A farewell to Turkey
MARC PIERINIThe week I came to Turkey, the European Commission adopted the 2006 Progress Report on Turkey, which led to the freezing of eight negotiation chapters. A pessimistic observer could argue that the accession process has gone downhill ever since. On the contrary, I would argue that immense progress has been made in Turkey and between Turkey and the European Union.
In a nutshell, the existing policies form an impressive relationship:
- The EU-Turkey Customs Union has expanded trade to 100 billion euros and has resulted in the complete integration of the top segments of the Turkish industry in the EU. Renault, Siemens, Bosch, Mercedes manufacture and research in Turkey. More generally, the EU provides more than 80 percent of foreign direct investment inflows to Turkey, creates businesses and transfers technology;
- EU pre-accession programs have reached impressive numbers: 350 projects, 1,100 contracts with a total cumulative value of 3.2 billion euros. These programs help modernize Turkish institutions and align policies with EU standards. The projects cover a vast array of domains, from food safety to medicine certification, from children’s rights to women’s shelters, from human rights aspects in gendarmerie procedures to the training of military judges and prosecutors;
- EU education programs such as ERASMUS or LEONARDO currently benefit some 40,000 citizens of Turkey each year. EU students doing their ERASMUS year in Turkey are now 4,000 every year. There is therefore a very substantial interaction between Turkey and the EU in the educational domains. The same goes for projects in the cultural field which bring together people, artists and intellectuals without interference or political considerations;
- Even in the most sensitive areas, work is in progress: the EU and its member states have vastly improved their counter-terrorism cooperation with Turkey, with new EU specialists working from Ankara with the Justice Ministry and with concrete action. Similarly, work is under way to facilitate visa delivery to citizens of Turkey.
Equally significant for the future is the fact that the EU remains the anchor for economic and political reform in Turkey. Taking a look at the way experts are working on the new constitution or at the renewed commitments made by the Turkish government on Dec. 18 in the context of the Reform Monitoring Group concerning judicial reform or freedom of expression show how central the EU accession process remains in Turkey. The EU will follow up on these issues.
The drafting of a new constitution is seen by the European Union as a central piece in the political reform process in Turkey. The creation of the parliamentary committee with equal representation of the four parties of the Grand National Assembly and its initial work are in themselves remarkable achievements.
This is a truly unique opportunity to provide the citizens of Turkey with a global framework setting their rights, to organize the coexistence between different lifestyles, to give a general guidance for the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue. This is why the EU authorities, and most recently the president of the European Parliament during his visit to Turkey, have strongly encouraged the four political parties to continue to strive for consensus. No doubt, the challenges are many. But the benefits would be of historical proportions.
By the very nature of the job, the EU ambassador goes around the country, visits EU-funded projects, talks to the people and has the privilege of enjoying the warm hospitality (together with some tough questions) of every corner of Turkey.
This allowed me to witness the impact of environmental projects in Kuşadası, Çanakkale or Nevşehir, the youth’s enthusiasm around the “Yollarda”* (On the Road) literature project in Trabzon and Şanlıurfa, or take part in animated discussions with academics and think tanks in Istanbul.
As demanding as the job was, it was immensely rewarding, especially as I could count on the hard work of my exceptionally talented team and the highly professional Turkish administrations we work with. But beyond the official aspects of the profession, it was by travelling and meeting so many citizens that I got to understand (at least I hope) and appreciate the beauty and energy of this vast and diverse country.
For this, I am grateful.
Ambassador Marc Pierini was the head of the European Union Delegation to Turkey from Nov 7, 2006, until Dec 23, 2011. The EU delegation to Turkey is the largest in the world and its 140-strong staff manages, together with the Turkish institutions concerned, the largest EU financial program in the world.