Istanbul Lecture at Yeditepe University: Turkey and EU

Istanbul, 7th May 2013

Istanbul, Lecture at Yeditepe University: Turkey and EU

I am aware that the cultural, historic and strategic gaps in self-perception will pose difficult challenges for even the best-intentioned and most far-sighted leadership on both sides trying to understand the nature of the international order. Yet if history events were confined to the mechanical repetition of past patterns, no transformation would ever occur. Every great achievement was a vision before it became a reality. It arose from commitment, not resignation to the inevitable. History, however, is made either through human insight or, more ominously, through conflict. We are at such a juncture.

With world affairs in a state of flux, our task is to analyze and navigate a new course. It is necessary to devise a new way of solving a problem that is centuries old: the transition of global power. In the current repositioning of the powers, in the dust raised by the many interests at stake, what counts is not being dominant, but being indispensable. Any country can be indispensible in some area. As long as it has a proposal to set on the table, is capable of garnering consensus, and can identify opportunities when they arise as well as areas where it would be counterproductive to venture. The current context makes the fate of all countries interdependent and international stability more volatile. Hence, it requires an articulated management of national interests and an effective vision of the risks and opportunities of such interdependency. Stability is not the natural order of things. After all, our current difficulties come down to a problem of governance. Unless we solve this problem, we will have to deal with more fluidity, possibly even anarchy.

We have created a global world, but we have thus far failed to adopt the tools needed to make it function properly. First, we need to integrate the emerging powers and relevant stakeholders into a new system of governance. At the same time, all emerging powers and new actors should be ready to share the costs and responsibilities for the functioning of a rule-based international order.

There are many contributions that the EU and Turkey could make to one another as well as to global peace and stability on a wide scale, ranging from economics to politics, culture and foreign policy.

1. Turkey's accession to the EU is a strategic goal

Turkey is a cornerstone of the common European home. The European project will never be fully realized without Ankara. We cannot delude ourselves: no European construction can withstand without solid foundations that include Turkey. Those who - because of ideological myopia - close their eyes and mind in front of this evidence, ignore history. Turkey has always been part of the European events, from the Concert of Europe in the XIX century, to the complex dynamics of the XX century (including the long season of the Cold War and the birth of NATO), the difficult stabilization of the Balkan region in the 1990s, up to the different attempts within the G20 to deal with the financial turmoil of the most recent years.

The starting point of all reasoning is the finding that Turkey is already part of Europe. That is true at the political level (because, in the choices operated by Brussels, Ankara is already a factor that we cannot ignore), at the economical level (because the exchanges between the two shores of the Bosporus are more and more intense), and finally at the social level (because there are no barriers which can successfully be opposed to the desire of young people to meet).

To the European friends who still harbor some doubts, I always offer a very simple example that shows how peoples are often ahead of the ruling classes: the Turkish football teams have always participated in the European Championships. This year in the quarterfinals of Champions League “Galatasaray” gave a hard time to “Real Madrid”! And “Fenerbahce” is today in the semifinals of the Europa League! (it is well-known that Galatasaray and Fenerbahce are the two top football teams in Istanbul).

The reasons that make the entry of Turkey into the EU a strategic goal for Europe, have been widely debated in recent years. They are political, geostrategic and security-related, and you know them well thanks to your studies.

As a contribution, I would like to add some considerations - in the light of the current situation -, and then reflect on what may be the prospects of Ankara’s path to the EU.

2. To have more Europe, we need more Turkey

The first consideration is that Europe is going through an economic and financial crisis that is becoming a political crisis due to the lack of courage in taking early intervention decisions in Brussels.

Every crisis is an opportunity to take a step forward. In this context I am convinced that Turkey is a big “plus” for starting a new phase of the European project.

Actually, to overcome this crisis, we need more Europe. And to have more Europe, we need more Turkey.

I think that for Turkey , in the past years, EU has been much more than a foreign policy issue; EU had a strong impact and a push-effect on leading domestic political discussions on how reform the State and the institutional apparatus, as well as improving constitutional guarantees for the citizens.

I think that today’s stalemate in the negotiations process for EU accession doesn’t mean to deny that Turkey is part of Europe, but rather depends on the current difficult political atmosphere which, in EU leadership, is often accompanied by a lack of strategic vision.

Otherwise, one wouldn’t explain why EU doesn’t understand how much the Turkey’s geopolitical thinking could help EU itself to play a global role, in Asia and in the Mediterranean region.

It is clear that the so called Arab Spring provides the EU with an opportunity for a new start with the Global South, after decades of support for non democratic regimes in Arab States.

The traditional soft power and EU’s multilateralism have been drawing a renewed attention of our Mediterranean partners to EU’s system of values, in the perspective of promoting fundamental rights and good governance in post-revolutionary political systems.

It is equally clear, however, that Turkey has a very strong leverage on the new political elites and its political and economic stability are considered as a good example, and not as a “foreign” attempt to impose precooked solutions.

This Mediterranean big earthquake makes the EU-Turkish cooperation necessary and more likely.

I see a new opportunity for EU to have a vision for a broader political community towards the East and the South.

So, we should urgently re-discuss the Turkish role in that perspective.

EU and Turkish models complement perfectly each other.

Somebody says that we have a moral duty to ensure that the uprisings result is smooth democratic transitions.

And I believe that the Turkey’s EU membership would greatly help to combine, for a better future of the Mediterranean region, the Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun, the spirit of solidarity based on universal values and good governance, and the European sense of community.

In that way, we will have contributed to form a wider political community capable to restore trust and full partnership with the West.

On the economic front, we all agree on the importance of a free trade agreement between the EU and the U.S. to achieve a single market between the Atlantic and Europe. How can we think that market can work without the involvement of Turkey, which is a member of the G20? Secretary of State Kerry himself - in a Committee for National Security’s hearing - underlined Ankara's interest in being involved in the negotiations, possibly through "parallel" talks.

If the European Union wants to play a leading role on the world stage, even in respect of the new emerging powers (BRICS), Turkey’s contribution is necessary. Thanks to the great commercial and economic progress of the most recent years, Turkey has become a great regional power as well as a leading energy "hub" which cannot be ignored to meet the European energy needs.

In a situation of European economic stagnation, the growth rate of Turkey's GDP in 2012 was 2.2% (in 2011 it had been 8.5%, the second in the world after China’s).

The economic and trade ties between Turkey and the EU are extremely strong. Turkey-EU interchange in 2012 was 146.6 billion dollars (with 87 billion dollars of imports and 59 billion exports on the EU side). In this framework, in 2012 Italy was confirmed as the second European economic partner of Turkey (after Germany) with their trade amounting to 19.7 billion USD. In Turkey, there are 1,015 Italian companies who are confident in the Turkish market: in fact, in 2012 the investments of Italian companies in Turkey amounted to 178 million dollars, with a +60% increase if compared to 2011 (when their total amount stood at 111 million).

3. Turkey’s giant steps towards the EU

The second consideration is that, regardless of the negotiation process in Brussels (which has been essentially frozen since 2010), Turkey is making big strides in terms of internal reforms.

The constitutional reform of 2010, adopted by the Government and approved by referendum, has equipped Turkey with a Constitution more in line with the European standards. Turkey is becoming a vibrant democracy with a very dynamic economy. Weakening the army while avoiding a destabilizing showdown was a political goal of P.M. Erdogan. He reached it with the full support and encouragement from EU. President Gul recently repeated, I quote “Turkey should stay on EU path” despite the fact that the enthusiasm of Turks for Europe is evaporating.

We look with confidence to the recent development of the democratic reforms in Turkey, and we hope that further developments may arise from the currently underway parliamentary debate. We hope in particular that Turkey shows itself increasingly sensitive to the major issues of freedom of press and respect for political and religious beliefs of each individual, in the context of Turkey’s secular system.

The reforms introduced in the most recent years fuel the hopes and prospects for a solution to the Kurdish question that has opened up thanks to the most recent political developments. In this sense, we hope that the dialogue with the Kurdish can put finally an end to the serious internal turmoil of the past thirty years and possibly result in an agreement able to grant general satisfaction.

Actually, Turkey "is doing its homework" regardless of the "external constraint" of the accession negotiations. I think this is an important factor to be kept in mind. These results, which are grafted on the solid Turkish state system, have a strong value that perhaps is not appreciated enough at the European level: Turkey is increasingly becoming a point of reference - I would rather say "an example to be emulated" - for the countries of the “expanded” Mediterranean area. A model showing the way to build an institutional system anchored to the principles of democracy, tolerance, respect for human rights, and integration of all ethnic components.

4. How to revive Turkey’s accession to EU prospects

On this basis we have to promote the prospects of Turkey's accession to EU, overcoming obstacles hindering it, and that often have nothing to do with the Copenhagen criteria.

The conclusions of the December European Council reiterated that Turkey is a candidate of paramount importance for the EU. The hope is that negotiations can begin again with new momentum. A positive signal would be – next June – the opening of Chapter 22 (“Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural instruments”), especially in consideration of the flexibility demonstrated by France. Positive glimmers are finally being seen.

Italy has always strongly supported the entry of Turkey into the EU. This is a bipartisan position, which has remained unchanged by the Government currently in charge.

As Foreign Minister, in 2008, together with my British, Spanish and Swedish colleagues, I launched the so-called group "Friends of Turkey" in order to coordinate actions among European "like-minded" countries aiming at supporting the European path of Ankara: a group that continues to play an active role (Turkey Focus Group).

This objective of full integration will hopefully be achieved at the latest by 2023, the year when you will celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Republic created by Ataturk. It would be a highly symbolic date.

To create the conditions necessary to achieve the goal of Turkish full membership, we can immediately work to achieve some important measures: • On the political level, it is necessary to restore the invitation to Turkey and its leaders to take part in some phases of the European Councils and to the “family photo”, which has such a strong symbolic value, becoming substance, by showing a club which Turkey is part of. Unfortunately for some years this practice has failed. This is a point to be developed as a part of the "Informal Turkey-EU Strategic Dialogue."

• On the parliamentary level, we need to more effectively combine your two main political parties to major European streams (the AKP to the PEOPLE’S PARTY, and CHP to the Socialist), expanding the cooperation between the parliamentary associations of friendship also inside the European Parliament.

• On security, given the crucial role Turkey plays within NATO, we should involve, overcoming any vetoes, Turkey’s Defence establishment in a close cooperation with EU foreign and security policy structures.

• In economic terms, the customs union between the EU and Turkey should be strengthened, possibly correcting some of its aspects which are currently unfavourable to Turkey.

• We need to introduce full liberalization of entry visas to Europe for students, entrepreneurs and ultimately for all Turkish citizens. It is inconceivable having the free movement of capital and goods without the free movement of honest people.

• EU and Turkey have been discussing for a very long time on a comprehensive, new approach to remove obstacles to the free movement of Turkish citizens, while guaranteeing the readmission of Turkish or third countries’ nationals entering EU territory from Turkey illegally.

• We need coherence between the current EU visa policy on Turkey and the provisions of article 41 par. 1 of the Additional protocol to the EU-Turkey Association Agreement.

• In this par. is stated that EU and Turkey may not introduce new restrictions to the freedom of establishment, of providing services, and to the free movement of workers. This is so called “stand still clause”, and the European Court of Justice affirmed its direct applicability, so calling for a proper interpretation, of the EU rules in coherence with the mentioned and still in force provisions of the Additional Protocol.

• I hope that a new, stronger, political push will lead to conclude, as soon as possible, both the agreements on liberalisation and on the readmissions of illegal migrants, between EU and Turkey.

• I have always assessed that it is essential to promote the greatest possible exchange of students between the European and Turkish universities. In this context, the agreement signed in Rome last 16th April between the University La Sapienza and a University of Istanbul represents a model to imitate and enhance. The same is true for the project of establishing an Italian-Turkish university here in Istanbul.

• On the cultural level, we have to intensify the exchanges building on the recent, successful experience of Istanbul as "European Capital of Culture" in 2010.

• We have to promote relations among civil societies, and in this framework I hope that 2020 Olympic Games will be assigned to Istanbul and the next EXPO* (also in 2020) to Izmir. In this context of promoting meeting between civil societies, the Italian-Turkish Dialogue Forum plays a major role (its tenth edition will take place in Turkey this year).

• For our part, and with the good offices of the UN, we will continue to do everything to facilitate the agreement between the two communities on the Cyprus issue, thus removing the main political obstacle to the negotiations for Turkey's accession to the European Union.


*Yekaterinburg (Russia), San Paulo (Brazil), Dubai, and Ayutthaya (Thailand) are also candidates for hosting the 2020 EXPO. On the military level, Ankara grants an irreplaceable contribution to NATO that must be effectively recognized. Turkey is destined to play an important role in the missile defence program of the Alliance through the use of the radars installed in the base of Malatya. 

5. Turkey as a key player for international security

The strongest argument to show that there cannot be a genuine Europe without Turkey, is to recognize the essential role that Ankara has played in the context of NATO over the past 60 years as a member of the Atlantic Alliance.

The geopolitical framework highlights the strategic role that Turkey plays in the region. On the diplomatic level, Ankara is an essential player in all the crises which see the international community committed in the region.

The rapprochement with Israel, strongly supported by the American administration, offers the prospect of a gradual return of relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv on the historical track of the bilateral political and military cooperation. It is a key factor for the success of any strategy of stabilization of the regional crises (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran) and for the revival of the peace process.

Ankara is a key contributor to NATO international peacekeeping missions: in Afghanistan under the aegis of ISAF, in Kosovo under the aegis of KFOR. It is also important to remember the naval Turkish contribution to the operation "Active Endeavour" to combat terrorism in the waters the Mediterranean, and to the operation "Ocean shield" to combat piracy.

On the other hand, the recent deployment of Patriot missiles on the Turkish territory is the full confirmation of Alliance solidarity in defense of the Turkish territory.

Turkey is at the same time called to promote the development of partnerships that NATO is building with the countries of the Middle East region: in particular the one with Israel - where some nodes still on the table need to be overcome, however - as well as the partnership with the Gulf countries, which is named "Istanbul cooperation initiative" as it was launched at the Istanbul Summit in 2004.

The euro-zone crisis, however, has spawned new questions over the institutional future of the EU. The real crisis is this: if the price of retaining a European Union is a massive decline in its standard of living, then the principal argument for a united Europe – more prosperity – holds no water.

This decline has undermined the original vision of a single continent drawn together in a common enterprise – wealth and democracy – that abolishes the dangers of a European war, creates a cooperative economic project, and returns Europe to its rightful place at the heart of the international order. As such, the European crisis is one of sovereignty, cultural identity and the legitimacy of the elite.

Europeans are apprehensive and have reason to be. They bet on the new world order, on the primacy of geo-economics over geopolitics, in which a huge and productive European economy would compete as equal with the US and China. Today, the question of what kind of entity we are building when we enlarge the EU matches the question of whether to let Turkey in.

We must bear in mind a simple truth: there has never been more uncertainty and doubt within the EU over what kind of Europe it should be – one that includes, or one that excludes new entries. Simply put, excluding means fearing our vulnerability; including is a reflection of confidence in our way of life. The debate about a restyling Europe, triggered by the euro-zone crisis, should also involve Turkish leaders.

Indeed, it might be wise for the EU to take note of Turkey’s outstanding ability to overcome its own economic problems and become the most dynamic economy in the region. For all its recent China-style economic growth rates, Turkey too should realize the extent to which its dynamism depends on advancing integration with the EU.

The post-modern, post-national spirit of the EU was Europe’s response to the horrific conflicts of the 20th century, when nationalism and power politics destroyed the continent. In a sense, the appeal of Europe’s liberal “voluntary empire” seemed without limit. So Europeans transferred much of their economic and political sovereignty to strengthen EU institutions in Brussels. They cut back on their defense budgets and slowed the modernization of their militaries, calculating that soft power was in and hard power was out. For a while, this seemed like a good bet. The EU exerted a powerful magnetic force, especially on the states around it. It was a continent-sized island of stability in a global ocean of turmoil. So what happens when a 21st-century entity like the EU faces this ocean’s rough waters?

Thus far European countries and Turkey have attempted to solve – often each on its own – some of the strategic controversies of our time: nuclear proliferation, climate change, energy security, financial stability, Mediterranean upheaval and so on.

From now on it will be crucial to structure a system that keeps controversy to a minimum. We must move from the solving strategic conflicts to preventing them. Reshaping the rules of the game is unavoidable, because at the end of this stormy transition in which we find ourselves, hierarchies and geopolitical configurations will no longer be the same.

We must move from the current mode of world crisis management to some unconventional definition of common goals. This must be done not by destroying the structure of the world, but by building on it. Once out of the crisis, opportunities will arise. It is through these common goals that everyone will be assured of getting what they deserve.