Interview with Ümit Boyner

"Europe Will Never Become a World Power without Turkey"

Ümit Boyner is the vice-president of the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association. Hülya Sancak discussed the relationship between Turkey and the EU with her, as well the role of women in Turkish society

Ümit Boyner (photo: private copyright)
"Turkey has no alternative but to join the EU, and for the EU itself, Turkey is a strategic necessity," says Ümit Boyner

​​Has Turkey done its EU membership homework yet in your opinion?

Ümit Boyner: No it hasn't. Turkey still has a lot of catching up to do and indeed it is fully aware of this. The education system needs renewing for instance, and we need a new awakening. This is the most important homework which needs doing in my opinion.

Has Turkey fulfilled its obligations in the socio-political sphere then?

Boyner: Participatory democracy, internal party democracy, the position of women in society, measures to improve human rights, the Turkish legal system: there are many areas where things have to change. The important thing is that we become aware of these problems and continue our political development.

Alongside this there have been other important developments in Turkey. We have begun to address and debate subjects which six or seven years ago we could never have touched upon. Against this background I'm very confident. If we had done all our homework we would be in a situation where we would say "let us join the EU", but we haven't got that far yet.

And what should the EU do? Should it stop wooing Turkey, in your opinion?

Boyner: No, of course not. In certain areas Europe should be co-operating more closely with us. The Cypress conflict is critical; the EU sent Turkey a false signal with its attitude to this issue. It lost a lot of supporters in Turkey on account of this.

Turkish, European and Greek flag (photo: AP)
In admitting Cypress as a member, the EU lost many supporters in Turkey, says Ümit Boyner

​​Which false signal die the EU give Turkey?

Boyner: In admitting part of a country whose borders are not clearly agreed on, the EU made the conflict into an insoluble problem. The Turkish population of Cypress had accepted the Annan plan, but when the Greek population rejected the plan, they were not even subjected to sanctions: quite the opposite; the Greek part was given EU membership. The EU could be much more proactive in resolving this conflict.

Will the EU ever admit Turkey as a full member?

Boyner: I don't think they have any other option. But a few things have to be considered here. First of all: how is the EU going to continue developing? Because Europe may experience decisive internal changes in the future. The financial crisis has shaken Europe to its core for instance, and shake-up will resonate for a while longer.

Above and beyond this there are many differences of opinion in Europe. The notion of what Europe is varies between England and France, and is different again for the new EU members. Europe is experiencing an expansion shock from within.

To be honest Turkey is too significant not to be admitted. And without integrating Turkey, the EU cannot grow to become a world power, because Turkey is a strategic factor.

EU cattle sculpture (photo: AP)
EU at the crossroads: Is the Union experiencing an expansion shock? Already there are too many differences of opinion within the EU, says Ümit Boyner

​​Looking at political activity in Turkey, is it possible to say that Turkey is on track to join the EU?

Boyner: What other track should it be on then? There is no alternative but the EU for Turkey. If it seeks international political co-operation, Europe is the only option. But if the question is whether the Turkish government has been investing enough effort in this project recently then no, that cannot be said. The government needs to speed up its efforts there; the AKP government's comprehensive third reform programme is still being debated for instance. But I hope that after the next elections the subject will be awarded more significance again.

How do you see the position of women in Turkish society?

Boyner: If you look at the statistics, for instance for women in the employment market, it doesn't look good: only 23 % of Turkish women are in gainful employment. The EU average is 53 %, as far as I know.

And the participation of women in politics doesn't look much better either, and this is a hotly debated subject. Equally, the educational level of women is still very low. The role of women in the family is still dominated by very conservative values. But on the other hand you also see women in very powerful positions and using this in ways that are very positive for Turkish society.

In this area too, the EU needs to work more closely with Turkey than it has before…

Boyner: This is why the EU is so important: we have to educate women better. We have to give them better guarantees of work and equal opportunities. This is part of our combined homework.

The European view of Turkish women is not without its own prejudices…

Boyner: When Europe addresses the subject it only sees honour killings. Of course this is a problem in Turkey, but honour killings are not carried out every day everywhere in Turkey. If we only focus on this subject, other important issues such as women in employment and women in education are swept under the table. These problems are fundamental.

If we could co-ordinate our work on women's issues better, we would achieve a lot more.

Interview by Hülya Sancak

© 2008

Ümit Boyner is vice-president of the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TÜSIAD). She is a member of the board at Boyner Holdings, one of the largest Turkish textiles firms. She is a founder and board member of the Women Entrepeneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIDER). Ümit Boyner studied business at Rochester University in New York and is married to the businessman Cem Boyner.

Translated from the German by Steph Morris

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