“This is something I feel very strongly, very passionately about,” Cameron, on his first visit to Turkey since becoming prime minister in May, said in a speech to the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), an influential business group. “Together, I want us to pave the road from Ankara to Brussels,” he added. The British prime minister's remarks come as Turkey pursues an increasingly independent course in its foreign policy, working for a negotiated settlement to an international dispute over Iran's nuclear program while Western powers seek to up pressure on the Islamic Republic by imposing new sanctions.
Many in the West have expressed concern that Turkey is moving away from the West for the sake of building alliances with countries in the East, some of which have very troubled relations with the West, and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently blamed the EU for the shift in Turkey’s axis.
But Cameron, whose country was not at first welcomed into the European bloc by France, appeared to dismiss those concerns, saying, “Instead of choosing between East and West, Turkey has chosen both.” He said: “Turkey can be a great unifier. ... And it’s this opportunity to unite East and West that gives Turkey such an important role with countries in the region in helping to deliver improved security for us all.”
Germany and France oppose Turkey’s membership, slowing down progress in the accession negotiations. Cameron slammed the opposition to Turkish membership as “prejudiced” and said Turkey would bring greater prosperity and political stability to the bloc thanks to its vast economic potential and growing influence in the Middle East.
Cameron said those who oppose Turkish accession fell into three categories: protectionists who see Turkey’s growing economic power as a threat, “the polarized” who think the country should choose between East and West and the prejudiced who “willfully misunderstand Islam.” He said: “I will always argue that the values of real Islam are not incompatible with the values of Europe. That Europe is defined not by religion, but by values.”
“When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a NATO ally and what Turkey is doing today in Afghanistan alongside our European allies, it makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been,” the British prime minister said. “I believe it’s just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent. I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership and for greater influence at the top table of European diplomacy.”
Targeting France over its opposition to Turkey, without directly naming it, Cameron recalled that Paris had once vetoed Britain’s entry to the EU. “Do you know who said: ‘Here is a country that is not European. This is a country which ... cannot, despite what it claims and perhaps even believes, be a full member,’” Cameron asked. “It might sound like some Europeans describing Turkey. But it was actually Gen. [Charles] de Gaulle describing the UK before vetoing our EU accession,” he said.
“We know what it’s like to be shut out of the club,” Cameron added. “But we also know that these things can change.”
In his speech, Cameron said that today Turkey is “Europe’s BRIC,” referring to the acronym for the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China, and said he wants to see bilateral trade between the UK and Turkey, which currently totals 9 billion pounds ($14 billion) a year, to double over the next five years. “We cannot let the protectionists win,” Cameron said.
This was a pointed comment at a time when the coalition government is preparing to slash public spending to reduce a record peacetime deficit. Improving trade ties with fast-growing emerging markets is a central plank of the Cameron government’s foreign policy. After Turkey, Cameron heads to India with a big delegation of business leaders and a similar message on the benefits of trade.
While harshly criticizing Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine activists, including eight Turkish citizens, Cameron said an Israeli inquiry into the May 31 incident should be swift and transparent. Cameron later also backed Turkey’s demand for an international inquiry into the raid, saying a UN-led process is “right.”
“The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable,” Cameron said. In a reference to the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory, he said, “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp,” and urged Turkey to help seek a solution.
Speaking at a joint press conference following their talks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said all people in Gaza “are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open-air prison.”
He said the Israeli commando raid in international waters “cannot be described in any other way but piracy” and wondered why the world acts against hijackings by Somali pirates but remains silent in the face of Israeli actions. “Israel must apologize as soon as possible, pay compensation and lift the blockade,” Erdoğan reiterated.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, defended Turkey’s position in supporting Iran’s right to acquire peaceful nuclear energy, criticizing world powers for turning a blind eye to Israel’s widely accepted nuclear program. “We need Turkey’s help in making it clear to Iran just how serious we are about engaging fully with the international community,” Cameron said.
The two leaders also signed a “Turkey-UK Strategic Partnership Document,” aimed at deepening trade and defense ties.