Boğaziçi Conference, Istanbul, October 11, 2008

Ministers, Commissioners, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome all to Istanbul. Welcome all to Turkey.

Bosphorus Conference has already been a tradition now and if I am not mistaken probably forth time that I am actually attending this Conference. I would like to express my special appreciation for TESEV, for the British Council and the Centre for European Reform for convening this highly prestigious conference.

Not only the Conference is able to bring together many speakers from around the world who are specially dedicated, I would say, to the EU perspective of Turkey, but also audience is also of very high caliber. So also my thanks go to the British Council General here and also to Mr. Ambassador for hosting this event here in Istanbul.

Distinguished guests,

Turkey is a country which has gone through an enormous change during the last 6 years. We have gone through a political transformation. We have gone through an economic transformation. We have also gone through a very important social transformation. Whichever perspective you look from, Turkey of 6 years ago versus Turkey of today are almost two different countries. We make many reforms to deepen our democracy. We make reforms to enhance our practices of fundamental rights, freedoms, rule of law. We have made reforms to make sure that Turkish economy is strengthened, Turkish financial system is strengthened. We have gone through a very important privatization process. Our budget deficit is now only just a fraction of what it was 6 years ago. We have already caught up with the two of the four Maastricht Criteria which is required for the Eurozone. In terms of the budget deficit and the public debt, right now, we are doing much better than the EU averages. We have done a lot. But a lot remains to be done.

We have to continue with this reform process very vigorously. We have to continue enhancing our democracy. We have to continue enhancing our practices of fundamental rights and freedoms. This requires more serious changes in our Constitution. This requires many many laws in many areas and what is more, all these changes which are kind of made on the paper have to be reflected in our daily lives. So implementation of these reforms is probably at least as important as the legislative progress itself. The EU accession process of Turkey is not only a strategic target of our foreign policy, but also a very important framework for our domestic reform processes. Turkey has every interest to continue this process in a healthy way with a meaningful speed. When we look at the past 6 years versus what remains to be done, we have a heavy agenda and if we continue our reforms, if we keep up with the existing speed, then it is probably no surprise that Turkey, in 5, 7, 10 years from now will be quite different than the Turkey of today.

The EU accession process has its own difficulties. It has some difficulties stemming from Turkey but also it has its own difficulties stemming from the overall conditions in the EU. Especially in terms of enlargement, sometimes the EU is more willing to enlarge, sometimes it is more self-confident, sometimes internal dynamics of the EU is more pro enlargement, we can call this a summer season but whereas there are times where the EU has deep internal problems. Probably lack of self confidence more hesitation and probably right now they are going through winter times. The fact that the Constitutional Treaty did not go through, the fact that Lisbon Treaty has been facing serious difficulties and the fact that the institutional reforms in the EU is now being delayed, those are some important aspects which need to be taken into account. And these developments have their consequences about how the member states are looking at the overall idea of enlargement. But we have a season free approach. We are still with the EU, continue this process for Turkey, this is something which is helping us. It has already helped us a lot and it will continue to help us. Sometimes when we talk about negotiations, may be that terminology is something which should be looked into more carefully in my view. It is something as if we are giving away things and the EU is gaining or EU is loosing things but we are gaining. It is mostly understood as if this is a zero-sum game. Whereas in our view, most of the reforms that we are have already done in the process and which we will be going for the process is actually to raise the status in Turkey to improve the quality of life for our people, to make sure that Turkish people breathe air which is cleaner, to make them drink water which has less bacteria in it. And also to live in a democratic system which is functioning better. So what we have done so far actually helps Turkish people to reach higher and higher standards in every aspect of their lives. Our people enjoy this. They like the reforms. They like what happened. And it is not just looking at the election results that we have gotten so far. Also it is about public opinion poll which we are continuously doing to watch what our people think and feel. This process helped the Turkish citizens be more in power individually. This process also helped a big power shift in Turkey from certain circles, I would say, to individuals, for the citizens of the country. So people of Turkey are right now say that and feel that they have more to say for the future of their country. I think that is the essence of better democratic system. No matter what the situation is in the EU, we have the strong drive to continue this process. But again the domestic conditions in Turkey, has different results for us as well. Sometimes we have an environment which is more pro-reform, more open, but then there are times when we are facing difficulties, difficulties by the certain institutions of the state or difficulties by the opposition parties. Especially election times, those times when we are being criticized for a lot of things for which we believe those are important for the country anyway. The important thing here is having the long term view, the long term target of EU accession, staying over there firmly. May be Turkey moved sometimes slowly, sometimes fast but we are moving towards that target with vigor, with patience and with a strong political will. That brings predictability to Turkey and predictability is probably the key word for an economy. When the business people when the financial markets know where the country is heading to, they feel more confident. Commissioner Rehn just gave some figures of FDI. Probably one of the most important figure which shows how much the business community has trust in a country. And I firmly believe that the increased FDI in Turkey has lot to do with what we have done, lot to do with what we have done about our firm target, which is EU accession.

Turkey is changing itself, making reforms, but in an interesting way. What we are doing in Turkey, is now helping more and more to our neighborhood. By doing the right things in Turkey, by enjoying the credibility of doing the right things for our own country, we strengthen hand in our foreign policy to help other countries, to help the region. If Turkey is a country struggling with its own huge problems, I do not think we would have been that effective in our foreign policy over the last several years. Whenever we go to Balkans, the Caucasus or the Middle East, they accept Turkey as a success story. They look into what we are doing. Our neighbors have keen interest in our reform process. We have been receiving delegation after delegation from many countries in the neighborhood to get information about what we have done about political reforms, about economic reforms, and we are a source of inspiration, not only for our immediate vicinity but also for a wider geography. Minister Verhagen has already given examples of what we are doing in the closer proximity. This summer for example we had the very first Turkey-Africa Summit. Fifty countries out of fifty three were represented. 60 ministers, 20 Presidents, Vice-presidents and Prime Ministers attended. After India and China, now Turkey is the third standalone strategic partner country for them. That decision was taken in January 2008. We are now acting in 37 African countries with our development programs, humanitarian aids, technical assistance with scholarship programs, schools and hospitals and also many delegations coming to Ankara or Istanbul to attend briefings, training programs and so forth. We are now going to be opening 15 new embassies in the Sub-Saharan Africa. We started the very first Turkey-Arab League Platform. Actually the very first ministerial meeting will be tomorrow in the afternoon in Istanbul. Arab League troika, Presidency plus Turkey. We are going to be meeting regularly for political consultations on wide range of issues, i.e. social, political, economical and security issues.

We started a Turkey-GCC Platform. So six Gulf countries plus Turkey we held the very first meeting just a month ago in Jeddah. And now that is going to be another regular separate meeting that we will be conducting. We had decided to open 4 new Consulate Generals in India to have more presence over there and to penetrate in political and economic system. Last summer we had also the very first Pacific Island States Ministerial Meeting. 15 countries plus Turkey and for most of the ministers that was their very first time ever in Europe not just Turkey. I invited them, their families, wives. And several weeks later the minister from New Zealand came to visit me. He told me about how much of a good feedback he got from those countries and he asked to work together in the South Pacific Islands states because we had a lot to share in terms of knowledge and experience with them. Now my Ambassador in New Zealand is with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand and they are going to be travelling those islands together and we are going to be increasing our interaction.

As Turkey which has succeeded in doing some reforms, we have a lot of experience to share. So all these actually are also examples of how we can contribute more to the EU. With Turkey in, we strongly believe that the EU is going to become stronger and will become a truly global actor. The EU has to become a more representative and Turkey will add a lot from that perspective. More representative and we will have stronger voice. The EU is a big economic power regardless of what is happening in last couple of weeks, it is a very large economic power. In my view this power is not transformed into much of a strong political influence. So perception of the EU from the neighborhood, the perception of the EU from very different corners of the world will change entirely when Turkey is in. We believe that the EU will have a more of a sound decision making mechanism. And probably that is at the core of the issue nowadays. At the beginning people argued that Turkey was too poor to join the EU, that was one of the rhetoric, that I heard a lot in 2002 and 2003. But I do not hear it any longer, because the economic performance has shown that we are going to be catching up fast. They were saying that Turkey is too different to join, but now there is more interaction going on with the increasing tourism, with the increasing civil society dialogue projects which we are realizing. The more the Europeans know about us, the more they realize that we can coexist, we can do it together. Last year we received 21 million tourists, most of them from the EU member states. This year we are expecting 25 million. More Europeans are choosing Turkey as their second home. The Germans, the Spaniards, the Swedes, even the Finnish, people from Estonia as well. When I was there it was the number one news, how many Estonians are now staying in Turkey and that the number was increasing. So interaction is going on, so rhetoric about Turkey being different is also going to fade away, That’s what I strongly believe. Also we have a lot to learn from each other, to live together for the peace, for the harmony of civilizations, for the alliance of the civilizations which we are now co-charing. So the rhetoric nowadays which I hear more and more is that when Turkey joins the EU, Turkey will be too influential. That’s now the kind of worry that I am hearing more and more. But that is also going to change and people are going to realize that, when we do become a member we will have a lot of positive contribution. And EU plus Turkey will be more than just a simple sum, just a simple addition, it will become a much stronger where peace and stability rein. I do not want take more of your time. And being the last speaker I am now between you and your dinner. I will stop here. I would be able to attend the first hour of my news conference with my other colleagues and friends. So again thanks a lot for those who made this event possible. Thanks a lot for those who join us, and I hope that Bosphorus Conference becomes a very important event held regularly as it has been the case so far. We will continue to give our full support.

Thank you