|Forum Istanbul - Istanbul, 5 May 2005&body=This article was recommended to you by a friend: http://www.mondialisations.org/php/public/art.php?id=18282&lan=EN" > Send|
Reference: SPEECH/05/271 Date: 05/05/2005
Mr Olli Rehn
Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enlargement
"Prioritisation: where should Turkey focus its energies"
Istanbul, 5 May 2005
Prime Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman,
The subject of this panel – “where should Turkey focus its energies?” – is tricky, as it could easily be understood as: “please give us give a lecture and some good advice”. I will not try to do so: the EU is not a teacher, Turkey is not a pupil. While the date of 3 October for the opening of the accession negotiations is coming closer and closer, the EU is there to help Turkey achieve the strategic objective it has defined for itself in a free and sovereign manner – that is, joining the European Union. In other words, instead of providing you with some ready-cooked recipes, I prefer to offer some food for thoughts and discuss some evident challenges Turkey will face in the coming years, as part of its own evolution towards becoming a modern, democratic and prosperous society.
In my view, there are five of them:
1) the implementation of the legal and political reforms,
2) the continuation of the economic reforms,
3) the relations of Turkey with its neighbours,
4) the future of Turkey’s educational system, and
5) the development of Turkey’s civil society.
1) The legal and political reforms
Let me start with the legal and political reforms. At their Summit on 16-17 December 2004, the EU Heads of State and Governments concluded that Turkey “sufficiently fulfils” the political criteria to start accession negotiations. The first and foremost challenge now will be to ensure that the bold and significant legal reforms conducted since 2001 are properly implemented at all walks of life, in all corners of the country, and at all levels of the administration. It is a tall order, which will probably, as all major reforms in any society, encounter difficulties and resistance.
Nevertheless, I am very confident that such a reform process will succeed, as I believe it has reached the point of no return. Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no way back. I believe it all the more because this process was launched by the democratically elected government of Turkey in the interest of Turkey’s citizens first – and not to bow to outside pressure. This is the strongest asset for success. In my view PM Erdogan is perfectly right when he says that the Copenhagen accession criteria could as well be called the Ankara criteria.
Obviously, the European perspective of Turkey is a strong incentive for the continuation of the reforms. But it offers merely a quality fuel for the engine: those who start the engine, are in the driving seat and push the pedals, are and will be the Turks themselves, and the Turks alone.
Nonetheless, it is also true that, as in the previous round of enlargement, the pace of the reforms will determine the pace of the accession negotiations. Turkey will be under the scrutiny of the European Union – and I don’t mean the Commission officials alone: the European Parliament, the Member States and their Parliaments, the media and the public opinion will have a close and critical look at Turkey’s progress.
It is certainly not always a comfortable situation. It can be even unfair sometimes - as people often tend to be more critical of their neighbours’ behaviour than of their own – but it is a political reality.
I understand that the EU process raises questions among the Turkish public: Where are we heading to? Is our identity at stake? Is our nation threatened?
Are we pressured by the EU to deliver more and more while the EU doesn’t do very much? What do we get in return for our efforts?
To all those who voice them, I can only respond:
* The EU is precisely about strengthening our influence and identity, certainly NOT about questioning the existence of nations. This is why our countries have pooled their sovereignties to be more effective together. Take the example of European Security and Defence Policy: is it the interest of our countries to stay out of such a major development or, on the contrary, to join the efforts and thus increase the overall weight of Europe and their own?
* The reforms are the result of your own sovereign choice, not a result of bargaining where Turkey has made concessions;
* Not least important, the pace and the quality of reforms, and thus the pace of EU negotiations, are fundamentally in your own hands.
2) The of economic reforms
Let me turn to Turkey’s next challenge: the continuation of the economic reforms. The experience proves that the prospect of accession has been a strong catalyst for reforms and modernisation of the economy. One of its main merits has been to provide legal certainty for foreign investors who, otherwise, would have been hesitant to invest.
Turkey enjoys strong economic growth, which is an excellent prerequisite that many of the current Member States would envy! However, Foreign Direct Investment in Turkey has been surprisingly low considering the potential of your country. I don’t intend to list all the reasons for it here.
Yet, perceptions matter. A foreign investor needs independent judges, transparent legal and administrative proceedings, and no corruption. The investor needs to be sure he or she competes on a level playing field.
I understand this conference is largely devoted to information technology. This is precisely one area where effective market opening and determined alignment with the EU legislation would be most welcome for investors. In this respect, the privatisation of Turk Telekom will send an important signal to the European business community on how serious Turkey is about market opening and liberalisation.
The same goes for the barriers on trade. I refer to the Customs Union which celebrates this year its 10th anniversary. In spite of its undisputable success for both sides, there are still a number of outstanding problems and unfulfilled commitments. Certain issues have been pending for years, like pharmaceuticals, import licences or state aids. It is all the more urgent to address them as a matter of priority as the respect of existing relevant commitments under the Association Agreement will be a condition for opening chapters in the accession negotiations.
3) Turkey and its neighbours
Right from the outset, the success of the European project depended on how the principles of peace, stability and prosperity would translate into reality. It is common sense: how can nations seriously expect economic growth and jobs, if they are plunged in a permanent state of tensions, whether inside or with their neighbours?
Those who are addicted to newspaper headlines will probably perceive relations between Turkey and its neighbours as a constant source of tension. Luckily for my mental health, I belong to those who prefer to look at things with distance.
From this perspective, far from observing a permanent escalation, we have on the contrary witnessed major improvements. Firstly, as regards Greece: just compare today’s state of affairs with the tensions prevailing ten years ago. From the famous “earthquake diplomacy” to the recent new confidence building measures, we can only applaud such progress.
Secondly, relations with Syria have improved considerably. As regards Armenia, the latest exchange of letters between PM Erdogan and Armenian President Kotcharian is another positive development, which will hopefully lead to a comprehensive dialogue between Turkey and Armenia on all the relevant issues, from the opening of the borders to the tragedy of 1915, and to a full normalisation of relations between the two countries. Such a development would be all in Turkey’s interests, for instance in economic terms: imagine the opportunities for trade and jobs that the opening of the border would represent for Eastern Turkey, in particular the region of Kars!
Last but not least: the signature of the Protocol extending the Ankara Agreement to all 25 EU Member States is in the pipeline. It will be good news, and a positive step towards normalisation of relations with Cyprus, pending a comprehensive settlement.
If you add Turkey’s sincere efforts to build bridges in the Middle East, all these elements make me believe that there is an overall positive trend, resulting from a clear will to promote “co-operation instead of confrontation”, as PM Erdogan called for in his speech in Harvard some months ago. Nevertheless, there is still room for progress: bilateral relations are likely to remain high on the agenda in the coming years.
Allow me now to address the fourth challenge: the development of Turkey’s educational system. It goes without saying that the key for every country’s future lies in education and training, as they determine its ability to cope with changes brought about by globalisation.
A look at our 25 Member States reveals that those who enjoy strong growth and low unemployment rates, like Sweden or Denmark, are those who have invested massively in education, research and innovation. Sweden, which invests 4.3% of GDP on Research and Development, is at the top among the Member States, while the EU average is below 2%.
Turkey has carried out important reforms in the past few years in the field of education, which resulted in impressive progress in the education levels of the Turkish population. Yet, spending on education remains under EU average. Due to the country’s fragile fiscal situation, budgetary expenditure has largely been crowded out by debt servicing. Basic education in rural areas, for instance, suffers from resource shortages.
The same goes for research and development. Due to considerable efforts, R&D expenditures have doubled since 1990 to reach just over 0.6 % of GDP. Such efforts deserve tribute, but they need to be further increased when you compare the annual spending to the EU average, which is still three times higher! In this respect, a much stronger involvement of the private sector and SMEs in R&D activities is crucial.
The European Union’s 6th Framework Programme for RTD, in which Turkey is associated, can be a useful tool for increasing Turkey’s potential provided its resources are fully exploited.
However, the quality of education and research does not depend only on budgetary expenditure. Turkey must address difficult structural questions: Is its educational system adapted to today’s and tomorrow’s needs? Can today’s centralised management allow universities to develop their academic potential and to be more labour-market oriented? How can the system encourage more vocational training and lifelong learning, make better use of the sophisticated ICT tools? Finally, and in view of Turkey’s future integration into the EU, how can the new generations be best prepared to such a prospect?
5) The further development of Turkey’s civil society
Ladies and Gentleman,
Here we are with important questions for the future. Since I forgot my crystal ball in Brussels, I really don’t know when they will be all answered – let’s just assume we will not have to wait until 2023, i.e. the perspective set by the organisers of this Conference for our discussions.
Some of these issues are actually very similar in the European Union. And as in the EU, success will depend to a very large extent on the participation of the whole society in the difficult decisions to come. Therefore, the existence of a strong, independent civil society is of paramount importance for a modern, pluralist democracy.
The concept of civil society is wide. It comprises all the citizens and associations who are actively involved in the democratic debate and seek progress for their country through an intensive dialogue with the government. It is a provider of new ideas and a channel of dialogue.
In recent years, Turkish civil society has developed considerably. Citizens are becoming more and more aware of challenges and choices facing the society at large. The Commission intends to promote dialogue between the civil societies of Turkey and of the EU. To give its full potential, a civil society needs no obstacles, but trust and encouragement from the state. This is all the more fundamental, since, once again, the process of reforms, to be successful, will need the close involvement of the civil society, as much as the civil society will need reforms carried out by the state vigorously and in good faith.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My conclusion is brief. The main reason why I am active in democratic politics is that I am an incorrigible believer in progress. Otherwise, what’s the point in being active? Hence, I am confident that Turkey will be able to cope with the challenges I have just outlined, and thus pave the way for becoming an equal and respected member of the European Union.
We all know the road ahead will be long and full of challenges. But the roadmap from here to October is clear, and so is the process of negotiations. In my country we have a saying “well planned is half done”. This may be an exaggeration, but there is more than a grain of truth in it.
Therefore, to all those who worry, I say one thing: we all know what we have to do. So, instead of wasting time and dwelling into self-pity due to the uphill struggles ahead, let’s take a mental break from endless speculations, and instead focus on what is essential, on the implementation of the reforms and on actions to meet the accession criteria – or to paraphrase the slogan of a sport brand: lets’ just do it.