Facilitating Turkey’s entry to the European Union: Turkish diplomat gives his perspective on negotiations

Ambassador Volkan Vural served as chief adviser to the Turkish prime minister and as head of the permanent representation of Turkey to the United Nations. He was the first secretary-general for EU affairs and after his retirement, he is counselor to the chairman of Dogan Holding. As the first head of Turkey’s EU General Secretariat, and given the fact that you were one of the pioneers when the accession process started, are you satisfied with the progress in Turkey-EU relations since 1999? I am certainly happy with the fact that we are on the right track. However, on the other hand, I am a little disappointed that progress has been so slow. The opening of negotiations has not led to any significant acceleration of the process. There are obstacles, which prevent the negotiations taking place, but also there are psychological obstacles, which basically stem from some European countries, that still question Turkish membership, although the decision has already been made. This is not helpful for very coherent progress in Turkish-EU relations. The image of Turkey in EU member states. Do you think that some leaders of some EU member states have a discriminatory approach toward Turkey? Is there an inherent double standard? I would not describe it as double standards or discrimination. I would describe it as a sort of hesitation, and a reopening of old books every day. The decision of the Turkish candidacy was made in 1999, the negotiations started in 2005 and the decision for the opening of negotiations was made one year earlier. Everything is going according to a certain schedule and framework. To challenge the basic framework at this point and open it for discussion is not helpful. Some of the reasons for that approach are domestic politics. On the other hand, there are firm commitments on the part of the states. Therefore, I do not view this questioning as a very healthy exercise. It is not helping Turkey; it is not helping the European public. Instead, we should focus on the real issues, that is to say, the real difficulties in the negotiations, which we have yet to address. Which are? Agriculture: a huge subject. Turkey definitely needs major transformation, but we cannot do this alone. We need help in this particular area. So, we have to focus on the real issues, which will bring Turkey closer to the EU. The resolution of these issues will not only precede our accession, but will also precipitate the adoption of Turkey by the EU. We have some statements by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which France raises some issues in the opening of new chapters. Do you think this will become a big problem? I hope that President Sarkozy, in time, will come to a point of recognizing that Turkish entry into the EU is not only in Turkey’s interest, but also in the interest of France. I think he is capable of understanding this process, but he will probably need time to adjust the electoral campaign speeches to the reality of life. Do you think that, in accordance with President Sarkozy’s statements, calling for a «Mediterranean Union» will work in the future? Do you think that this union will give a voice of expression to Turkey? The whole idea of Mediterranean cooperation is a very old concept. There is nothing new about it. We know the reasons why the Mediterranean region has not prospered, as it wished. Especially the southern part. We know the reasons why the Arab countries, northern African countries and Israel face a new era of cooperation in the Mediterranean. The problems of the Middle East prevent such developments. We are of course, as Turkey, a Mediterranean country and no one is going to admit or reject us from the Mediterranean. We are already there. So, it is not up to Mr Sarkozy to determine Turkey’s place. Turkey’s place has been set by geography and by history, not by anyone else. We do not accept his idea of Turkey being part of the Mediterranean but not part of the EU. This is unacceptable. For us, so-called membership in a Mediterranean role does not prevent membership in the EU, just as membership in the EU does not prevent our role in the Mediterranean. On the contrary, a Turkey which is a member of the EU could contribute more than anything else to the development of cooperation in the Mediterranean region. Why? Because the southern Mediterranean is basically dominated by countries of Islamic faith. And there, they will see another country, which is predominantly Muslim, as a member of the EU, with a successful democracy and human rights’ record; then they will find certain guidance from this role. They will have Turkey as a model. Therefore, I believe if President Sarkozy wants to develop the Mediterranean region, his first objective should be to facilitate Turkey’s entry into the EU. Otherwise he will send the wrong message to the Mediterranean. They will feel that Turkey has been discriminated against because of religion. Turkey’s EU view You were a member of the Convention for the Future of Europe. How do you see the institutional reforms now in the EU, given the fact that the European Constitution is coming to a stalemate and furthermore, if we assume that Turkey will enter the EU, is it going to support a more political or a more economic Union? Basically, from the very beginning we were interested in a political EU. Of course, economy is the essence, but without a political European Union, I do not think we can achieve anything. So, unlike the UK, we are in favor of a political union. As to the constitutional reforms, I think there is a need for legislative transformation, but the present draft constitution was not explained well to the public. It was too long, too detailed. So, I think the new exercise to redraft or change the constitution, making it more acceptable to the public, is understandable and we are in favor of it. How do you see these efforts on the part of the Catholic Church, or other churches to make Christianity one of the values of the EU? We do not deny the role of Christianity in the process and the formation of the EU. But of course, there were other religions. Judaism has played a role, just as Islam today plays a role. I think it would be wrong to attribute the whole thing to Christianity. It should be more neutral and more collective. Nevertheless, the inclusion of Christianity, as a historic reference, will not upset us. (1) This article will appear in the new edition of The Bridge magazine, available to-morrow to subscribers of this newspaper.