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Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

I have the pleasure of attending once more another international conference of the Balkan Political Club. It has a particular importance that such a significant theme as the relations between Turkey and the European Union is being discussed and organised in Turkey.

Like the similars, I am confident that this conference will constitute efficient discussions as well.

But, before I continue, let me extend my heartfelt thanks first and foremost to His Excellency President Zhelev for his kind invitation, and to all who have put their diligent efforts in organizing this conference.

Distinguished Guests,

The subject that I have been a part of for almost 50 years, I would like to summarize how did Turkey become a candidate country for EU membership and ?our European vision? Europe has always been seen by us as a ?modernization project?. This project started centuries ago. Modernization efforts in every segment of society brought the Ottoman Empire into the league of European states. Ottoman rulers such as Selim III and Mahmut II have made significant contributions in this regard, in the fields of military, education and law. Considering the structure of Ottoman administration and society, initiatives towards reform have not been easy to realize, and were viewed by many in the Empire as ?heretic?.

But to think of it, change and reform has never come easy, anywhere. Even in Europe, it took a long and hard path from the times of the Inquisition to epoch-making eras and events such as the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment.

Even though change and reform in the Ottoman Empire were initiated by the ruling elite, ideas of modernity originating in Europe had transforming effects in the Empire.

Yet these were at times secluded attempts at first. Nevertheless, it was by this way that the seeds of change and reform were planted in the hearts and minds of Turkish modernizers, most importantly, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

In fact, the most significant step in socio-political terms taken by Turks in consolidating relations with Europe has been the founding of the Republic of Turkey in October 1923. In fourteen years, we will be celebrating our Republic?s first centenary.

We cannot regard the establishment of the modern Republic as a mere transformation of the state of affairs. It was a combination of political restructuring and the creation of a modern and civilized lifestyle, ranging from attire to the alphabet, from the education system to justice and law, and the embedding into Turkish society of such universal values as democracy, rule of law, human rights, and gender equality.

Through many reforms, Atatürk envisioned to create a country from scratch, which was to claim its rightful place in a modern and civilized international society, based on western thought and values. Therefore, modern Turkey?s choice of western orientation has undoubtedly been its most important political choice.

And as a natural outcome of that western orientation, Turkey has pursued the goal of integration with the Euro-Atlantic institutions since the end of the Second World War. The journey which Turkey embarked upon led the way to our founding memberships of the United Nations and the Council of Europe as well as memberships to the OECD and NATO. Especially since 1963, with the signing of the Association Agreement, which has set the legal basis of this relationship, Turkey has embraced the goal of joining the European Communities, which, in time, have evolved into today?s European Union.

Distinguished Guests,

As I have tried to indicate, membership in the EU is not a novelty for Turkey. It is only the natural outcome of a lengthy historical process.

But this relationship has been far from monotonous during its span of almost half a century. When we compare it with the existing members of the European Union, the road that Turkey took towards accession has definitely been a long and arduous one. We have also had many crisis situations on this journey.

Nevertheless, since Turkey and the EU are bound to each other by essential common interests, these relations have overcome even the most difficult times. Such landmarks as the completion of the sui generis Turkey-EU Customs Union in 1995, the unanimous Helsinki Summit decision of December 1999, whereby Turkey was officially declared as a candidate country, the subsequent step to open accession negotiations with Turkey in December 2004, and the beginning of those negotiations in October 2005, have been, in my view, turning points in our, at times, difficult course of relations.

As of today, Turkey has accomplished much in terms of introducing the necessary reforms and enacting the crucial legislation towards harmonizing with the EU acquis. But, there is still much to be done. As Turkey sees integration with the EU as a strategic and structural preference, the dynamism to that end must be preserved. I am confident that Turkey?s real and justified western vocation, as well as its consistent desire and efforts towards full accession will be determining in the years to come.

Distinguished Guests,

This being said, the reciprocal character of the relationship between Turkey and the EU must also be touched upon.

On the one hand, Turkey is vigorously working towards meeting the necessary requirements of accession. But on the other hand, unfortunately, our speed in accession negotiations is being hampered by unrelated political issues that are brought up by some Member States.

Let me very briefly dwell on an issue that I think is rather ironic. I had mentioned little while ago that a Customs Union went into effect between Turkey and the EU in 1995. This was indeed a bold step, one of a kind for a negotiating country. It also constitutes a milestone on the path of our future membership.

Our trade with the EU holds the lion?s share in all of our foreign trade and since the initiation of the Customs Union, Turkey is suffering from a growing and significant deficit. Last year, 74 billion dollars worth of imports out of a total of 202 billion dollars were made from EU countries. This is 36%. Whereas nearly half of our exports (48%) are to the EU. In figures it is 63 billion dollars out of a total of 132 billion. The deficit is around 11 billion dollars. The picture has been more or less the same for a long time, with the gap considerably deepening since 1995.

It is no secret that EU enlargements generally entail significant costs. One may even understand the financial concerns of those who seem reluctant about Turkey?s membership. But our mutual trade figures indicate that we are in fact an important financier of enlargement.

This is just one of a number of reasons that today; some segments of the Turkish public opinion are discouraged due to certain voices emanating from the EU. This, of course, does not mean that there is a reversal of Turkey?s European vocation. But, talk of reconsidering commitments made to Turkey; innovations such as a ?privileged partnership? instead of full membership; attempts to remove the word ?accession? from major EU documents; linking our accession process with unrelated issues; using Turkish-EU relations as a key topic for domestic political purposes are naturally causing growing frustration.

As the European Commission has repeatedly reminded it, the EU must not only stick to its commitments, but also act in accordance with previous decisions, which have been taken by consensus. In this regard, the Union too must uphold and fulfill its commitments deriving from previous acquis. This is the only expectation of Turkey, and this point must be strongly underlined.

Speaking of EU Commitments, I would also have to highlight those that have not been fulfilled regarding the Cyprus problem as well. In fact, the way that this issue is practically being made into a kind of mortgage on Turkey?s accession process is very wrong and unfair. The legitimate platform to deal with this issue is the United Nations. Both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots are doing their utmost to reach a just and durable solution. Let me remind you that it was the Greek Cypriots, and not the Turkish Cypriots that have rejected a settlement of the dispute in 2004. It is clear that it is the Greek Cypriot, and not the Turkish Cypriot side which lacks the necessary will for a just and sustainable solution.

Now there is a new set of ongoing negotiations. We hope that this time around the Greek Cypriots will display a genuine desire and will towards a solution. One thing is clear: This already long overdue problem cannot drag forever. As far as the EU is concerned, if they are sincere in their desire for such a solution, then they must mobilize the Union?s powers of persuasion to ensure the Greek Cypriots adopt a more constructive and willing attitude.

In this connection, a few words on how influential the EU is today would be in order. Although the EU?s bureaucratic machine is criticized from time to time on the grounds that it is working too slowly, the European model of integration is a well functioning one overall. The proof of its success can be observed in the desire of new candidates to join and the speed with which the Union has enlarged. The benefits rendered by the Union attract populations surrounding its borders, act as powerful stimuli for participation and ultimately expand the area of integration.

The EU owes its growing appeal not just to its economic might, but basically to its ?soft power?, which combines political, economic and cultural assets. However, the debate going on over the enlargement issue and the contrarian views that emphasize the so-called ?enlargement fatigue? do not contribute to the soft power of the Union. If the EU chooses to close its doors, it can neither project its soft power to neighboring regions, nor imbue its neighborhood with its core values.

As you may have noticed, I have deliberately avoided a statement that would refer to the EU as a key actor in hard security issues. The reason behind this is that the Union still lacks the full capacity to assume such a role at a global level. This need not be. The determining issue here is the European Security and Defense Policy, which practically means the cooperation between the EU and NATO, the main organization of transatlantic security. In fact, modalities are already there for such a cooperation. Principles organizing the relations between NATO countries that are and that are not members of the EU have already been laid out. Turkey has always deemed this cooperation to be very important and, in this framework, demonstrated willingness to participate in major European security initiatives. Unfortunately, the modalities that I refer to are not properly observed by the EU, mostly due to obstacles and complications arising from its internal decision making process. Perhaps somewhat similar to the Cyprus problem in a sense, there are those who turn a blind eye to what really lies at the core of the problem and try to come clean by attributing the shortcomings of this issue to Turkey as well. This is truly unfair.

In short, the EU has to make a choice and move towards being a global actor capable of taking responsibility on political and military issues. Such a decisive move will not be possible unless the EU gets over the ?enlargement syndrome? and show itself to be capable of dealing with a fast changing world.

Distinguished Guests,

As I am closely following the issue of Turkey?s aimed accession to the EU, and how this will affect Turkey, I notice that the center of attention is Turkey?s gains from membership. In this regard, overlooking how Europe would benefit from Turkey?s joining the EU is a mistake and therefore, constitutes a very important point that needs to be addressed.

The truth is, as a member to the European Union, Turkey?s contribution to Europe will be so much more than what the European public opinion realizes. Turkey?s EU membership will provide yet another opportunity for the Union to enhance its global status, by injecting the EU with the fresh energy and dynamism that it will badly need in future. Europe and Turkey are bound together by deep and essential ties such as our rich history; our common efforts in the creation of modern Europe; our common universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as a successful Customs Union with peculiar characteristics. Turkey and the EU share a truly common vision for the future of our continent: a Europe that strengthens its soft power and advances its universal values; that is not monolithic; that promotes diversity; that is a confident actor at the global politics. Turkey?s membership will help Europe achieve this common vision and will give Europe the necessary impetus to become a source of inspiration and an example for positive change to the rest of our region.

In this context, one should also mention the emerging international security needs and the necessity to cooperate against the threats of our times; and Turkey?s role as a catalyst in bridging the gap between East and West, Islam and Christianity through intercultural dialogue. With Turkey on board, I firmly believe that the cultural diversity and human fabric of the EU will be enhanced, in turn bolstering the vision of a Europe whole and free.

Once realized, Turkey?s full membership to the European Union, something which we are striving for since 1963, will be a milestone in complementing this path which we chose to embark on. Both Turkey and the EU have much to gain from this long awaited union.

Thank you.