EU ‘should understand Turkey’s conditions on terrorism’
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Lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens would be a very significant - though long-delayed – development, according to Sedat Aloğlu, a former member of parliament who has long worked on Turkey’s prospective accession to the EU.
“It would show that the EU wants to establish closer relations with Turkey,” Aloğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News, describing the development of relations between Ankara and Brussels as a “win-win situation” but warning of the difficulty of getting the green light from the European Parliament.
How do you asses the latest developments, with the European Commission issuing a positive recommendation in favor of visa-free travel?
I find the decision of the Commission a positive but delayed development. Visa requirements should have been lifted much earlier and I blame the EU for this delay.
It also saddens me that visa-free travel has been linked to the recent refugee deal. Still, at the end of the day perhaps a positive outcome will come out of something sad. This is going to be a hot topic of debate within the EU. Visa-free travel will be considered a kind of “ransom” given to Turkey to stop the refugee flow.
How do you see the period ahead?
I expect the European Council to also give a green light for visa-free travel. The real problem will come with the European Parliament, because by its nature it is more populist. Its members prefer to focus on short-term issues, rather than the mid- and long-term interests of their countries or the EU.
But the future of the EU, and the future of Turkish-EU relations, should be managed with the vision of statesmen. The visions of statesmen were behind the founding treaty of the EU, which was a project of peace and a genuine project of partnership and civilization. The EU still has a huge chance to challenge Huntington’s theory of the “clash of civilizations.”
I said it in 2003 and I still believe it: Developing relations with Turkey will amount to a “second enlightenment” for the EU. Flourishing relations between Ankara and Brussels is a win-win situation. The EU should not see Turkey as a rival. So in the negotiation and voting process within the European Parliament, leading EU member governments should keep a very close eye on their parliamentarians. In fact, I’d also hope that the U.S. would lobby certain countries. Despite everything, the U.S. remains a country with great influence over the Western world.
Do you think recent political developments in Turkey, such as the expected change of the prime minister and government, to affect the process?
This is an issue dealt with between states. Governmental changes will not affect the process The EU should not use this change against the process. The Turkish government will fulfil the rest of the criteria.
What do you think Turkey should to do to secure a positive outcome from the European Parliament?
The Turkish Parliament should not leave all responsibility to the government. This is a national issue. It is above political parties. Our parliament, with all its members, should establish very close ties with the European Parliament. It would also be beneficial for all the foreign capital companies in Turkey to lobby their own countries. Representatives of civil society – such as the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey [TOBB], the Turkish Industrial and Business Association [TÜSİAD] and the Foreign Economic Relations Council [DEİK] - should start lobbying activities.
This has come to such point that, especially because of its link with the refugee deal, any problems with it will create certain outcomes that will be very hard to repair. We need to do everything we can to prevent such a possibility. In the event of a negative outcome [on visa-free travel] then the government will have the right to suspend the refugee deal.
Obviously there are many things we need to do to reach higher standards. But it would be much more useful if the rhetoric is based on positive criticism rather than negative criticism.
If a European Parliament MP asks, “Why should I say yes? What good will it do for those who voted for me?” What would you say?
There are no simple answers. Local politicians have to talk about daily issues, but here we are talking about a long-term vision, serving the peace of Europe and the world. Flourishing Turkey–EU relations would be to the benefit of all sides, both economically and socially.
But what would you say if that European MP insisted, saying they are afraid of a big flow of Turks coming to Europe?
Visa-free travel means freedom to travel, not freedom to work. It does not mean that Turkish citizens will start flooding to Europe and take Europeans jobs. EU countries should perform their controls properly so there are no illegal stays, but such fears in the past have been proven wrong. In any case, Turkish citizens are not so mobile.
The migration of Turks to Germany in the 1960s is a different thing, involving a number of cultural differences. But the situation of today’s Turkey is very different than it was the past.
What about European concerns over Turkey’s apparent slide into authoritarian rule. Does granting visa-free travel not mean supporting an anti–democratic government?
No. Visa-free travel should not be tied to democratic standards. It should not be right to make it conditional on democratic standards. If we want to be constructive, if we want to act as a friend, we need to get closer and put forward constructive criticism. Ever since the 1980s Turkey has been living with terrorism, which has revived recently. That is a major reason why we are facing difficulties in the transition to implementing universal standards, and why we are having setbacks in this transition.
We should not forget Turkey’s special conditions. I have always worked so that Turkey reaches the highest democratic standards. But as I said to a former EU enlargement commissioner, we shouldn’t use the term “democratization” for Turkey. Turkey has already accumulated plenty of democratic experience over the years. We should instead be talking about upgrading democratic standards for Turkey.
More important than becoming an EU member is walking on that road and reaching higher standards. What matters is for Turkey to reach higher standards through this partnership. We have shortcomings, but we can overcome them by getting closer to EU, not by moving away.
For example, recently I think we are headed in the wrong direction on the issue of lifting the immunities of certain MPs. The delimitation of immunities is very vague in Turkey, like nowhere else in Europe. A change to this is necessary and the change should be made in line with EU standards. This current issue of lifting MPs’ immunities could create trouble in the European Parliament. I wish we could leave it until after negotiations in Strasbourg.
But Europeans who have concerns about political Islam are wondering about whether the Turkish government, as well as Turkish society, wants to share EU values?
There has recently been a debate about secularism. The EU could argue that it is a truly secular body, rather than a “Christian group,” by developing relations with Turkey. European MPs should ask whether they really want Turkish democracy to consolidate? If so, then work for the development of relations rather than seeking excuses to break then.
What will be the consequences of visa-free travel for Turks?
Above everything, it would be a statement of intention. It would show that the EU wants to establish closer relations with Turkey and that, in turn, will make it easier for Turkey to respond to political expectations.
Do you share the criticisms of the deal from the perspective of refugees’ rights?
If there is any party to be criticized on this it is the EU, not Turkey. We are not the ones closing the doors. We welcome everyone who comes to our lands. The EU was not able to handle such an unusual flow. Extraordinary conditions require extraordinary measures.
There may be room for criticism of the deal, but we needed to start somewhere. Turkey has assumed a historic mission and made tremendous sacrifices, which are appreciated neither by the EU nor by the world. Leaving aside the visa issue, the EU should be much more supportive of Turkey. I hope that after some time the EU will endorse a healthier approach on the refugee issue.
Who is Sedat Aloğlu?
Sedat Aloğlu was born in Istanbul in 1950. After graduating from the Faculty of Business Administration at Istanbul University, he completed his MBA at the University of New Haven in the U.S. He earned a Ph.D. degree from Istanbul University in 2003 and received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of New Haven in 2009.
He has held several posts in the Feniş Group of companies since 1970.
He served on the board of the Istanbul Chamber of Industry (ISO) and on the executive board of the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK).
He was chairman of the Turkish Aluminum Industrialists Association (TALSAD) from 1985-1992 and chairman of the Turkish Section of the Turkish-U.S. Business Council from 1986-1992.
He served as vice chairman of the Economic Development Foundation (İKV) from 1990-1992 and as chairman from December 1992 until the end of 1995.
He was elected as a MP from Istanbul for the 20th term of the Turkish parliament and chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee during 1996-97. He was also a member of the European Council Parliamentary Assembly.
He returned to business and currently is the CEO of the Feniş Group.