Turkey expects big push from EU in ’13: Minister

Turkey expects big push from EU in ’13: Minister

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey expects big push from EU in ’13: Minister

EU Minister Egemen Bağış. DAILY NEWS photo

Ankara expects serious action from the European Union after the term presidency of Greek Cyprus ends in January 2013 to boost Turkey’s accession to the 27-nation bloc, EU Minister Egemen Bağış has said.

“Turkey should become an EU member before 2023. We don’t have the intention to wait until 2023,” Bağış recently told the Hürriyet Daily News, commenting on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call to the EU to make up its mind by 2023.

“No one should expect that the prime minister will show patience until 2023. I am talking as someone who knows very well the prime minister,” said Bağış.

What are we to understand from the prime minister’s call to the EU to make up its mind by 2023?

We say that before 2023 Turkey should be an EU member. We don’t have the intention of waiting until 2023. At the end of the Greek Cypriot presidency, we are expecting a serious move from the EU. The EU is in a state of mind that runs against its own interests. It should pull itself together and speed up the process with Turkey.

How should we read the fact that the prime minister has mentioned a specific date for Turkey’s EU accession?

His statement came as an answer to a question on whether Turkey will be a member in 2023.

So this is not to be seen as a deadline.

Not at all. No one should expect that the prime minister will show patience until 2023. I am talking as someone who knows the prime minister very well.

I read it as a strategy to force the EU to decide and take action on Turkey.

We already have such an approach. Turkey can no longer accept this type of behavior. There are certain political reasons, some countries have some issues and there is the economic crisis; we have shown tremendous patience. But the EU has to get its act together. It’s high time for the EU to revise its policy.

To what degree do you think Turkey is clear on its accession bid? Members of the Cabinet differed on whether the EU deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, for instance. Don’t you think some contradictory signals are going to Brussels?

There are many comments in Europe about Turkey as well. We don’t shape our policy in reaction to these statements. Different circles in Turkey can have different views. This is only natural.

But it becomes quite striking when those different views come from Cabinet members.

Several ministers of different countries in Europe or commission members make different comments about Turkey. We don’t look at these comments, we look at the decision of the [European] Council. We look at joint declarations. Look at the decisions of the [Turkish] Parliament. Whatever the Parliament does, it is all about EU reforms. In the course of one year, the Human Rights Commission has been established, and the law on the establishment of an ombudsman was endorsed. The third judicial reform package was [also] endorsed. They claim that Turkey has slowed down [in making reforms].

There is no country that is enacting EU reforms any faster. It is the EU which has slowed down. The EU just can’t digest Turkey; it cannot catch up with Turkey’s speed.

EU-bashing has become very popular in Turkey. Aren’t you bothered by this?

I am not bothered at all. This is a question of supply and demand. There is supply because there is a demand. Society is angry. Instead of society manifesting its reaction, it does not bother me to see messages that counterbalance the tension of society. It is the Europeans that should get a message from that. They should ask themselves, “What have we done to deserve this bashing?” I have said many times to the Europeans: “You’d better know the value of Turkey. If you don’t want to ask and start finger-pointing on who lost Turkey, you’d better pull yourself together and act.”

The EU has lost its credibility among Turks by not lifting the visas, by pointing to the Cyprus problem as an obstacle to Turkey’s accession while ignoring it when it came to Greek Cyprus’ membership, by not showing enough cooperation in the fight against [outlawed Kurdistan People’s Party] PKK terrorism and by not inviting Turkey to council summits.

If the EU is so unpopular with Turks, then the Europeans would naturally ask, “Why do you insist on accession when even your people do not want the EU?”

What Turkey does not want is mistreatment. The Turkish nation wants the same treatment applied to those which entered the EU before us. We have accepted the prescription. We have no problem with that.

So you claim that the Turks in principle want EU accession, but what about negative indications in opinion polls?

We clearly see this in our polls. Each time [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy speaks, the results go down 10 points, and they go back up 10 points when European friends of Turkey speak. It is emotional.

Turkey expects big push from EU in ’13: Minister

All crises come to an end some day, says Minister for EU Affairs
Egemen Bağış, adding: ‘I believe that when the crisis is over,
Europe will be the region with the highest level of welfare.’ DAILY
NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

Do you think Turks’ stance toward the EU is totally emotional?

At least here is an emotional dimension. But when it comes to time to decide, it will make all its calculations.

To what degree are Turks aware of the gains that come with EU accession?

The Turkish nation does not need to be aware of it every day. When the question of whether Turkey should enter the EU or not is put forward, they will be reminded of these gains. As of now, there is no need to show such effort.

So you claim society is not deviating from the target of EU membership.

Absolutely not.

What has the Arab Spring showed us as far as Turkey-EU relations are concerned?

Turkey is close to the countries of the Arab Spring to the [same] degree it is close to EU and it is influential in the EU to the [same] degree it is close to the countries of the Arab Spring.

Do you believe that the EU will come out stronger from the crisis?

All crises come to an end some day. I believe that when the crisis is over, Europe will be the region with the highest level of welfare.

The European Court of Justice is expected to take a decision this week about visa requirements with Turkey. Will this problem finally be overcome?

This is a political issue; not a matter to be solved through certain courts. EU leaders will one day come together and say “applying visas to Turkey is hurting us.” And they will decide to lift the visa requirements.

How close are we to that day?

When Turkish income per capita passes $15,000. It is not enough to be right; it is important to be strong. When our income per capita was $3,000, and we talked about lifting visa requirements, they laughed in our face. When it reached $11,000, they started talking about visa facilitation. Visas will be lifted when it reaches somewhere between $15,000 and 20,000.

You often use the metaphor of a dietitian for the EU. The dietitian seems to be very busy, neglecting to oversee Turkey’s diet.

The EU is not applying its own prescriptions.

Don’t you think Turkey has been breaking the original diet while trying to apply its own diet? It looks like the Ankara criteria seem to have fallen far [short of the] Copenhagen criteria.

It really does not look like that to me.


Egemen Bağış was first elected to Parliament in 2002 as a deputy for Istanbul.

In 2009 he was appointed as state minister for EU affairs and chief negotiator for accession talks, becoming minister for EU affairs and chief negotiator in July 2011 as part of the country’s 61st government.

Until 2009, Bağış was the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) vice chairman in charge of foreign affairs and member of the AKP’s Central Executive Committee.He directed the national and international relations of the party.

In the 1990s, Bağış was the president of the Federation of Turkish-American Associations in New York.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Resources Management from Bernard M. Baruch College of The City University of New York.