It's a pleasure to be here in Ankara, and a privilege to speak at this important venue for international and economic debate. I should like to thank the President of TOBB for his kind invitation.
This is my fourth visit to Turkey – and the first one to Ankara in my official, European capacity. I have very good memories of my first three visits to your country, back in 1976 and 1998, to Istanbul, at-the-time as a private visitor, overwhelmed by the encounter between East and West, and also once to Izmir and Efes, admiring the remains of Ancient
But no doubt today's official visit will prove even more of a highlight! And I am particularly pleased to be visiting your capital city of Ankara, capital of a thriving Turkey, playing an ever more important political and economic role at the world stage – and at an important time for EU-Turkey relations.
Earlier today, I had a substantial meeting with President Gül; after this conference, I will meet Prime-Minister Erdogan – a meeting I'm very much looking forward to. With my hosts, I discussed-and-will-discuss our bilateral relations, as well as recent developments within Turkey and within the European Union. On the agenda is also the political situation in the region, with Syria a matter of grave concern for both sides. These are the themes I should also like to touch upon here with you at TOBB.
Turkey and the European Union have been closely associated for the past 50 years. We should use this anniversary to rebuild momentum in our relationship. I am glad to say that in today’s talks I clearly felt how we all want to further strengthen the ties that bind us.
As a candidate negotiating EU-membership, Turkey’s ties to the Union are already very strong. Last December, under my presidency, all 27 heads of state or government of the Union reconfirmed their commitment to Turkey’s accession process. After a moment of standstill, this commitment will give a new impetus and will soon be translated into a concrete step forward. And I am confident other such concrete steps will follow. The accession negotiations are the main driver in our relationship. We knew in advance they would take time.
But even beyond this path strewn with chapters, statements and acquis, we share a long history and the bonds of geography. European member states and Turkey are allies, also militarily, in promoting peace and security. The ties between the people in our societies are old and deep. Many EU citizens have a Turkish origin; many Turkish citizens residing in EU countries fully participate in economic, social and political life. We see a strong twoway-traffic of businesses, of students, of tourists, of people exchanging ideas and sharing experiences. It's a tangible sign of our cooperation and common interests.
This is one of the reasons why visa liberalisation is an important common goal on our immediate political agenda. It is a step that will knit our societies closer together; it would, in a way, be like a new, third bridge over the Bosporus…
I trust that an early signature by Turkey of a so-called ‘readmission agreement’ with the European Union would allow us to advance quickly through the roadmap leading to visa free travel for Turkish citizens. I am hopeful on the outcome. Since Turkey has already addressed important elements that are part of the roadmap, progress can be swift. Visa free travel would give our relationship a new impetus. It will also change the way we see each other. The more encounters, the more we can see ourselves in the mirror of the other.
It is a particular pleasure to state at this business forum, that Turkey’s dynamic economy is impressive. In the past decade, your GDP in real terms has grown on average by more than 5 percent. This would have been the best growth performance in the European Union.
Today your country would be the sixth or seventh economy of the European Union in terms of total GDP – together with the Netherlands and firmly before Belgium, Poland and Sweden.
It is a real economic transformation, not yet always fully acknowledged by European public opinions, but one that places your country among the European Union’s most valuable economic partners. By the way, we envy your low level of public debt (35 %) in these days of sovereign debt crisis!
Our respective economic performances are tied. Last year (in 2012) our bilateral trade totalled € 115 billion. The European Union is Turkey's biggest trading partner. And Turkey is the EU’s sixth biggest trading partner. No less than 75% of foreign direct investment that flows into your country – with a strong high-technology component – comes from the Union.
So I appreciate that you look with particular interest at our economic situation also. As your guest, please allow me to bring some news from Brussels, the unofficial capital of the European Union.
Before zooming in on the events of the day, I should like to do so with some perspective.
Certainly, the last few years have been a challenge for our economies. We are working hard to finally overcome the aftermath of the global financial crisis. But let me underline my strong belief that the current stagnation is but momentary, and one that member states will overcome. We will bounce back and will do so, as you well know, from relative height. That will also be good news for your own economic growth, and that of our other partners.
The European Union, as the 27 member countries taken together, is the largest economy and trade bloc in the world. With 7 % of the world population (a little more than 500 million people), we account for more than 20 % of global GDP – which is more than the United States, and more than China and Japan combined. If you look at the top 500 companies in the world, more come from the EU than from the US, Japan or China. Our countries rank among the highest in attracting foreign direct investment, and they're also among the highest investors abroad – with € 5 trillion per year, more than the US and Japan combined.
Beyond being a major economic player, one distinctive feature is our focus on maintaining a certain type of society. Preserving the solidarity of our welfare systems while promoting innovation, openness and mobility, for instance. To illustrate with one fact: every second Nobel prize in science goes to a European. This attachment to Enlightenment values is also something that inspired President Atatürk and lies at the foundations of the modern Turkish state. It is a precious heritage, for all of us.
As I said, confronted with new challenges, within the Union we have undertaken every possible effort in the past three years to deal with them:
- safeguarding the financial stability of our currency zone at a moment of risk.
- making our economies more resilient;
- fighting unemployment and stimulating growth with immediate measures – a priority today
As a result, the existential threat to the eurozone has been defeated. The euro remains a strong global currency. Unlike many other major economies or currency zones, the eurozone has a firmly balanced current account: this means we are not feeding into global imbalances and it shows a solid basis for our overall economic performance.
In dealing with the difficulties of the past few years, we kept all along the long-term perspective. Because – just like your country after a financial crisis one decade earlier – we absolutely wanted to avoid this happening again in the future! We discovered the true extent of our (internal) interdependence: what happens in one country can affect all the others. That is why we launched the process of completing the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union. For instance with more closely coordinated fiscal and economic policies – a work well under way. At the moment we are focussing on a banking union. It is one of my priorities in the weeks and months ahead.
These changes go beyond policy-making among governments and officials in ‘Brussels’: they require political support of people and parliaments across the Union. Public opinions, too, are coming to terms – slowly but surely – with what it means to share a currency with other nations, to share a market across a continent, to share institutions and a common destiny as Europeans.
In our solid but lively democracies, this growing awareness sometimes comes with vocal debate. Turkey, as a neighbour and a candidate, is well aware of just how diverse this Union is – between and within countries west and east, small and big, more and less prosperous… But sharing a democratic destiny also means: sharing a space where we can peacefully disagree. It is fundamental.
The values of democracy and political liberty are equally cherished in modern Turkey.
Turkey's continued reform efforts are very important in this respect, also in the way it deals – or has to deal – with internal differences, inevitable disagreements, dissenting voices.
Significant progress has been made, including in the constitutional reform process and most recently with the adoption of the fourth judicial reform package. Progress in this fundamental area is important for Turkish society, and will also improve the prospects of our bilateral relations, particularly as regards the process of accession. I am confident the Turkish leadership and representatives from all political parties will pursue this path – with determination and through dialogue. In this context, I recall the importance that the European Union attaches to fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular the freedom of the expression.
We have also noted with great respect the courage and vision the Turkish government of Prime Minister Erdogan has shown in engaging a solution process to solve the Kurdish issue. This is the best chance in a generation to resolve a conflict which has claimed far too many lives.
Such deep conflicts, which long seem intractable, can only be overcome thanks to trust – trust and commitment on both sides. Reconciliation is a work of the mind. A resolution of this conflict could have many positive ramifications, perhaps even more than you’d now dare to hope. The European Union is built on reconciliation – on reconciliation after World War II. And even very recently, Belgrade and Priština showed this spirit of reconciliation after the heavy conflict in the Western Balkans.
I already mentioned a few points on our bilateral agenda, but there are more. As you know, the world’s two largest economic blocks, the European Union and the United States, are entering the process of negotiating a free trade area (the Transatlantic Trade and Investments Partnership, or ‘T-TIP’, as it is called in full). With the EU and the US representing together nearly half of world GDP and a third of world trade, it's a huge opportunity not just for both sides of the Atlantic, but also further beyond: the deal could potentially bring up even the rest-of-the-world's GDP by up to €100 billion.
For Turkey, since you are part of the Customs Union with the EU, this trade deal will have important consequences too. That’s why the European Union is looking into the best way to keep Turkey involved in the process. In the end it will benefit all.
There are other areas where we can work together, such as energy – an issue I discussed yesterday with the EU's 27 Heads of State or Government within the European Council.
All leaders are keenly aware that in the politics of energy, economic and strategic considerations are joined at the hip. Turkey is an important partner to the European Union in this field and a bridge to suppliers.
We have a common interest in improving access to energy resources, particularly from the Caspian and Central Asia. At a time of growing demand worldwide, diversifying supply sources is a must, be it from conventional or renewable energy. Given our common energy challenges, increasing our cooperation in energy matters is desirable. That’s why European Commissioners and Turkish Ministers last year agreed to deepen our energy relations in several ways.
- they look into market integration and the development of infrastructures of common interest (gas, electricity, oil) ;
- they look into long-term energy scenarios;
- they look into the promotion of renewable energy and clean energy technologies;
- and into nuclear safety as well.
In the weeks ahead, the ‘Shah Deniz Consortium’ will take the important final decision as to the route to Europe after the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, over land or over sea. Either way, its completion will establish your country as an important Eurasian energy hub.
This brings me, indirectly, to Cyprus. As I’ve said this morning to President Gül, it remains essential to find a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus issue. In the current juncture, many elements are coming together that can either make the situation more complex or help trigger a solution to the benefit of all. For the latter outcome to prevail would require the right dosage of constructive steps forward and respectful patience, and of course mutual understanding.
In particular, the discovery of gas reserves off the shores of Cyprus could be an incentive for peaceful reconciliation. A settlement would open up the range of options for the exploitation of hydrocarbon resources in the economically most advantageous way for the benefit of all Cypriots.
When looking into European history, I see a striking parallel. The historic reconciliation between France and Germany after many wars was built on the idea of sharing coal; coal and steel, the war-fuelling products, stood at the basis of the European project. In one
brilliant move, political leaders on both sides turned around a situation, changing a mutual threat into a common opportunity, only five years after the end of the Second World War.
As I asked one year ago in the Parliament in Nicosia: switching gas for coal, could this example not be an inspiration for the two communities of Cyprus?
As for the European Union, we fully support a comprehensive and viable settlement of the Cyprus conflict within the United Nations, in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions and with the principles on which our Union is founded. A solution would also make a huge difference for the relations between the European Union and NATO and allow these two institutions to work much more closely together. This brings me to our cooperation on the global stage.
Turkey is an important partner for the European Union in the G20. It is one of the key fora of economic policy coordination in today’s interdependent world. Its very existence expresses the fact that no country can solve its problems in isolation.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of the economies represented in the G20 also happen to be democracies: economic development and political liberties tend to go hand in hand. Of course there are exceptions.
In the region more in particular – one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world – your country plays such an essential, constructive role. With Prime Minister Erdogan, we will speak of the terrible crisis which affects Syria, and of our efforts to work for a solution.
Turkey is bearing the brunt of the consequences of this tragedy. The despicable terrorist attacks in Reyhanli are a clear reminder of the dangers involved and the price your country is paying – on behalf of the European Union, I have expressed my condolences to the government and the people of Turkey. I will personally commend again the Prime Minister for the solidarity and vision shown by the government and your country's citizens. You have opened your borders to those fleeing violence. Your country is leading in humanitarian support and playing a key role in efforts to find a political solution.
The European Union will continue working with Turkey as well as with other partners and allies in order to re-establish peace and stability in Syria. The political solution should aim for a Syria that is democratic, united and tolerant. We now have a new chance to push for political negotiations, in Geneva, under the helm of the UN Secretary-General, and we should all do our utmost to ensure their success and stop all violence.
In the meantime, the European Union will maintain its important humanitarian contribution, its targeted sanctions and its political contribution in the United Nations. We also stand ready to support reconstruction efforts.
Beyond the emergency in Syria, your regional role and active involvement in the wider neighbourhood is irreplaceable. Turkey is a key international partner and ally for the European Union and we are committed to enhance our political dialogue on foreign policy issues of common interest, such as developments in North Africa, the Gulf, Pakistan, the Southern Caucasus or the Horn of Africa. This is a promising venue to tighten further our cooperation, as two other examples can show: Afghanistan and the Middle East.
As regards Afghanistan, we both believe that regional cooperation is crucial for long-term stabilisation and the development of Central Asia. Turkey and many EU Member States joined forces with other allies in ISAF. The 2011 Istanbul Conference has been a landmark. The European Union has been contributing substantially to support international state-building efforts in Afghanistan, with an average of close to € 1 billion annually during the last decade. The Union is determined to develop its partnership with Afghanistan also after 2014, the crucial year that will mark the departure of the international military presence. We are in there for the long haul!
As regards the Middle East Peace Process, we both believe we should not allow other dramatic events in the region to distract the attention of the international community from addressing this key question. Turkey’s role in the internal Palestinian reconciliation and the re-launch of its relations with Israel are real assets.
The EU – one of the most active supporters of the Palestinian Authority and a long time friend and partner of Israel – will do its utmost to help bringing negotiations back on track.
I have come to Ankara to underline the importance the European Union attaches, at the highest level, to our relations with Turkey in all their dimensions. It is an encounter between friends and partners.
The goal of the European Union is to further reinvigorate this important relationship, to strengthen the various processes in which it is reflected and to deepen the ties between the peoples of Europe and the people of Turkey. Together we can lay the groundwork to build new and stronger bridges between Europe and Turkey.