NEWS

Credibility at stake

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly expressed his opposition to Turkey’s accession. What is the view of the European Commission? Firstly, all the member states unanimously agreed to begin negotiations with Turkey. We decided to begin negotiations, not to accept Turkey as a member of the EU. Yes, but when most countries begin negotiations they know that these will end at some point. I reiterate that we decided to begin negotiations. Let us be frank. Turkey is not ready to be a member of the EU and the EU is not ready to accept Turkey as a member. Neither tomorrow nor the day after tomorrow. Personally I believe that it is a question of credibility for the EU. Whatever we adopt unanimously creates a commitment. If we adopt the principle that every time there is a change of government in one of the member states, our previous commitments may be changed, I am sorry to say, but that endangers our credibility. In that case, when one day we find ourselves holding talks with the USA, with China, Russia or anyone else, we’ll be asked: Are you sure that if a new government is elected, nothing will change? So with all due respect for the views of President Sarkozy, I would like to ask France and all member states not to change the decision that was reached collectively, to continue with negotiations. We should be strict about abiding by all the conditions that have been set and, at a later stage, we and our Turkish partners will decide whether Turkey will or will not become a full member of the EU. Good cooperation How has your cooperation been with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Generally speaking, our cooperation has been good, but there have been a few problems. Precisely because of those problems, there was a proposal last December to postpone the negotiation process. However, Turkey has undertaken certain reforms and I truly believe that it is in the interest of all concerned to have a modern Turkey, with respect for freedom of religion, separation of state and religion, with equal rights for men and women and respect for civil authority over the military. These are principles which we set in the EU and every member has a duty to abide by them. Recently the EU reached a compromise agreement to go ahead with a Reform Treaty. Some claim that all 27 member states will not be able to proceed at the same pace, now that we have a multispeed Europe. Personally I am very optimistic. Things have happened over the past few years that allow for that optimism. After the negative results of the referendums in France and the Netherlands we now have an agreement on a Reform Treaty, a clear indication that the EU can function with 27 members. I believe we have to try to maintain that, for if there is a union separated into groups of first and second class countries, it will no longer be a union. Of course, there can be some flexibility, but in a specific, mutually agreed framework. Therefore, I am clearly in favor of a new, enlarged Europe and our efforts to keep it workable. Doesn’t the need for unanimity among 27 members create problems? Not necessarily. I think we can achieve more now than when the EU had only 12 members. Today the US, Russia and China have more respect for us because we are a powerful union with a population of about 500 million and are the main trading power in the world. Therefore I am not as pessimistic as some others. As 27 members we reached a decision on the budget for the next seven years. We have reached agreements on energy policy and climate change. We have solved many problems. Opposing division I do not agree with those who focus on individual issues. I believe that the EU is finding its way and the idea of separating into many speeds has no future. The latest, unequivocal stance on that issue was made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and it is important that Germany has taken a position opposing any idea of division. A union is something more than a unified market, it is based on a process of political integration, alliance and solidarity. Therefore we should avoid any idea of separation between large and small member states, rich and less rich or poor, old and new members. Will you seek a second term? I can’t answer that question, because first of all it doesn’t depend on me and secondly because I do not want to look that far ahead. I am doing the best I can and I love what I do. I am deeply Europhile. I come from a generation for whom Europe was synonymous with freedom. Until the restoration of democracy in my country, Portugal, in 1974, there were no basic freedoms, such as freedom of the press. For me, accession to a unified Europe was the fulfillment of a vision. So to be contributing today from this position toward the integration of Europe is an important challenge that is an honor for me.