Speech Delivered By H.E. Ali Babacan, Foreign Minister of Turkey at the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, 28 May 2008, Brussell
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today. This is my second address to the distinguished members of this Committee. I was with you here as the Minister of Economy back in July 2005.

Today, the European Parliament plays a crucial role for the future of the European Union. It is well known that the European Parliament is the only EU institution whose members are elected directly by the citizens of Europe. In this regard, the European Parliament reinforces the EU’s ability to represent its people and hence makes the functioning of the EU more democratic and accountable to its citizens. In this manner, the European Parliament’s contribution to the future of Europe is unique.

Today, there is a need for a greater understanding between citizens of the European Union and Turkey. Interparliamentary contacts and bonds present us with an invaluable opportunity for improving this understanding.

During the recent years, we have observed that the contacts between the members of the European Parliament on the one hand and the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) on the other have intensified. As a result, the European Parliament is increasingly gaining a better understanding of Turkey and Turkish accession process. This is indeed a very pleasant development.

I personally attach utmost importance to these contacts and connections. To the extent my program allows, I convene with the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) during their visits to Turkey.

I am also pleased to see that members of our Parliament deem it useful to further improve interparliamentary contacts. Turkish parliamentarians regularly participate in the Plenary Sessions of the European Parliament in Strassbourg. Indeed, on the occasion of the 59th meeting of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee yesterday, the members of our Parliament and the members of the European Parliament convened together. I also had an opportunity to address the Joint Parliamentary Committee.

I must also note that we are extremely pleased to see the members of the European Parliament in Turkey on different occasions. Many of you regularly visit Turkey to participate in various activities. Members of this Committee are always welcome in Turkey.

During the recent years, Turkey has become a frequent topic of discussion in the sessions of this House. We are expecting fair and balanced decisions that will contribute to improving the understanding not only amongst our parliaments but also our citizens. Mrs. Ria Oomen-Ruijten, Rapporteur on Turkey, has also made valuable contributions to enhancing this understanding. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Chairman Jacek Saryusz-Wolski for his constructive approach and efforts in further improving our relations with the European Parliament.

During the recent months, the members of this Committee are paying an increasing attention to the progress of Turkey and its accession process to the EU. The Report on Turkey’s 2007 progress report has been approved in the Plenary Session of the European Parliament last week. The Report embodies a balanced approach regarding the reforms undertaken by Turkey and Turkey-EU relations.

We are also pleased to see that the recent Draft Report on the Commission’s 2007 enlargement strategy paper clearly confirms the commitments of the EU towards candidate states with which it started accession negotiations. We hope that the final Report will embody encouraging messages regarding Turkey’s and other candidate states’ accession processes.

Distinguished members,

Today, the EU has become a realm of peace, stability and welfare. The European Union today represents the shared values and ideals of millions of people. The underpinnings of these values are democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights and also a functioning market economy. With these fundamental principles, the EU has become a source of inspiration not only for its own people but also those living in wider geographies.

Membership to the EU is a strategic goal of Turkish foreign policy. No other alternative than membership can be an option which is targeted by Turkey. Turkey’s membership objective stems from our aspiration for modernization and elevating the standards and quality of life enjoyed by our people.

Today, the European Union is going through an important process of transformation. The Lisbon Treaty envisages remarkable changes in the institutional structure of the EU. The legislative power of the European Parliament will be further expanded and strengthened. While the EU is undertaking these reforms, our country is also going through its own transformation process.

Turkey has realized sweeping reforms during the last five years. These reforms strengthened our democracy and expanded fundamental rights and freedoms in our country.

We are determined to carry on these reforms. Some of these reforms are political in nature while others are technical. We are advancing in both of these spheres.

Regarding political reforms, the Law Amending Article 301 of the Penal Code entered into force in the beginning of this month. The amended Article further strengthens the guarantees for freedom of thought and expression in Turkey.

The new Law on Foundations which became effective as of February 2008 significantly improves the property rights of all foundations in Turkey including non-Muslim community foundations.

We are also continuing to make progress in the area of judicial reforms. We are well aware that without effective implementation, legislative reforms will be insufficient. Reform of the judiciary is indispensable for ensuring the effective implementation of the reforms undertaken so far. We are determined to finalize our Judicial Reform Strategy soon.

Aside from these political reforms, our progress regarding technical reforms is also considerable. Last year, we prepared our road map which is entitled “Turkey’s Program for Alignment with the EU Acquis” and we did this for the period 2007 to 2013. This program involves all the primary and secondary legislation that needs to be approved and implemented under the Acquis related reforms. It is being updated regularly and we are following its implementation very closely. In addition, we will complete our new National Program for the Adoption of the Acquis Communautaire soon.

Our Government and our Parliament are strong proponents of these reforms. The Turkish Grand National Assembly will continue to work towards aligning Turkish legislation with the EU Acquis during the new legislative year as well. Civil society organizations are also continuously and actively involved in this reform process.

46 government units and 140 NGOs are working in our preparations and work towards meeting the criteria in the Acquis.

People of Turkey, our citizens are also behind these reforms. They have supported what we have done and we know that there is continued strong support for further reforms in Turkey. However, the remarks which we hear from time to time, which question Turkey’s membership, made by some EU politicians hurt the public perception about the European Union in Turkey.

There has been some decline in the public support in Turkey between the end of 2004 and the end of 2006. In this regard, fair and balanced decisions and also reports adopted by the European Parliament on Turkey will certainly have positive effects on our public opinion as well.

It is for this reason that the membership perspective of Turkey must be kept intact. The accession process should not be held hostage to domestic political considerations of some individual member states.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament can play a unique role for the future of Turkey’s relations with the EU. The members of the Committee who are quite closely following the developments in our region and in the world are also aware of the obstacles to peace and stability in the vicinity of Europe.

In this context, I believe that you are also among the ones who can best appreciate the contributions that Turkey is making and could make when Turkey becomes a full member of the EU in the future. You are following daily the developments in the Balkans, Caucasus, Black Sea, Mediterranean, Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa. You regularly prepare comprehensive and detailed reports concerning the developments in these regions and discuss them thoroughly.

Turkey is an element of stability lying at the crossroads of all these regions which I just counted. Turkey has deep historical and cultural bonds with all of these geographies. We are one of the most significant contributors to peacekeeping operations, just to give you examples; we are existent in Lebanon, in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Afghanistan, Congo, East Timor. The last Presidency Report of the European Council also welcomes Turkey’s contributions to a number of ongoing ESDP civilian operations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I briefly described, Turkey is quite active in many countries across the region where we both rest. Since the beginning of 2003, we have been working very hard to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, a direct neighbor of Turkey, and to preserve the political unity in that country. We have established a Neighboring Countries Platform. This was initiated by Turkey and right now it is the only international platform which meets regularly to assess the situation in Iraq and comes up with suggestions. Neighboring countries+G-8 countries+P-5 countries are represented over there. So far, we have made 9 rounds of meetings in 5 years. And it is very important to demonstrate the help of the international community for Iraq. 2008 will be a very important year for Iraq. Some bilateral arrangements will be made between the US and the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Parliament is in preparation to pass new laws like the Hydrocarbon Law, like the Provincial Powers Law, which are going to be very crucial to define what kind of an Iraq we are going to see in the future.

Iran is another direct neighbor of Turkey; we have a good dialogue with Iran. And we believe that for the nuclear programme of Iran, political dialogue is the key means to resolve the issues. We support the initiative of 3+3 or P-5+1, however we call it. The border between Turkey and Iran has been identical since 1639. As neighbors, we talk very frequently, but on the other hand we do not want any nuclear weapons in our region. We believe that using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is also the right of every sovereign nation. It’s important to be transparent, it’s important to be following the rules of the Agencies, it’s important to be following the International Agreements. So, our good dialogue with Iran is used by us to give them friendly, neighborly messages.

Lebanon is another area of problems. Turkey has been working on intensively but silently on the Lebanese issue. Last Sunday, I was in Beirut with my Prime Minister. The Prime Minister of Qatar and the Prime Minister of Turkey were the only two Prime Ministers invited for the election ceremony of the new President. And we have dialogue with all the groups in Lebanon and we have good dialogue with all the countries which do have influence on Lebanon. What we are doing is to promote peace.

For the issues between Israel and Palestine, Turkey has been very active. We were very influential to make sure that Annapolis Conference becomes a successful start. It did start as a good conference, but unfortunately when we look at the progress, when we learn what is going on we are concerned. We encourage all the sides to work on the problems and work for peace.

The problems between Israel and Syria, the problems which have been there for decades, it’s also something that Turkey has been working on. Both the Government of Israel and the Government of Syria asked Turkey to help. And now we are working as a facilitator for those talks. And at the core of the idea, there is the concept of peace for land. The talks are now going in an indirect way through Turkey, and if and when there is substantial progress, then direct talks between these two countries could be also possible.

Turkey is also present in Afghanistan. We have troops over there, we are building schools and hospitals, we are doing a lot of humanitarian work and also we have very good relations. It’s not just government to government, but also people to people which is very important. International community should do more in Afghanistan, not just by having more troops over there, but also doing more reconstruction work, more development work, more humanitarian work to win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan.

With Pakistan, another important country, Turkey has very close historical, cultural, political relations. We are also in very close dialogue with Pakistan to make sure that it continues to be a stable country, living in peace; to make sure that prosperity develops in Pakistan. We are helping to resolve the problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last year, we held the first summit between President Karzai and President Musherref. It was hosted by us, and now we are preparing for the second summit to take place this year. Both of the countries are happy about the progress that they have made after that first summit in Turkey. The fact that we have very good relations with Pakistan and very good relations with Afghanistan is placing us in a special position to help them to solve the problems between themselves.

Balkans is another area where Turkey is quite active. We have historical bonds, we have human to human bonds and that is an area where we have good relations with many countries at the same time. We are working for stability; we are working to preserve the peace in Balkans. We never want to see any difficulties in the Balkans like what happened in the 90s again. We appreciate what the EU is doing in that region; we support the EU membership aspirations of the Balkan countries. We support the NATO membership aspirations of the Balkan countries. The fact that the EU has already signed SAA agreements with Montenegro and then with Serbia was very crucial. The EU played a very constructive role at that point. We hope that a similar agreement can be signed with Bosnia-Herzegovina as well. We are happy that right now Macedonia is a candidate. We are happy that Croatia is progressing fast in its negotiation process to become a full member. Slovenia has done an excellent job of doing the Presidency of the EU, setting a really good example for the whole region.

In many regional policies Turkey follows some main principles. What are these principles? First, using political dialogue as the main instrument to resolve problems. Second, creating economic interdependence between the countries, enhancing the economic relations, cross investments, bilateral trade between the countries in the Middle East, between the countries in the Balkans, so that the countries become more economically dependent on each other is one of the key means to preserve stability. Security is our third principle. If we are talking about security we should talk about security for all, security for all the countries, for all the groups, for all the people. And another important principle, fourth principle is preserving the multicultural aspects of countries, of regions, of cities; treating diversity as a source of richness. And helping the countries, the regions, the cities to find better ways of coexist.

Turkey has been consistently, and also insistently implementing these policies and getting good results.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As members of the Parliament who regularly analyze developments taking place in various regions of the world, I am sure that you share the need for a greater understanding between our civilizations today. Turkey embraces a culture that considers diversity as richness and tolerance as a way of life. The unique features of Turkey can contribute to enriching the current level of understanding among different civilizations. One important example which I want to give is The Alliance of Civilizations Initiative that has been co-chaired by Turkey and Spain.

After we started this, we also involved the UN. We asked the Secretary General to make this a UN project, which he accepted. And now there is a High Representative of Alliance of Civilizations appointed by the Secretary General of the UN, who is the Former President of Portugal, Mr. Sampaio. And this Alliance of the Civilizations is now having more and more countries involved. We have opened the list, a list of friends of the Alliance. So far approximately 70 countries, 15 international organizations have listed themselves in this friends’ group. We asked these countries to come up with their national plans, to come up with concrete projects about what they can do to enhance dialogue, intercultural dialogue, dialogue between the West and Islam. And now these projects are being undertaken, several countries have already announced their national programs.

Apart from these, Turkey as a full member will make significant contributions, economic contributions to the European Union. With a robust market economy, young and dynamic population Turkey will enhance the competitive power of the European Union. Turkey will also contribute to the diversification of energy supply routes to Europe which is very important. I just had a meeting today with the Commissioner in charge of energy. Many many projects on the table where Turkey will contribute more and more to the energy policy of the European Union. As the East-West energy corridor of the future Turkey will provide Europe complementary energy routes. The Turkey-Greece interconnector is already operational. We will extend this into Italy. We are now also aiming to finalize the Nabucco project. A project which will bring gas maybe from Central Asia, some maybe from Middle East through Turkey into European markets. A very important strategic project. We have already finished the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline bringing Central Asian oil to the Mediterranean. We have finished the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline bringing Azeri gas into Turkey which then continues to European markets. We are working on new gas and oil projects between Iraq and Turkey. There is already a pipeline from Iran into Turkey for gas. Iraq is a big potential and for the Iraqi gas and oil to reach to world Markets Turkey is deemed to play a key role. I am sure that you will join me in acknowledging the fact that Turkey even as a candidate country, as an accession country, is already doing a lot to contribute to European Union. As a full member Turkey will enhance Europe’s strategic depth and vision.

Distinguished members,

Turkey sincerely wishes to enhance the understanding between the peoples of EU and the people of Turkey. In this regard this committee and European Parliament are the best fora in which this goal could be generally realized. We will continue to encourage inter-parliamentary contacts and relations in the period ahead. Turkey will continue with this reform process and live up to its responsibilities. However we also expect the EU to honour its own commitments to Turkey since this process requires mutual responsibility of both sides. We believe that we share a common future with Europe. We are proceeding to the future with this conviction. With all these considerations I would like to thank you all for your patience and kind attention.

Mr. Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (AP Dış İlişkiler Komitesi Başkanı):

Thank you very much Your Excellency. As you can see we have a time problem and therefore I would like to describe to you the situation. There are 15 requests for speaking. 15 speaking each one 1 minute would be 12:30. And then we have to count the responses to the questions and this will be extending the request to our interpreters to stay on. I would like to start by calling the first seven and then His Excellency will answer the questions and then the last eight will start asking their questions and will have 1 minute, please, because otherwise we can not manage. And there will be interruption by the end of that minute. Thank you very much. So I would like Mr. Kasoulides to be the first speaker.

Mr. Ioannis Kasoulides:

Thank you Chairman. First of all, let me welcome the Minister and thank him for his presentation in front of our Committee. I want to be very brief on 2 questions; on Cyprus of course.

First one regards a recent statement by the National Security Council of Turkey requesting that a solution should be found based on the realities on the island and on the existence of two separate people and two separate states. The question here is shouldn’t the Cypriots be allowed themselves to negotiate freely and decide themselves how they are going to formulate their own country? And the second, very quick, about the extension of Ankara Protocol and the obligation of Turkey on this issue. From what I know there’s no conditionality allowed on this issue. Finished Mr. President...

Mr. Hannes Swoboda:

Thank you very much Mr. President, Mr. Minister; as one of the shadow rapporteurs of the Socialist Group we want to say that we fully supported the balanced approach of the Oomen-Ruijten Report. We are very happy about what you said today. We both have the obligation to convince still many of our citizens for Turkey’s membership in the EU.

In addition what you said today, let me just mention the Kurdish issue. We need a comprehensive policy on the Kurdish issue. It’s good to fight against terrorism, absolutely supported but a comprehensive plan. Secondly on the Cyprus issue just to support. Give the Turkish citizens in Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots, the possibility to decide on their own future and to negotiate with the Greek side.

And the third element I want to mention is Armenia. Let’s have a new initiative with Armenia also to improve relations and discuss many issues with Armenia but first of all improve relations with Armenia. Thank you.

Mr. Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: I thank you very much. Now Mr. Szent-Ivanyi.

Mr. Istvan Szent-İvanyi:

Thank you Chairman, Mr. Minister. First of all I do support your ambition very much and wholeheartedly I do appreciate the efforts you made and I would like to congratulate for the progress that you made. But at the same time I am very much concerned by the recent events, some of the domestic political events in your country which can may overshadow your ambition. Closure case of the AKP Party is very worrying. The situation of the religious freedom in your country is very worrying including the situation of the Muslim majority, the Kurdish minority situation has also caused some concerns here. We expect some further steps and finally I can not accept your constant challenge of your neighboring country, territorial integrity of Iraq. Violating the border area and attacking this country. I would like to ask you to give reassuring answer.

Mr Vittorio Agnoletto:

Thank you for your presentation Mr. Minister. You mentioned respect of different diversity, different ethnic minorities. You mentioned tolerance and diversity but I am not sure that is the case in the Kurdish region. In particular there haven’t been discussions with the DTP. In fact it has been asked to dissolve itself and the language is used on the radio television. You continue to invade the northern part of Iraq as well and that’s part of an international package that you won’t do that. Then following the 21 of agreements of 2008 on Cyprus I would like to know what efforts your government is making in order to make progress down the road map and you be aware of the fact that EU explicitly asked Turkey to show a positive and constructive approach to the agreements.

Mr. Georgios Georgiou:

I’d like to welcome you among us and ask you a question. I am interested in particular in Turkey’s relationship with neighboring countries at least Greece of course. Greece and Turkey are helping each other. Turkey helps Greece, Greece helps Turkey in its request to join the EU and this is all well and good. At the same time I see the creation of “casus belli” in the region, in the relationship between Turkey-Greece. You want to join an international organization but you still have troops occupying the territory of one of the states that is a member.

Mr. Ari Vatanen:

Thank you very much Minister for being here. You are very good ambassador for Turkey to dispel people’s unfounded fears. And in fact you are… unprecedent phenomen which started in the history of mankind after the World War II. When people extended arms to other human beings and they became allies and therefore you can not have a war with your ally. And we are just expanding this phenomen, this peace-building phenomen now and it can not be limited to any…borders. You have already demonstrated your bridge-building capacity and your peace promoting capacity. And because, you know, without you we don’t have arms in many parts of the world. My question is now. During the French Presidency how many more chapters, you think, will be opened. Mr. Gül said yesterday maybe up to six.

Mrs. Ana Maria Gomez:

Thank you Mr. Minister. You highlighted many efforts that Turkey has undertaken to join EU and to work with EU. But in this context let me highlight that how concerned we are with the problems that Turkey has been raising to NATO-EU practical cooperation in what concerns ESDP mission because of Cyprus. Cyprus objecting to everything that goes behind plus. This is particular clear in, for instance missions like……Kosovo and in Afghanistan. I think Turkey is shooting its feet in this respect. The 2. question, on the Kurdish issue. I agree with…. That has said…You need comprehensive plans to win hearts and minds as you mentioned for Afghanistan. This is what is at stake for the Kurdish population citizens of Turkey. And in this respect we welcome this package that has been announced to deal with the many issues. Finally on Iraq. You said that you recognized the unity…..

Mr. Minister

There are several questions about Cyprus. So maybe I should start with the Cyprus issue. As you know, this problem goes back to 1960’s. It’s not a new problem that just occurred. And in 2004 we were very close to a comprehensive solution. I am sure most of you could remember, that the UN brought together all the sides. There was a negotiated, comprehensive plan to solve all the problems on the island and this plan was agreed around the table by Turkish Cypriots, by Greek Cypriots, by Turkey, by Greece and also the EU was involved to help. But then when this plan was presented for referendums, it was accepted by Turkish Cypriots, it was rejected by Greek Cypriots and this was not just a spontaneous vote. The Turkish Cypriot leadership worked very hard to get a yes vote, they promoted the plan. But the Greek Cypriot leadership right after the agreement around the table, they started a negative campaign, unfortunately, a very emotional campaign. Sometimes in tears in live TV programmes begging people to reject this and unfortunately it was rejected. And for the last 4 years there has not been a big progress on Cyprus. And now after the presidential elections, after Mr. Christofias was elected, there’s now a new sense of optimisim for dialogue and we are supporting this process. We have already declared our full support.

Turkey has a guarantor role on the Island. In 1960, there has been a guarantee agreement which was signed. Turkey has a guarantor function, UK has a guarantor function and Greece has a guarantor function. And Turkey has a responsibility for the security of the people on the Island so we are talking about the existence of the Turkish troops, the identifying position of Turkey as a guarantor country which comes from the 1960 Agreement. It’s very important to remember, plus, one item to be negotiated is how to reduce the number of military forces on the Island. If Annan plan, back in 2004, was accepted, already the number of Greek troops on the Island and the number of Turkish troops on the Island would have been reduced. There was a plan for this.

And by the way, it’s not only Turkish military forces, also Greek military forces exist on the Island. For the new process, we have our full support behind the President Talat. And since Turkey has a guarantor position and since this is also a security issue, our National Security Council is authorized to make judgements on the Island. And of course the negotiations are going to be done between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. But we have to remember, no solution without the consent of Greece is going to be achieved because of the guarantor function of Greece as well. So the international community, EU should give full support to this process.

It’s an important chance, it’s an opportunity window which is now open. This window may not stay open forever. Since now there’s a chance, there’s a hope for a solution we all have to support this process. And by the way, when Christofias and Talat met just a few days ago they made a joint statement. And in their joint statement they also talked about bi-zonality, about the equal status of the two sides, about two constituent states. These are not just our National Security Council’s comments but also the remarks made by the two leaders just recently also. So we are on the same ground over there. And implementation of the additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement, this is again related to Cyprus. We have a different interpretation of this Additional Protocol and we had a big debate in 2006 as probably most of you would remember.

And the EU made a decision to suspend 8 chapters of our negotiations because of this situation. But we are in the same position.

We believe that this additional protocol does not require Turkey to open the ports or airports to Greek Cypriot vessels and aircrafts. And there’s a debate when can we solve this? Whenever there’s a comprehensive solution for the island then this will be automatically resolved anyway. So that’s where we are.

In terms of the Armenia issue. After the recent presidential elections, my President Gül wrote a letter to President Sarkisyan to congratulate him and to call him for dialogue. My Prime Minister wrote a letter to new Prime Minister. I wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Nalbantian. I asked him, we are ready for dialogue to normalize our relations. So we open the door and there could be hopefully some developments in the near future. We are working on it but of course we have frozen conflicts in our region. There are also problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia which is very important. And I am happy that the Minsk process is also moving to some extent. And I am happy to learn that President Aliyev and President Sarkisyan will meet soon in St. Petersburg. So these are all sources of optimism or hope I would say, that we should share.

About Iraq, and the questions that we asked about the situation over there, situation in southeast of Turkey. I want to make a very clear point that we do have a problem of terrorism in Turkey and especially in north of Iraq.

There’s a terrorist organization called PKK which has its basis in northern Iraq. PKK is an organization which is registered as a terrorist organization by the EU, by NATO, by the US and now we are talking about a terrorist organization nothing else. This terrorist organization is following a propaganda where they present themselves as if they’re the representatives of the Kurds or something like that.

This is not true. This doesn’t reflect the reality. Turkey has its own citizens from Turkish origin, from Kurdish origin, from different ethnic backgrounds. They are all our citizens, and when we look at the current composition of our Parliament, my Party alone has around 70 parliamentarians who are of Kurdish origin, they are now members of Parliament. Our Government has 4 members, we have 4 Ministers who are of Kurdish origin. So things have changed a lot in Turkey. We have done a lot to improve the freedoms, improve liberties, improve the implementation of fundamental rights in Turkey. We are not perfect yet. We have still a lot to do, I understand, but what we have done is substantial. Only what we have done actually the negotiations of Turkey with EU was able to start.

We met the Copenhagen criteria sufficiently, meaning, we passed the critical threshold at the end of 2004. Only then we were able to start negotiations for full membership. And this happened also by a very strong support from the European Parliament. In December 2004, you might remember the pictures which covered the newspapers of Europe with all the “Yes” signs in the hands of the members of the European Parliament.

But passing the critical threshold does not mean that we have done everything. We know what is missing. The European Parliament’s report has many important points. We are going to take them into account. The European Commission is writing reports about Turkey. We are taking them into consideration. And we have every reason to improve our practices in Turkey. We do it for ourselves, we do it for our people.

Improving the freedoms and fundamental rights in Turkey, it’s not something that we give away, it’s not something that we lose and the EU gains, it’s not like a give and take deal, it’s something we are aware and we want to improve ourselves in all of these areas.

And the existence of PKK in north of Iraq is a big problem for us. They’re penetrating our borders, killing civilians and non-civilians and running back into north of Iraq. And there has been a vacuum of power during the Iraq war. The central government of Iraq does not have any capacity to deal with the terrorists in the North. They tell us that they don’t like the existence of the PKK over there but they don’t have the means to deal with it. That’s why we have made an agreement with the American Administration to cooperate in terms of intelligence, in terms of military to military work, so that we coordinate our work with them and we target the terrorist locations only.

And months and months after operations, we are, from time to time, doing air operations, major land operations and so far not even one civilian has been hurt or injured. It’s a very surgical operation, unless it is guaranteed, it is made sure that it is a terrorist target our armed forces don’t move. It’s a threat to our security and we have to deal with this. But it’s not a Turkish-Kurdish problem. It’s not a problem between Turkey and Iraq, it’s a problem of terrorism and we are targeting terrorists, the target is not the territory of Iraq, the target is not the Iraqi people. The target is only terrorists. We respect the territorial integrity of Iraq. We are probably one of the strongest defenders of territorial integrity of Iraq. That’s why we established the neighbouring countries platform. We are very vocal on this. But on the other hand we have to fight against terrorism. And we need international solidarity, international support for our efforts against terrorists.

Fighting with terrorism is not carried only through military means. And we are using different kinds of instruments of course which are being used in a coordinated way.

About freedoms in Turkey, especially religious freedoms we know the problems and we are trying to solve them one by one. And I think it was an important point that we have problems in the area of religious freedoms not only for non-muslim minorities in Turkey but also for the muslim majority in Turkey.

I think this is a good point to emphasize more and more and we have to improve all of these. When we talk about secularism, which is also at the heart of the questions nowadays because another question was asked about the closure case for my Party, for the ruling Party. And at the core of the issue there is the concept of secularism and may be I should just explain what we understand and what we implement when we talk about secularism.

My Party’s, my Government’s approach is very clear. We understand that secularism is about distinct separation between the religion and the State. No religious rule should reign how the State functions. But on the other hand the State should not be involved with the daily religious practices of people. The state should be at equal distance to all religions, to all religious sects, atheists etc. And the State should guarantee the religious freedoms in the country for the followers of all the religions without any exception. Secularism is also about religious freedoms, I want to underline that. And that’s what we have been trying to do in Turkey.

Now the party closure case is handled by our Constitutional Court, our Constitutional Court has the final authority to make the ruling and there is no possibility to any appeal or something like that whether we like it or not. Their ruling will be a final one and it is going to be implemented. So when we talk about the current issues in Turkey it’s important to also respect some basic principles which is separation of powers, which is about the independence of judiciary, which is about also credibility of the courts which we have to preserve and protect. On the other hand, Turkey is a country which is trying to comply more and more to the Copenhagen criteria. To the principals of the Venice Commission so we hope that the way how things evolve in Turkey will be in line with the Copenhagen criteria. Will be in line with the Venice Commissions’ principles.

We have improved the implementation of fundamental rights in Turkey. A question was asked about broadcasting in languages other than Turkish. Right now as my Prime Minister yesterday also announced, we have instructed the TRT to start a new channel to broadcast in Kurdish, Farsian and Arabic. And we have already made necessary legal arrangements so that the broadcasting in Kurdish as well as other languages is possible in Turkey. It was not like this before, now it changed and we are sensitive on these issues and we are going to improve our implementations more and more.

Our relations with Greece, our close neighbour. There is a new process of rapprochement. After 49 years a Prime Minister from Greece, made an official visit to Turkey, that happened just few months ago.

For 49 years no Prime Minister from Greece came to Turkey on an official visit. That happened and it was an important step forward and now we are talking with our neighbour our problems. We have problems related with the Aegean Sea, we have problems with Cyprus, we have to work to resolve these issues, we have problems about the Turkish minority in Western Thrace. We have problems about Greek Orthodox community in Turkey and these are already issues which are in the Lausanne Treaty that dating back to 1923. And I’m happy that both of the sides have political will to talk about these issues, to deal with them, to face the problem and trying to bring solutions.

Our accession process to the EU has been influenced negatively by several EU members and the question was asked about France and what will happen during the French Presidency. During our recent contacts, which are quite often, we have been given assurances that the French Presidency will be a normal presidency and they say that they hope to continue to open chapters with Turkey.

We know that they have an opinion about the end of the process, we know that the French President has a different approach than many other leaders of the European Union. About what will happen at the end of the process. But continuing with the process is something where there is strong consensus to how and why our negotiation process is moving forward.

We strongly defend and support more cooperation between NATO and the EU. But this cooperation should be according to the agreed framework. We already have agreements about how this cooperation will happen. As I have described during my initial remarks, Turkey is more and more influential and effective in many areas of the world, for peace, stability, for security.

We are being blocked away from European Defence Agency, security arrangements with EU and this is happening by one member’s opposition, by one member’s veto in a way, although this implementation protocol says that non-EU European countries should be involved more in the security issues, defence issues of the European Union; Turkey is kept away.

On one hand we are a member of NATO, we have big contribution all around the world, we have the second largest army in NATO, across all the NATO members but on the EU side we are kept away. And this is not, by the way, a general policy of the EU member states, it’s one member blocking us so that’s a problem. That’s not in the interest of the EU. We believe that it’s for every interest of the EU to form closer links with Turkey, when it comes to foreign policy issues, security issues, political issues and defence issues and so forth. So we hope that these issues are resolved.

Mr. Zbigniew Zaleski:

Minister, If we agree on the working definition of mentality which refers to the unwritten code of social political family behavior; could you tell me that the mentality in Turkey over the last 2-3 decades has changed into something what do you say and underline….pro-modernized European and so on? Are there some changes or not?

Mr. Kirilov:

Minister, you mentioned the Nabucco project. I am interested to know how Turkey is contributing for speeding up the Nabucco project. Having in mind the problems with the filling up the capacity of the gas pipeline. Having in mind that the political sensitive issue of having gas from Iran, and of course the Egyptian gas. How can Turkey contribute to speed up the project?

Mr. Metin Kazak:

Thank you. You mentioned the Turkish governments’ commitments to continuing the reforms. Can you give us concrete examples? What do you planning to do and to get parliament adopt interms of legislation, particularly on the Turkish Penal Code; and what is happening with the Law of Ombudsman?

Mr. Giorgos Dimitrakopoulos:

Mr. Minister, welcome. Two questions. First energy. Beyond diplomacy of pipelines, what are your plans, if there are any nuclear energy. Second; relations between Greece and Turkey. Are you ready to go to the International Court of Justice in the Hague for the limitations of the Aegean continental shelf? Thank you.

Mr. Marios Matsakis:

Thank you Mr. Minister. You have said that the reason for the presence 45.000 Turkish troops on part of an EU member state is to guarantee the safety of its people or Turkish Cypriots. Do you not trust the EU to guarantee the safety of citizens of a member state? And with reference to 1960 guarantee, can I remind you agreement that was in order to guarantee the constitution and the independence of Cyprus. Is that achieved by the presence of the troops on the island today? Thank you.

Mr. Tunne Kelam:

Thank you. My question concerns the chances of historic reconciliation with Armenia. Can you confirm Mr. Minister as my Turkish colleagues from the parliament have told me that all Turkish archives are accessible to all researchers to find out objective truth and so start the process of reconciliation?

Mr. Yiannakis Matsis:

Mr. Minister, right now the President of the Parliament Mr. Pöttering is opening an exhibition next to us of the destruction of 500 churches in the occupied part of Cyprus; some of extreme value to Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian. How do you react to that, knowing that the Turkish army is just controlling everything on the island and that the withdrawal of the Army will promote peace in the Island. Recommendation of our Parliament suggests.

Mr. Philip Claeys:

Yesterday, Minister, to the Joint Parliamentary Committee you said that the limited reform of the Article 301 of the Penal Code was no doubt a first step or at least a sign of goodwill and the fact is that reality on the ground has not change. People who have controversial opinions or diverging opinions will in the future continue to run the risk of being sent to prison. So my question is the following: Why haven’t you actually make more progress here? Why is everything going so slowly when there is actually a Parliamentary majority which is quite comfortable?

Mr. Minister:

Starting with the first question: Did the mentality change in Turkey. My answer is a big yes. And it is still an evolution time, I would say. Turkey has become a much more open country, a much more open economy. Turkey has become a country where we have more than 400 TV channels including national, regional and local ones; 1100 radio channels. Just last 2 years we have distributed 550 000 personal computers to primary schools only. Now almost every single primary school in Turkey, even in the remotest villages have computer labs with internet access. Now the people of the country are following what is going around the world. Free debate is continuing which is very important. People are not afraid of speaking up and as long as this free debate and freedom of expression improves in Turkey, continues to be the case in Turkey, then we have every reason to be hopeful for a much better future. Of course a lot of things are asked about Turkey and Turkish culture and culture of Islam versus the European values: “Are they compatible? “Is this going to work out?” We strongly believe that this is going to happen. We believe that on the one hand Turkey can preserve its cultural identity meanwhile adapting more and more of European values. When we talk about European values like democracy, fundamental rights, freedoms, rule of law, tolerance and this is happening and what is happening in Turkey is just not about our people living in Turkey, but it is about a very wide geography. People living in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Caucasus they are very closely following what we are doing. Even my colleagues from Australia and New Zealand are telling me that our EU process is very important for them. I ask them why? it takes 24 hours to fly from İstanbul to Auckland or Sydney in Australia. They say: “the stability of our neighborhood has a lot to do in your own success of reform process”. There are a lot of young intellectuals, reform minded people in many countries and they are following Turkey. If we become successful they will be more encouraged to do new things in their own countries.

Turkey is a member of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). 57 countries, after almost 30 years by our initiative OIC has now a new charter for the last 2 months. It was adopted in Senegal and in this new Charter there are concepts like rule of law, transparency, accountability, fundamental rights, women rights and all 57 member countries of the OIC approved this Charter. These are important concepts when you look at those 57 countries.

African Union in January accepted Turkey as a strategic partner. After India, China, Japan and the EU, now Turkey is the fifth strategic partner of the African Union. We are having the first summit in Istanbul in August, 53 members are invited.

We started an Arab-Turkish Forum. We signed it last November, in October we are going to have the very first meeting in Istanbul. Arab League plus Turkey. Very unique, very new setting that we are going to be discussing a lot of things together.

In Sub-Saharan Africa only until the end of 2009, we are going to be opening 15 new embassies. In Sub-Saharan Africa Turkey wil have a very strong existence by the end of 2009. We have also a lot of cultural activities, a lot of trade going on but now also with our embassies we are going to have a stronger existence.

Last month I invited the South Pacific islands’ states ministers to Istanbul. 16 countries; countries like Tuvalu, Fiji, Micronesia, Cook Islands and Marshall Islands. They came with their wives. Every minister, their first time in Europe, first time in Istanbul and I got excellent feedback. I got feedback from my Australian and New Zealand colleagues saying that the meeting was a success that is going to add new momentum to that region. So why I am saying this is, what’s happening in Turkey is not staying within the boundaries of Turkey. It is sending very good signals to very different geographies .

NABUCCO: We have our full support. It is a strategic choice for us. Right now what’s being negotiated is technical and financial aspects basically. Other than that it is not a matter of debate for us. Is it fast enough? Well too many countries are involved and lot of possible resources. Whether it is Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq. This is taking time. But we have our full support behind NABUCCO.

The Ombudsman Law, actually we passed that law through our Parliament but the Constitutional Court stopped the implementation because they said our constitution does not allow such a new concept. Only with a constitutional amendment of the constitution we will be able to get over that problem. For our energy policies, nuclear energy, yes we passed a new law about the nuclear energy and we are opening now auctions or bids I would say for plants at the Black Sea coast and the Mediterranean coast. We have already decided to move into nuclear energy, otherwise we are too much depended on fossil fuel. We have already passed a renewable energy law through our Parliament to give incentives to companies who would like to invest in solar, in small hydro plants and so forth. And hundreds of companies have already got licenses to start investment in that area and also Turkey is now considering the Kyoto Agreements. We are in the final stages. We have a positive view. And also by the way energy chapter is a chapter which is really to be opened as reported by the Commission. We don’t have benchmarks because Turkey is quite advanced in that area. And the chapter about environment also is very likely to be opened soon. We have moved very fast in that environment chapter which is important I think not only for Turkey but for the whole neighbourhood including Europe. For the Aegean problem, as I said we are discussing, we are now talking, we have this exploratory talks every month. Greek and Turkish officials meet once in Athens once in İstanbul rotating to discuss about the Aegean issues and we hope that we can make some progress over there.

For Cyprus, the guarantee agreements of 1960 are very important. We don’t have a very smooth history in Cyprus. In Cyprus, tragedies happened and guaranteeing the security of the Island, we believe is important. Of course, we would very much like to see the issues resolved. That’s our strong interest. But only one side trying to resolve is not enough. We tried in 2004, did not work out. We hope that this time with the new leader in the South of the Island, we hope that there is going to be solutions.

About the archives, about the Armenian issue. It was in 2005 when my Prime Minister wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Armenia offering him to form a Joint Commission of History. We offered to appoint people, historians, scientists, archivists, antropologists, whoever. And you also appoint people. If you like we can involve third countries, international organizations, we are also open to that and let this commission work on the archives.

Let this commission work on what happened or not happened in 1915. Whatever this commission finds out, we are ready to face the results. That offer has not been accepted. Our archives are open, even the military archives from the Ottoman time are wide open for research. The Armenian have not yet opened their archives, in Yerevan, their archives in Boston is still closed. We asked them to open their archives also. Let’s work on the archives and we are ready to face whatever the result is.

The pace of the reforms, what’s important is of course getting these reforms done as soon as possible. But the political climate is also very important. Like last year we went through some difficulties. Our Parliament could not work full time. We had to call for an early election and we could not finish the number of laws as we were foreseeing at the beginning. And some of the laws which do not involve the Parliament, which are secondary legislation I should say has been going on very fast. During last one year we have come up with 100 secondary legislations. Things which did not go to the Parliament but which were handled by the Government or by individual ministries. So we have a strong political will to move forward. But the pace is not 100 percent in our control. The speed of the process is also influenced by externalities, by the political climate, sometimes by the political climate in the EU as well.