The country’s image abroad

If we go a little bit back to the issue of the reforms in Turkey, the EU Commission’s Progress Reports refer to some drawbacks since 2005, including Article 301 of the New Penal Code, the minorities issue and civilian-military relations. Which of those do you think should be a priority for Turkey’s reforms, taking into account that the new draft for the Turkish Constitution is currently being prepared? If I were advising the present government, which I am not at the moment, I would advise them to change, amend or completely take out Art. 301, because it has established a very bad precedent regarding the freedom of expression in Turkey and it has caused a lot of unnecessary problems, not because of the text, but because of its interpretation. So, my first priority would be to change Art. 301. But the draft constitution will address many issues, and I believe it will remove all criticism by the EU. But this will take some time. It will take at least a year for us to agree on a new constitution. So, as a matter of urgency, certain things which were highlighted in the Progress Report must be changed. Do you think that the victory of the AKP in July elections and the new president of the Turkish Republic will somehow affect EU-Turkey relations, or the image of secular Turkey abroad? No, I think the present government has from the very start committed itself to EU membership. They have been very sincere on that and during their last term they pushed for many reforms. The present government again committed itself to the EU process and it is preparing a new constitution with freedom in mind. Therefore, I think their activities are recognized by the EU as something positive for Turkish EU membership. In that respect, I do not have any problems. The problem is how to bring other sectors of society into this process, because the government sometimes expresses itself against the EU. The opposition parties must also make their contribution to the EU process and that is what, as a civilized society, we are trying to encourage. Do you think the recent crisis on Turkey’s southeastern borders will have a long-term effect on EU-Turkey relations? I do not think so. I mean the government objected to NATO involvement that could threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq or that could in any way hurt the neighbor. It has specified the objective as fighting against the terrorist organization, which is recognized as such by the EU. Therefore, it is limited in objective and we hope they will not be able to use this possibility, because this is our last resort to prevent terrorists infiltrating into Turkey. I do not think this will basically hurt Turkish-EU relations. But of course, depending on the scale of the activities and operations, it may create some problems. Regarding Greek-Turkish relations, we have seen some cooperation in the energy field and banking sector and an economic dialogue. There is a delay in bilateral talks about the issues that have been troublesome during past years. Do you foresee any progress in the near future? I think so. Bilateral relations with Greece are improving. A few years ago, no one in Turkey or in Greece would ever have imagined that a Greek bank would buy a Turkish bank. But this is normal life. I think it is a good sign, a positive element, which shows competence. As for the bilateral questions, which have been on the agenda for many years, they must be seen in the entire spectrum of problems including Cyprus. My feeling is that there is no question that we cannot solve bilaterally. I think together we have to solve the Cyprus question, because it poisons Turkey-EU relations, Turkey-Greece relations and to the regional situation. We must address the Cyprus question with urgency – we cannot leave it as it is. There is an unsolved problem, which must be addressed and Greece and Turkey must work together in the hope of resolving it. This article will appear in the new edition of The Bridge magazine, available to-morrow to subscribers of this newspaper.