Turkey - EU *

Oktay Aksoy, Rtd. Ambassador


Turkey has shared for centuries the European geography and although most of the time had been at the opposing ends, has also shared its history.

With the establishment of the Republic. Turkey is no longer an adversary of Europe. On the contrary, it has voluntarily decided to cooperate with the European states, to participate in the European institutions and even to share the values propagated by the Western European states. The many attempts by the Ottoman Empire to modernize the state apparatus starting from the 18th century and gaining prominence during the 19th century, culminated in the reform process generated with the establishment of the Republic. It was no longer achieving minor improvements in how the State was run, but a complete overhauling of the society, separating the State and the religion, establishing equality between men and women, eliminating discrimination among its citizens, in short promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms by establishing the rule of law and strengthening democratic institutions.

Since it is one of the priorities for Turkey to ensure integration with the Western world, while the new institutional restructuring of Europe takes shape, I must briefly touch upon the developments of its relations with the European Union. If we only take the last     few frustrating years in evaluating the EC/EU - Turkey relations, we will not be doing justice  to a process which has roots in history.

Actually, nothing is new in Turkey's interest with the EC/EU. It should be recalled that Turkey has applied for associate membership with the then EEC on July 1959. The Ministerial Council approved and negotiations started the same year, only to be temporarily interrupted with the military rule in 1960. Negotiations were concluded in June 1962 and the Ankara Agreement establishing Association between the EEC and Turkey was signed on September 12th, 1963. This means an application only one year after the Treaty of Rome was operational and the conclusion of an Agreement only 5 years later. This Association Agreement envisaged an eventual membership in the EEC for Turkey.                            

Paragraph 4 of the Preamble of the Agreement stipulated as follows: "Recognizing that the support given by the European Economic Community to the efforts of the Turkish people to improve their standard of living will facilitate the accession of Turkey to the Community at a later date."

And Article 28 of the Agreement stated the following: "As soon as the operation of this agreement has advanced far enough to Justify envisaging- full acceptance by Turkey of the obligations arising out of the Treaty establishing the Community, the Contracting Parties shall examine the possibility of the accession of Turkey to the Community."

Military intervention in 1980 and the later terrorist activities which kept  Turkey busy for a long time with almost nothing else but its survival put a wedge in the  probable smooth transition of this relationship into an EU membership. Meanwhile, success of Greek diplomacy to exploit its membership status in the prevention of any progress in EU  relations with Turkey must also be remembered.

In the background of all these relations and in the collective subconscious of the public loom the memory of the past which does not necessarily help to carry them further without much difficulty. The memories of capitulation, one sided concessions provided by the Ottomans to the Western power feed the prevalent hesitations. Military  occupation and plans of dismemberment of the country after the First World War, as well as  threats of territorial acquisition following the Second World War have kindled the paranoid  attitudes in general.

If Turkey has at times given an image of a reluctant partner, it is  because of fear that its enthusiasm may not be reciprocated. Moreover, lack of confidence in  the institutions of the opposite side have made it more of a hesitant or prudent partner.

The turmoil in the Balkans, tensions in the Caucasus, the Gulf War without any clear end and the everlasting Middle East crisis also distracted attention from EU- Turkey relations and even scared many in Europe who visualized an expansion towards Turkey as bringing all these trouble spots closer to Europe, at a time particularly after the end  of the Cold War when many in Europe wanted to keep those problems at an arm's length.

However, not many seemed to notice that Turkey had been contributing in the elimination of this climate of unrest and Turkey's efforts needed to be at least  encouraged, if not awarded with closer ties.

Meanwhile, Turkey was eager to further its relations with the EU and when she felt that she had reached the appropriate stage of development. applied for  membership on April 14th, 1987. Many members were reluctant to seriously consider this application and some even did not hesitate to highlight cultural, and those who were more sincere, particularly religious differences as a hindrance for membership. However, Turkey was determined to make progress in its relations and despite fears of one sided concessions reminiscent of the Ottoman "capitulations", formed a Customs Union with EU in 1995, a status non-other candidate country, let alone aspirant country had dared to establish. It was  foreseen in Turkey as a step forward. While it was envisaged in the agreement for the Customs Union that Turkey would be compensated for the loss in its manufacturing industry,  the financial cooperation could not be realized. At one point, as the discrepancy between the imports and exports of Turkey from and to the EU member states increased, the feeling that  Turkey was subsidizing the EU economy gained weight. Moreover, at the Luxembourg Council, in 1997, Turkey was discriminated among the applicants for  membership and its candidacy was made conditional to fulfilling requirements for membership. This decision created a crisis and Turkey terminated political dialogue with EU.

It was a big frustration for Turkey and generated anger. While all the former Soviet block countries were included in the list of candidates, only Turkey, with whom the EC/EU had a long history of relations, was discriminated and excluded from the list.

Then came the elections in Germany which changed the German attitude towards Turkey, and a new phase in the Turkish-Greek relations in the aftermath of  the devastating earthquakes in the two countries which brought forth reciprocal feelings of the  two peoples' compassion, which in turn the politicians made good use of.

Finally. we reached the Helsinki Council at the end of 1999 where Turkey was accorded candidate status on the basis of the same criteria applied to other  candidate states. Later, as foreseen in the Helsinki European Council conclusions, the EU  Commission started to prepare an Accession Partnership for Turkey, which was declared on  March 8th, 2001. After the approval of the Accession Partnership by the Council and the adoption of the Framework Regulation, Turkish Government announced its own National Program for the Adoption of the EU Acquis on March 19th, 2001. The National Program was prepared with a careful appreciation of the short and medium term priorities as spelled out in the Accession Partnership document.

Since Helsinki, Turkey has introduced a number of measures to improve the implementation of constitutional and legal guarantees in the area of political criteria.                        

In October 2001, the Turkish Parliament agreed with an absolute majority to amend 34 articles, almost one-fifth of the Constitution. This package was a most comprehensive set of constitutional amendments to date, testifying the will of the Turkish  Parliament and political parties represented therein to proceed towards EU membership.

The constitutional amendments included Provisions on the  enhancement of freedom of expression, prevention of torture, strengthening of democracy and civilian authority, freedom and security of the individual, privacy of individual life, inviolability of the domicile, freedom of communication, residence and unfettered movement, of association, and on gender equality. The package reduced the pre-trial detention period as well as the scope of the death penalty. It is interesting to note that these constitutional amendments were enacted at a time when the world was undergoing the post September 11 trauma.

Immediately after these constitutional amendments, the Turkish  Parliament adopted a new Civil Code, which introduced further improvements notably as regards the freedom of association and the right to assembly, as well as gender equality and child protection.

The first legislative package, adopted in February 2002, amended various existing acts, which were often referred to and criticized for being the legal basis for   the detention and sentencing of many intellectuals for expressing their views.

The second legislative package, which entered into force in April 2002, extended further the scope of the freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press,  freedom of association and peaceful assembly. It reinforced measures for the prevention of  torture and ill treatment. It also introduced an effective deterrent against human rights violations by employees of the public sector.

The emergency rule in provinces of Hakkari and Tunceli was lifted on 30 July 2002. Emergency rule in the remaining two provinces was extended for the last time for four months and is due to be terminated by the end of November 2002, this will contribute significantly to greater normalization of economic and social conditions.

Finally, on 3 August 2002, the Turkish Parliament adopted, with an overwhelming majority, a comprehensive reform package, which is of historic importance in its scope and content. The package includes virtually all the controversial issues that have been hotly debated by the Turkish public since the beginning of this year.

I must give you an overview of the main aspects of this latest package:

Turkey abolished the death penalty except for crimes committed in times of war or the imminent threat of war, in line with the Additional Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention of the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, despite hesitations as pronounced by some participants in the Seminar.

Legal restriction on broadcasting in different languages and dialects used by Turkish citizens in their daily lives was lifted.

Retransmission of broadcasts was ensured in line with the European Convention on Transfrontier Television.

The legal obstacle preventing Turkish citizens from learning languages and dialects used in their daily lives was lifted, allowing private courses to be opened for this   purpose as well.

Freedom of expression was consolidated by a new provision added to the Turkish Penal Code, which underlines that expression of thought, made with the intention of criticizing, without deliberate intent to insult or deride the fundamental institutions of the   Republic, will not be penalized.

The scope of the freedom of the press was extended by the amendments  made to the Press Act, which abrogate prison sentences, and introduce fines instead.

By alleviating those provisions that had hitherto regulated the organization and functioning of civil socýety, the scope of freedom of association and the right to assembly were extended further.

In the game vein principles, and procedures pertaining to the functioning and the activities of Turkish associations abroad as well as to the functioning and  activities of foreign associations in Turkey were enacted and thus legally provide for. Regulatory authority pertaining to associations, was transferred from the purview of the  Directorate General for Public Security to a specialized Department of Associations at the Ministry of Interior.

The system that required permissions for foreigners to address public gatherings or carry posters, pictures, flags, etc. was replaced with a notice svstem.

Foundations of religious communities as defined in the Lausanne  Treatv were enabled to acquire and dispose of immovables.

Furthermore, legal basis was provided for the activities of foundations  that have already opened or would like to open branches in Turkey thus ending, a void in that  area.

Situations where the police would have the power to apprehend an  individual were specified. The apprehension of a person for judicial proceeding, shall  immediately be reported to lawful relatives.

Final decisions of Turkish courts- which are found by the European Court of Human Rights to have violated the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms or its additional protocols and which create irreparable damage  according to the Convention are now a reason for retrial.

New Provisions are added to the Turkish Penal Code to define the  crime of migrant trafficking and to provide penalties for perpetrators of this crime.

This last package comprises the most sweeping and far-reaching  reforms achieved in our recent history. It reflects the will of the Turkish people to join the  European Union without delay. The package marks a fundamental change in our approach to the concept of Turkish citizenship by Embracing the cultural diversity and heritage of all its  citizens. The granting of cultural rights, underpinned with the expansion of the freedoms of  expression and association, as well as with the reinforcement of the rule of law, provides a  tremendous opportunity to launch a more effective process of modernization and development in Turkey.

One must admit that Turks do not have a single identity. Yes. we are of the Balkans, of the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Eurasia, but also of Europe. But a big majority has made a clear choice. It needs particular effort to erase the existing negative perceptions. Ambiguity of the status acquired by Turkey has not heated the elimination of the negative evaluations of the relations.

Membership in the EU is seen by many in Turkey as the culmination of the reforms efforts, a natural end of the road taken since the establishment of the Republic. If the door remains closed, it will not only reduce the strength of the reformers, but also the enthusiasm of the public. Moreover, the critics of the reforms will only benefit from these attitudes and will exploit the situation to distance Turkey from cooperation with the West which may eventually feed the feelings of animosity towards the West.

I must also give you some figures on how enlargement including Turkey will effect the EU. After 12 candidates become members the EU geographical land mass will increase by 34 %, population by 32 % and the GNP by 11 %, Turkey's membership will increase the land mass by 24 %, population by 17 % and GNP by 5 %.

As was done with all other candidates, Turkey needs to be given a well defined and clear perspective for its membership to accelerate the process of full alignment with the EU acquis. The forthcoming Copenhagen European Council will be crucial for the enlargement process. When the EU takes decisions on the membership of the other candidates. Turkey has to be given a date for the opening of accession negotiations. This will be the real incentive and reassurance for further reforms, Progress reports on candidates will be made public on October 9th. And we expect it will give sufficient recognition to Turkey's efforts.

Turkey's membership be a reflection of EU's basic premises of ethnic, religious and cultural tolerance and will be a clear sign of the end of historical animosities throughout Europe.


(*) Conference notes