” But especially the combination of disappointment at the accession process and the daily broadcast of scary stories have resulted in [giving] Turkey a very wrong perception of Europe.

The reality is: Yes, some member states are being strongly challenged on their public debts, but they still have a GDP per capita 3 times more than Turkey’s. The companies of these countries are the main foreign investors in Turkey and they bring know-how to our country. And at the same time, by far EU is our biggest trade partner. If Turkey is ever to reach the 2023 targets of economic growth, this can only be achieved with better engagement with the nearest and biggest economic zone in the world, which is the EU. In other words, if we want to increase our trade volume 3 times in ten years, we have to at least increase the trade volume with Europe 3 times. Moreover, with the Customs Union we have a common economic zone, and with the EU membership of Turkey we hope to have not only a common economy but also a common political and social future. This should make us more aware of the realities of Europe and pay attention to our common perceptions and analysis.

Europe’s evaluation of Turkey

While naming the wrong perceptions of Europe in Turkey, we should not forget about the misevaluations about Turkey in Europe. Turkey is not just a dynamic economy with some good economic figures, but also a growing success story with a young population and close historical and social links with the new developing regions. Turkey is the most important alternative for Europe to reach the energy resources of our globe. Turkey, while providing the economic and political stability and regulatory ground for the companies like the EU, also serves [to provide] the competitive advantages of a developing country and a growing market. The entrepreneurship soul in our business community that made Turkish construction companies second in the world is what the EU needs to come over the economic slow down in Europe. We strongly pursue Europe to re-analyze and try to understand the metamorphosis of our country, especially when a rapid response to developments around the world is needed.

It is a duty for all of us to speak up [about] the value of each side to the other. In European capitals we should have the decision-makers update their analyses once more, whereas in Turkey we need to re-emphasize how the EU project has been the pioneer of changes in Turkey. It is sad that some European friends cannot observe the product of the EU process in Turkey although they had a great impact to start up the process. It is also very sad and disappointing to be obliged to have visas issued while coming to Europe. It is definite that we cannot get over the challenges between our communities while the physical and mental barrier of the visa exists. We do ask both our government and EU institutions and countries to take the necessary steps to start the process to save us from visa suffering.

As mentioned Turkey has succeeded a lot last decade. It is now time to prepare a new constitution designed in line with the EU norms that we all share. We believe and support a new constitution that will welcome all the differences in our society. We are trying to contribute to the discussions as much as we can, in order to make it sure that the new civilian constitution makes every single citizen of the country equal and equally benefitting from the rights and freedoms regardless of ethnicity, religion, sex or any other identity. Such a constitution will definitely give a boost to the social peace in Turkey and improve the economic and social efficiency. I hope this will also bring Turkey closer to the EU and prosper the economy through a better functioning democracy.

TUSKON active in newly developing parts of world

As TUSKON, we are very active especially in newly developing parts of the world. The widespread information flow and eligibility to basic know-how has brought an enormous opportunity to produce and establish economic facilities in different parts of the world. Discovery of new natural resources is also helping new geographies to flourish rapidly. The end product of this new face of economic change is a totally new economic functionality, which unquestionably needs a new and deeper look at the economic models we rely on today.

China has been a symbol of this new era but we do witness similar economic developments in different parts of the world, less dense but equally challenging the de facto economic models.

In Turkey, as macroeconomic indicators show, we have quite a positive economic atmosphere. The economic dynamism and widespread hope in the society are irreplaceable values that we owe our economic performance to. We should thank our government and especially responsible minister Mr. Babacan for their very successful economic governance that brought prosperity to our country during the last decade. While underlining this fact, I should also emphasize the importance of the continuity of the reform process to keep Turkey growing.

Let me finish with a headline for our friends from media: “A stronger Europe with Turkey, and a stronger Turkey with EU.

*This is an excerpt from a speech delivered by Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) President Rızanur Meral during a dinner debate titled “Time to face the economic realities: Challenges and prospects for EU and Turkey” on May 16 during a celebration of the TUSKON EU office’s fifth year.