OPINION

Turkish FM sets out terms for Aegean

Turkey?s determination to improve relations with Greece is unwavering, insists Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in an exclusive interview with Kathimerini.

The top Turkish diplomat is hopeful that a comprehensive solution can be reached in the Aegean, indirectly leaving open the option of going to The Hague. However, he insists that the island of Kastelorizo cannot be part of such a solution because it is in the Mediterranean, not the Aegean.

He also defends the right of Turkish warships? ?harmless passage? through Greek waters near the coast, adding that Hellenic Navy vessels are welcome to do the same.

The Middle East is experiencing a period of popular revolts and unrest. How will this affect our region and the role of Turkey?

Turkey has deep-rooted cultural, religious and historical relations with the countries in the Middle East. We share the same geography with them and our destinies are intertwined to a large extent. We cannot think of our own security, stability and welfare apart from our neighbors in our immediate vicinity and beyond. Therefore, in accordance with our ?zero problems with neighbors? policy, we have been trying to maximize cooperation and minimize problems with these countries. While doing so, we have also emphasized the importance of countries in the region facing up to its problems, and the need for reform and democratic transformation.

Therefore, recent developments in the Middle East did not come as a surprise to us. Actually, they were long overdue. Change and transformation in the Middle East started two decades ago in the aftermath of the Cold War. These developments show that meeting the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of the region can no longer be delayed. In a globalized world, where people have become more interconnected than at any other time in history and new social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter have rendered censorship almost impossible, the frustration of people with the autocratic regimes ruling them started finding means of expression. Now people are able to access information regarding democratic societies with which they can compare their own condition, and, as a result, demand the political and economic freedoms that they believe will bring them a higher standard of living. The Tunisian experience proved to be a case in point, where a single human being lit the spark that shook the entire nation with regional and global implications.

I believe that the process is irreversible now. It implies a paradigm shift on a global scale. There are huge opportunities and daunting challenges involved. If the transition process can be managed smoothly, the regional sociopolitical landscape will certainly change dramatically. However, much remains to be done to ensure an orderly transition to a fully functioning democracy and a rationalized economic system. Otherwise, protracted turmoil and instability cannot be ruled out. Therefore the international community needs to make concerted and integrated efforts to help the countries in transition to build their institutions and rehabilitate their economies.

The peace, stability and welfare of these countries, with which Turkey shares a common past, is of paramount importance to us. Turkey has always been of the opinion that sustainable stability can only be ensured through guaranteeing the welfare, prosperity and security of the people. In order to realize these objectives, it is essential that the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people are duly protected. In this regard, we believe that governments that will assume power in the post-revolutionary period need to be responsive to the demands of their people. Turkey, in this respect, will always be ready to share its own democratic experience, technical know-how and institutional accumulation with the countries of the region.

Turkey has become more critical of Germany and France. Do you believe that the European Union has now decided to reject Turkey, and, if so, how will this affect your foreign policy?

Our accession negotiations continue with the goal of membership on the basis of decisions taken unanimously by the members of the European Union, including Germany and France. Commitments made by member states are legally binding. Therefore, we cannot change the rules of the game right in the middle. The Council Conclusions taken together with Germany and France constitute legal and moral obligations. It is inaccurate to claim that the EU has decided to reject Turkey. In fact, the bloc continuously reaffirms its strong support for taking the enlargement process forward in general, and Turkey?s accession process in particular. The member states are well aware of our government?s strong determination toward achieving Turkey?s strategic goal of EU membership. Apart from very few member states, EU countries strongly support Turkey?s accession process. Nevertheless, despite our efforts to make further progress, the pace of the accession negotiations does not correspond to the extent of our multidimensional and multilayered relations with the EU due to the political obstacles created by some members. These obstacles are not in the interest of those parties either. Turkey?s negotiation process should be pursued in a visionary and constructive manner. In today?s rapidly changing world, there is a growing need for a stronger Europe. I am convinced that Turkey has the potential and ability to help the EU take on its desired role and weight in global affairs, and advance the Union?s internal and external interests. The goals and objectives of our foreign policy are in harmony with those of the EU.

Has business between Greece and Turkey increased? Was there specific interest by Turkish business leaders after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan?s visit to Athens last year?

When we look at the statistical data of our economic and trade relations, we observe that the most concrete outcomes of the dialogue and cooperation between Turkey and Greece have been achieved in the field of economic and trade relations. For example, in the year 2000, the volume of bilateral trade stood at just $870 million. In just a decade it more than tripled and amounted to nearly $3 billion in 2010. Similarly, total foreign direct investment inflow from Greece to Turkey did not exceed $56 million until 2001. In the last decade it has risen 116-fold to reach a spectacular $6.5 billion in 2010. This is a concrete indication of how positively our business communities perceive the new climate of our relationship and how sure they are that there will be no turning back.

The Turkish-Greek business forum held during our prime minister?s visit to Athens in May 2010 displayed the enthusiasm of Turkish and Greek business circles to increase mutual cooperation in various fields.

After Prime Minister Erdogan?s visit to Athens in May 2010, business forums were held in Istanbul, Edirne, Thessaloniki and Komotini. Besides these, the 12th Meeting of the Turkish-Greek Working Group on Trade and Economic Cooperation and the fourth session of the Turkish-Greek Joint Economic Commission were held in Ankara last autumn. We are ready to further develop our economic cooperation in every field. We would like to see increased Turkish investment in Greece, which is far from satisfactory. Bilateral economic and trade relations can only develop mutually. If the necessary incentives are adopted in Greece this will certainly facilitate attracting Turkish investment.