"We Perceive Europe as a Union of Values"
Some leaders of member states think Turkey should not be an EU member because it is an Islamic country. What do you think?
Egemen Bağış: Turkish society did not convert to Islam recently. When it applied for membership it was a Muslim country. Besides that, Islam is a reality of the EU. Ten percent of its population is Muslim. Arsonists who set cars on fire were young Muslims born in Europe, but who felt they had been treated as "outsiders". They should be given the right message, as should the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world who are closely watching the EU for its decision on Turkey's bid. It is important to give the right message to the Muslim world, and Turkey is the right message.
There are some claims that Turkey is shifting its axis towards the East, and that this shift is also distancing it from Europe. Is it the case?
Bağış: Turkey's main direction is towards the West and the EU. It certainly strengthens and consolidates its relations with all its neighbours – with Greece, Russia, Georgia – and it takes the initiative in all regional issues. In all these countries and regions Turkey projects European values. However, only its relations with Muslim countries are highlighted. On the contrary, isolating some countries and regions means a concrete shift in axis on the basis of international values. For example, the Iran case. Trying to implement sanctions creates walls, but if you break down the walls you will be able to convince them of a common future.
Turkey tried to form a diplomatic solution to the Iranian question. We try to use our good relations for the benefit of the rest of world. After months of talks and discussions an agreement was reached which is envisaging a swap of low enriched uranium for enriched. But the UN decided to impose sanctions. If Turkey had said yes to this, it would have meant denouncing its diplomacy. But by being against sanctions we kept the door open for dialogue, which [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine] Ashton is utilising today. But when the UN Security Council made the decision, we complied with it.
On the other hand, European countries and permanent members of the UN have deep and extended agreements with Iran, Syria and other regional actors in economic commercial and diplomatic areas. However, the Western countries' approach is not described as a shift of axis.
Can Turkey contribute to the EU?
Bağış: Turkey's full membership will be a win-win situation for Turkey, Europe and beyond. There is an economic crisis in Europe, but Turkey entered a gradual recovery period relatively quickly. It is Europe's sixth-largest economy, with an 11 percent growth rate. We adopted a new slogan: "Hold on tight, Europe, Turkey is coming to your rescue!"
Turkey's accession will increase the size of the European internal market as well as the competitiveness of the EU in the global economy, if you consider its dynamic 70 million population and the 1.5 billion consumers around Turkey. It is an energy corridor between Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.
Over 70 percent of the crude oil and natural gas reserves that the EU needs are in the areas surrounding Turkey. Turkey, in this picture, will join the EU not to become a burden but to take some of the burden from the EU and contribute to a union of leadership vision, diversity and unity. However I am having difficulty in understanding why Turkey cannot open the energy chapter when it holds such crucial potential to provide European markets with reliable and sustainable energy.
These chapters cannot be opened due to the Cyprus problem. What should the EU do to resolve the deadlock?
Bağış: Some founding members of the EU are hiding behind this beautiful island in the Mediterranean. What needs to be done for Cyprus is for the EU to implement its own decisions.
In 2004 the European Council unanimously decided to put to an end to the isolation of northern Cyprus, just like trading with Taiwan without recognising it. This would give me ammunition for opening my ports to [Greek] Cypriot vessels, which would mean the implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement, so the Council decision to block the chapters would be lifted. But only one of the 27 members of the EU is trading with northern Cyprus: southern Cyprus. It is not fair to leave them alone.
If EU countries start flights to northern Cyprus airport I will open all my ports and harbours to southern Cyprus. But if the EU council decision is not implemented, I will have a hard time doing that, because I come from a democracy, and people will feel mistreated on the Cyprus issue.
There are some claims that Turkey has lost its motivation for EU membership, and that as a consequence the reform process has slowed down. Do you agree?
Bağış: This offer is an insult because it does not exist. Being offered something that does not exist gives me a sense of being insulted. If one day some current members switch their status to privileged partnership, then we can start to discuss it.
Some experts are arguing that Turkey does not need the EU. Is this true?
Bağış: It depends on how you perceive the EU. If you consider it solely as an economic union, then Turkey does not need it that much. Turkey can realise its most important projects without the EU. If you consider it to be a cultural union, then the need is mutual. If you are thinking of it as a peace project, then to strengthen it, to keep it alive, is the duty of everyone – not only Turkey. Our expectation is not economic; we perceive it as a union of values, and this is why we want to be a member.
Interview: Ayşe Karabat
© Qantara.de 2010
Egemen Bağış (born April 23, 1970) is Turkey's current minister for EU Affairs and chief negotiator of Turkey in accession talks with the European Union. Besides representing Istanbul in parliament, he serves as the AK Party Vice-Chairman in charge of foreign affairs. Bağış holds Master's degree of Public Administration from Baruch College, New York.
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de