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Article by H.E. Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu titled “Turkey-EU Relations: Investing in our common future”, published in Bled Strategic Times, 4 September 2017

Accession to the EU continues to be Turkey’s strategic objective. We believe that Turkey’s EU membership will make everyone a winner. It is important that we study the merits of this union and chart a common course to make it happen without succumbing to the political epidem­ic of our day, namely blusterous populism.

Let’s remember where we are coming from. Our forefathers entertained no doubts on what Turkey and Europe meant for each other. The Association Agreement in 1963 with the European Economic Community explicitly envisaged membership as the final objective. Thirty six years and some ups and downs later Turkey became a candidate in 1999. After a delay of six years, accession ne­gotiations started in October 2005. Turkey is still conducting accession negotiations and 16 chapters have been opened so far. Yet, we are going through a phase when some on the European side is voicing certain doubts. We are back in a learning process which I am sure will yet again culminate in a realiza­tion of the importance of each other.

The current psychology on both sides belies the facts on the ground. Technically, Turkey has never been closer to member­ship. She meets all the Maastricht economic criteria that even some Member States fail in terms of budget deficit and public debt. As regards the Copenhagen political criteria, reforms have been carried out at an unprec­edented level, especially during our Govern­ment’s mandate. We do need to recover from the damage of Turkey’s last experience with coup attempts and do this within the rule of law. The FETO, the perpetrator of the coup attempt and murderer of some 250 citizens who gave their lives in support of democra­cy, is a new generation of terror and crime network. This cultish network operates in extreme stealth and diversion and casts its net wide and deep. It is not easy to remove them from all the places they have secret­ly infiltrated but it needs to be done. We do hope to return to normalcy and back to our natural course in not too long a time. Your efforts can very much facilitate our efforts and ease our burden if our EU colleagues worked with us in ensuring that those ac­cused face justice and not grant them refuge in their countries. We are dismayed but will not relent in making the case.

Yet even before that misfortune, it was no secret that some artificial obstacles were thrown up by some EU members to block the opening of new chapters, serving their national political purposes only. As an ex­ample, granting membership to the Greek Cypriots despite their rejection of the UN Comprehensive Settlement Plan in 2004 ef­fectively bolstered their intransigence. That has also provided them with a randomly abused leverage against Turkey within the EU. Occasionally, we do see one or more EU members being tempted to exercise similar leverage.

Nonetheless, Turkey-EU economic ties are now so intertwined that it would be meaningless to disentangle from each oth­er. The Customs Union between Turkey and the EU entered into force on 1 January 1996 and has made Turkey an almost inte­gral part of the EU’s internal market. Tur­key has become the EU’s 5th main trading partner globally with the value of trade in goods currently amounting to 140 billion euros. Similarly, the EU is the most import­ant trading partner for Turkey, representing 41% of Turkey's global trade. Moreover, around three quarters of Foreign Direct Investment in Turkey currently originates from EU Member States and Turks oper­ate countless businesses in EU countries providing value and jobs. In light of the developments in the world economy, the EU sought to upgrade the Customs Union and we agreed. The initiative was launched in the first quarter of 2014 to find solutions to some systematic problems and to extend the Customs Union’s scope to include agri­culture, public procurements and services. The upgrade should satisfy Turkey’s con­cerns on EU’s commercial policy vis-à-vis third countries when concluding Free Trade Agreements. We believe that upgrading the Customs Union, while not an alternative to the accession process, would be a win- win situation both for Turkey and the EU. With an updated Customs Union, and fu­ture membership, Turkey, the 17th biggest economy in the world and the 6th biggest economy of Europe, will enhance the inter­nal market and the competitiveness of the EU in world economy.

We do need each other in every other respect, too. Today we are cooperating in a wide range of areas from foreign policy to the fight against terrorism, irregular migra­tion, environment, education and culture, as well as energy security. Turkey, with the second largest army in NATO after the USA, supports NATO operations and EU civilian and military missions not only in the Bal­kans, but also in different corners of the world. Turkey also contributes to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Turkey’s enterprising and humanitarian foreign policy is clearly reflected in her ini­tiatives to bring peace to Syria. It strength­ens the pillars of stability and future pros­perity in our common neighborhood with the EU. Our global initiatives such as the Mediation for Peace and the UN Alliance of Civilizations are co-sponsored with EU members Finland and Spain, respectively. Turkey is a European actor which tries to counter various forms of extremism and develop intercultural understanding as well as to end conflicts and enhance sustainable peace worldwide. Turkey not only strength­ens the hard security of Europe, but provides a spectacular contribution to the cultural diversity and social dynamism of Europe. Turkey’s robust role as a secular democra­cy demonstrates that Islam and democratic values are compatible.

Our history is replete with examples of successful cooperation. The migration crisis was the latest challenge. Turkey was already dealing with millions of Syrians and others fleeing civil wars with little international assistance. When the number of migrants overflowing into the EU became unbear­able, the EU reached out to Turkey. In just four months, three Summit meetings were held. The 18 March 2016 Agreement was the concrete result. Although our region is still suffering from the humanitarian crisis in Syria, irregular arrivals to the EU decreased by 99%. This is due to Turkey’s strong com­mitment for the effective implementation of the Agreement. We succeeded in ending the flow of migrants, saving many lives that would otherwise be lost at sea. Despite de­lays on the EU side, the take-back and reset­tlement exercise is on track.

The Turkey-EU Statement of 18 March 2016 was not restricted to the question of mi­gration, but encompassed a broad spectrum of issues. One major dimension is visa-free travel for our citizens to the Schengen area. This process started on 16 December 2013 when Turkey and the EU launched the Visa Liberalization Dialogue, in parallel with the signature of the Turkey-EU Readmission Agreement. Today Turkey remains the only candidate country which does not benefit from visa liberalization. We expect this ab­erration to be rectified.

Furthermore, financial assistance from the EU for the Syrian refugees in Turkey has been slow in disbursement. Turkey has spent around 30 billion USD for the Syrians, whereas total contributions from the inter­national community amounted to only 526 million USD. Moreover, once the irregular crossings were reduced, the voluntary hu­manitarian admission scheme should have begun, but it did not. The 18 March Agree­ment will maintain its success as long as both sides fulfil their pledges and the EU has several to fulfil.

During this crisis, the EU called for “re­newed engagement” in Turkey-EU relations. A similar concept of “re-engagement” was pronounced at the meeting between Presi­dent Erdoğan and the EU Institutions’ lead­ers in Brussels on May 25. Sharing the same geography and facing similar challenges, Turkey and the EU already have common strategic interests. A secure Turkey means a secure Europe. A prosperous Turkey means a prosperous Europe. And vice versa.

Turkey’s membership to the EU will con­tribute to the future prosperity and security of the Continent. Please do understand this and spread the message to all segments of your population. Turkey as an ally, a partner and a member, will only inspire hope, op­timism and dynamism in an unpredictable world. An EU with Turkey on board will be our common investment in our common future.