Statement by Foreign Minister İsmail Cem on the European Union November 30, 1999

News items are appearing in the press about Turkey's stance on European Union's Helsinki Summit, relations with Greece and its implications. Some of these not only fail to reflect reality, but are also deceptive. On the other hand, there are requests from the media for more information. In order to bring better clarity, I wish to make the following evaluation:

1) Since 1963, Turkey has been pursuing the aim of devoloping its relations with the European Union, then the "European Economic Community". This determination has been reiterated in the programs approved by the TGNA (Turkish Grand National Assembly) of all governments which came to power in the last 37 years. It has been also stressed that Turkey's EU membership is a right derived from the 1963 Ankara agreement and policies have been followed along this line. As a matter of fact, the "Customs Union" established between Turkey and the EU in 1996 has been an important phase forward in this process. Our government has maintained the same determination for the further development of relations with the EU and on the issue of Turkey's EU membership.

We consider this common approach of all Turkish governments as the reflection of Atatürk's ideal of "....sharing the epoch".

2) EU membership is a top priority for Turkey, but it is not an obsession. In case Turkey's EU vocation is not realized, there would be no setback to our assertiveness, modernizm and democracy, since we are already on the right path. Turkey has been constantly developing itself in the fields of economy, democracy, administration, law and politics. EU candidacy and membership will add further strength and momentum to this process.

3) Turkey-EU relations have gone through a turbulent period when Turkey's candidacy status was not officially granted in the 1997 Summit of the EU on "enlargement". Turkey expects an end to this discrimination in the forthcoming 1999 Summit.

Turkey has indeed declared that she accepts the Amsterdam Agreement and Kopenhagen Criteria of the EU. In this context, Turkey expects equal treatment with the other candidate countries. Turkey is not in a position to meet different criteria other than the ones required for other candidates or to accept preconditions.

4) Turkey is of the view that her progress on the way of EU membership will considerably contribute to the security, stability and economic welfare of the vast region of which she is a part. It is inevitable that the EU borders passing through the Balkans and the Aegean -as in the present- situate Turkey and Greece on the opposing sides of this line. It is a situation with potential for a conflict, however unwanted it might be. Turkey's EU candidacy and membership will eliminate this potential for conflict and will guarantee stability and cooperation in the Balkans and the Aegean.

5) There have been significant and positive developments since the beginning of the Joint Working Groups initiative in May 1999 between Turkey and Greece. We are of the belief that the two countries can solve their bilateral problems and establish a lasting friendship as long as they have the political determination and good will. The developments which took place in the past months have further strenghtened our belief. We sincerely hope that this fruitful process will continue to flourish.

6) Relations that Turkey and Greece in development since May 1999, have reached to an advanced stage and some concrete results achieved:

Texts agreed upon during Turkish-Greek joint committee meetings are ready for "signature". The issues which have been discussed are not "secondary", but important issues. Particularly, the agreement on "Combatting Organized Crime, Drug Trafficking, Illegal Immigration and Terrorism" has been accorded priority by Turkey for the development of bilateral relations from the start.

These agreements could be signed in mid-December if present positive trend of Turkish-Greek relations does not run into obstacles. In this context, inviting the Greek Foreign Minister to Turkey, holding a signing ceremony of the agreements, exploiting the opportunities for the development of bilateral relations and cooperation on the EU and regional issues, are envisaged.

7) Following the initiation of joint committee meetings, relations between the two countries yielded concrete social, economic and political results. Civil societies of both countries are involved in constant dialogue, and reciprocal visits and joint activities follow one another in this context. Economic relations between the two countries have also been improving. Rapproachment is replacing tensions in the Aegean. The two countries are cooperating for stability in the Balkans. It is in the interest of the both countries to sustain the momentum.

8) There are problems between Turkey and Greece which need to be addressed, especially in the Aegean. It is possible that the two neighboring and allied countries may overcome all of these problems through mutually acceptable means and transform the Aegean into a sea of friendship and peace. This must be the common goal of the two countries.

In order to attain this goal, the two countries should refrain from unilateral actions in the Aegean, abstain from provocations and threats, take mutual concerns and interests into account, create an atmosphere of mutual confidence and security, and thus be able to resolve problems through peaceful means. We are ready to work together towards this end. Turkey has no territorial claims from Greece. Turkey considers that Agenda 2000 includes appropriate procedures for the resolution of the bilateral problems existing between the two countries.

On the other hand, we are of the view that the idea of setting up a "Wise Men Group", which had been put forward by the Netherlands at the time of their EU Presidency in April 1997 and agreed by Turkey and Greece, could be reactivated. This initiative which could go ahead following the Helsinki Summit decision on Turkey's candidacy, will contribute to the search for a solution to the Aegean problems through peaceful means.

9) Turkey has kept the Cyprus issue outside the framework of her relations with the EU. Turkey is against the consideration of its relations with the EU in connection with the Cyprus issue. Our legal and political objections to the unilateral application of the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus to the EU are still valid. We believe that at this point in time when UN Secretary General is about to start proximity talks between the two parties in New York, any statement and attitude which could have a negative impact on the New York process or on the chances of a comprehensive solution must be avoided. On the contrary, the parties should be encouraged on an equal basis.

10) With the above in mind, it is considered that the Helsinki Summit constitutes an important opportunity for EU-Turkey relations and for the positive process between Turkey and Greece. We expect that all the EU countries will make the good use of this opportunity to its fullest extent.