Turkish president calls for refocusing on EU membership

Turkish president calls for refocusing on EU membership

Turkish president calls for refocusing on EU membership

Abdullah Gül, AA Photo

Turkish President Abdullah Gül has called on members of Parliament to refocus their attention on the EU membership process during a speech today to mark the opening of the new legislative term.

Gül stressed the importance of the EU membership process in leading the country toward reforms on the economy and in democracy.

“It is true that the perspective for EU membership has added impetus to the reforms implemented in Turkey to strengthen the economy and our democracy, raising the standards of living for our people,” Gül said.

The president asked all parliamentarians to continue taking steps for the membership process. 

“Although the process has slowed down, mostly due to reasons that have to do with the other party, we must continue to do what we must and be determined to take the right steps in line with the acquis,” Gül said. “Therefore, I expect the Honorable Parliament to, once again, give priority to EU harmonization laws and reforms and to translate them into concrete progress for all citizens."

The full text of Gül’s speech can be read below.

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

I extend my warmest greetings to all of you, the Distinguished Members of Parliament, on the occasion of the opening of the 24th Term and 3rd Legislative Year of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Every new day brings a new beginning and new hope. As the world experiences fundamental changes and massive upheavals are taking place economically, socially and politically, our eminent Parliament is the most outstanding institution upon which the Turkish people rely and which they have entrusted with the task of finding solutions to ongoing issues.

As has been the case since its foundation, it is the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to which our noble people have turned for guidance; your presence, contributions and efforts give them hope.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

The positive and negative developments that are taking place in the world, in our region and in our country and the issues that face us today inevitably make this legislative term a particularly more sensitive time than ever before.

It is at times like this that we must be able to adopt a joint position on more issues. To achieve this, we need to hold more extensive discussions, engage in multi-dimensional dialog and work together closely at every level.

Political parties are the backbone of democracies. The joint contribution of respected party leaders and politicians is more critical than any other effort in terms of creating the right environment in line with the developments.

Let us approach each other’s thoughts and concerns with empathy. Let us continue to voice our own truths, but in doing so, let us avoid an exclusionary style that can only result in pulling us apart from each other. Let us always remember the “power of the word.”

As we know from our previous experience and political history, the tone we set at the beginning of a legislative year is maintained throughout the year. We may become a slave to our own arguments in trying to make our words powerful up to a point where it may be difficult to make amends.

In my speech last year, I emphasized that this General Assembly represents a full range of colors and views and that this was the reason behind its strength. As a flaw in this picture, I would like to point out to the absence at this legislative year as well of some parliamentarians who have been elected to this legislative assembly.

It is my belief that everyone who has legally participated in the country’s elections, voted for by the people and won the right to carry the title of a member of parliament, should be a part of the legislative activities of this Assembly until a final judgment has been passed.

This Honorable Parliament is where all issues of our country and our people can be resolved. It is important that all ideas and colors in the country are represented here. It is important that this honorable institution be all-encompassing and that those whose views diverge from the majority find a safe place under this roof. Any missing element in the composition of this Assembly will serve no other purpose than that of repeating the practices of the past and delaying the much-needed solutions at this time even further.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

The last legislative year was a time in which events brought our country to the fore in many respects. The world’s most robust, seemingly invincible economies suffered a crisis; countries that had previous experience with crises became fraught with deepening issues.

We saw political structures in nearby regions considered to be forever constant and depicted as the unchangeable destiny of their people start to crumble. People began to shout out their demands for more rights and liberties. They showed that they would make every sacrifice to obtain these rights and liberties.

Because the process of change is still ongoing, the turmoil around us has an impact on Turkey as well.

We are all probably aware that Turkey is one of the “sources of inspiration” for the developments that have led to the fundamental changes occurring in the nearby geography.

As a democratic and secular country where the majority of the population is Muslim, Turkey stands out not only for the economic progress it has achieved, but also because of its efforts to make all its citizens happy, irrespective of their religious or ethnic background. “Becoming like Turkey” has indeed become an aspiration for some populations in the world today.

There is no doubt that these merits we possess have placed an additional responsibility on the country itself and especially on the shoulders of those who have the responsibility to run it.

It is for this reason that we must carry on with the same determination to further strengthen and institutionalize those qualities that make our country and system an “object of aspiration” as we work to ensure the perpetuation of our democratic gains.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

The changes taking place in geographies far away and nearby present Turkey with major opportunities, but also open the door to new problems.

We have resolutely implemented a long-term strategy of prioritizing stability and security and solving problems based on solidarity and mutual cooperation in the region. Despite the many obstacles that have appeared before us along the way, we have adhered to this policy unwaveringly, proving our sincerity to the countries in the region and to our neighbors.

Our relations with our neighbors are being tested at this time with new events. Two years ago, as a result of developments in which we had no part, the people of the authoritarian single-party regimes of the Arab countries tore down walls of fear for liberty, justice and better economic conditions.

This movement for fundamental transformation in the Arab world is a completely local struggle for rights, the rule of law and dignity.

The era of the Cold War is now long past. However, we still see strategic and tactical moves based on the Cold War mentality and methods being used in the Middle East today. It is therefore more important than ever before to be more careful, more cautious.

When popular movements first began in the Middle East, some countries that were accustomed to giving the whole world lessons in democracy hesitated. Today, there are insidious attempts on a global scale to overshadow events and divert the process of transformation. A recent example of this is the “film provocation” incident whose impact still resonates with the people. Such attempts at provocation will be made in the future as well. The Islamic world must continue on the road to democracy and development without falling into this trap.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

There is a bloody civil war killing hundreds of people every day in Syria. Some of the most magnificent cities of our ancient civilization continue to be ravaged and the people that we embrace continue to attack each other ruthlessly.

How can a country consume itself like this? But that is what Syria is doing today. We would not want Syria to consume itself. Our preference is on the side of a strong Syria, a country in which its people are happy and content.

Turkey’s policy vis-a-vis neighbors, including Syria, is well-known. We are in favor of establishing good relations with all of our neighbors.  We have tried to develop our relations with Syria with determination and against all obstacles. The growth of our relations have drawn our people together and contributed to their prosperity.

In this process, it was our belief that a policy of engagement would stimulate our neighbor’s appetite for democracy and provide encouragement for taking the necessary steps in this direction.

Even after the events started, we tried very hard and amicably to ensure that the Syrian administration maintained its initiative. We made every effort at every level. We did not act like countries distant to the region because we saw the inevitability what came to pass.

Today, we are face to face with a regime that, before the eyes of the world, responds to the legitimate aspirations of its people with heavy combat weapons including warplanes. We held a principled approach irrespective of differences in race, religion, sect or ideology. Our stance before the tide of history is fair and just.

From this rostrum, I would like to make an appeal to the international community. Stopping the bloodshed in Syria is our joint responsibility. Recent history has shown how such events turn into outright massacres when the international community fails to carry out its duty.

For this reason, these events should not be observed through a Cold War mentality or purely based on interest; we must all show courage and determination by adopting an approach that recognizes our responsibilities toward humanity and respects rights and justice.

At the same time, caution must be exercised. In matters of foreign relations, friends and enemies are commonly confused; feelings of revenge step in and jealousies are reactivated. We must therefore carefully examine the side effects of the policies we pursue and try to understand the threat perception of each country in the region.

National interests are fundamental to every country. Turkey’s national interests, too, are  fundamental to us.

Our greatest wish is that the regime to emerge when peace is restored in Syria represents all of the Syrian people and that extreme and vindictive actions will be avoided.

Our fundamental priority is to see new Syria maintain its territorial integrity and political unity, at peace with its own people and its neighbors. At the same time, the continuation of loyalty to and support of the Palestinian cause will be one of the most important sources of the legitimacy of new Syria.

There is no doubt that all of these developments have led to new and critical issues of security for Turkey along the length of our southern border. A significant flood of migration and a chaotic environment have misled the terrorist organization into seeking ways of taking advantage of the situation, resulting in an escalation of terrorist attacks.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

Terror continues to rob our country of lives, searing our hearts with sorrow. Showing its despicable face in Turkey as well as in other countries of the world, terror is not a political or ordinary crime; it is a willful act targeting human life and a crime against humanity.

In my speech to the Grand National Assembly last year, I had stressed that the terrorist organization is making a huge historical mistake by interpreting our determination to elevate the country’s democratic standards as a sign of vulnerability.

This time, the terrorist organization has chosen to exploit the transformation and chaos prevailing in the region, particularly in Syria, and is once again making a historical mistake. It has become a subcontractor for different groups whose purpose is to destroy peace in Turkey and prevent its development.

The fight against terrorism will be continued with the same determination and perseverance as before, in the steadfast belief in the rule of law and the fundamental principles of democracy.

There will be no tolerance towards terrorist groups and their ill-intent toward our people or the slightest compromise in our struggle against terrorism.

The Turkish Armed Forces and the security forces are reorganizing themselves to adapt to the new conditions in order to continue this fight against terrorism -- a task that they are performing with great dedication.

As a state and as a people, we have absolute confidence and trust in our Armed Forces and security forces.

I would like to take this opportunity to commemorate the heroism of all of our fallen soldiers, police force and civilians who sacrificed their lives for the peace and security of our nation as martyrs and our veterans with God’s compassion and gratitute.

In the fight against terrorism, our hearts beat as one -- as a nation, as the government, the opposition, the media and non-governmental organizations. Resolutely sustaining our determination and solidarity is vital for the success of these efforts.

In this context, all of us must uncompromisingly adhere to the oath we have all repeated in this Grand Assembly attesting our allegiance to the “existence and independence of the State, the indivisible integrity of our country and people and to sovereignty that rests unconditionally with the people.”

Under no circumstance may terrorism walk hand in hand with democracy. There is no democracy on the face of the earth that tolerates embracing, extolling or legitimizing terrorism.

Terrorism cannot be excused in any way because it targets human dignity which is one of the most important constitutional values and the right to life which is a fundamental right.

Our greatest weapon in the fight against terrorism as a nation is to keep maintaining our moral high ground and legitimacy before the law, both nationally and internationally.

Our democracy is the biggest safeguard of this legitimacy. In fact, democracy is the real target of terror. Turkey has been working to develop the channels of democracy and adapting itself to present conditions. Many brave steps that previously elicited trepidation have been taken and continue to be taken. Many changes are introduced with a view to the principle of equal citizenship in order to ensure the happiness of people and to provide access to opportunities offered by the state.

All citizens can benefit from the changes made in every area. Many prohibitions have been abolished. There are no longer practices that interfere with individual identity. Pressures on the use of mother tongue have been lifted. The possibility for learning a mother-tongue is part of the education system as of this year. Bureaucrats all over the country are aware that their duty is to serve the people.

All of these developments have been a source of discomfort to the terrorist organization. People whose field of liberty is expanding naturally support more stability and this has a constraining effect on the terror organization.

Therefore, it is important that our courage in raising our democratic standards is not broken. We should not fall into the trap of making a wrong turn because of terrorist attacks that have increased because of current circumstances and once again fall into a vicious cycle.

In this context, we must always remember that the place to solve all problems is the Parliament and we must resolutely continue our efforts to draw up the new Constitution.

We should not submit ourselves to the least bit of pessimism because of the increase in terrorist attacks and loss of lives recently. Yes, terrorist violence has increased. Let us not forget, however, that it is also a fact that our country is experiencing its strongest time in the history of the Republic in terms of democratic standards, economic progress, political stability as well as military and soft power.

Therefore, we have the strength, experience and accumulated knowledge to readily cope with issues although they may loom large before us.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

Lying at the root of our gains in foreign policy in the last decade is our increasing capability for wielding soft power. Our history, our long record of experience in state affairs, the characteristics unique to our people and our democratic identity always place us in the position of a “virtuous power” that is always on the side of the righteous and against the undeserving. We must also always keep in mind that our national interest remains key to all steps that we take.

We must work diligently to maintain the progress we have made in relations with neighbors as one of the most valuable achievements of our foreign policy. Ground lost in relations with some of our neighbors for reasons beyond our control should be seen as temporary and sporadic; our goal should always be to develop relations with neighbors based on the principles of friendship and mutual interest.

The resolution of two fundamental security dilemmas in the region must have priority in order to translate the historic transformation in the Middle East also experienced by some of our neighbors into security, stability and prosperity.

These two inter-related fundamental issues are the Arab-Israeli conflict and the growing trend in the danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region.

It is imperative to adopt a more holistic and comprehensive approach instead of an individual and subordinate one in order to solve both of these problems.

In this framework, I am of the opinion that the parallel implementation of the Arab Peace Plan which brings an end to Israel’s security concerns and a regional disarmament mechanism based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 dated 1991 in order to enable the elimination of Weapons of Mass Destruction from the region should be taken as the main reference points.

I appreciate the remarks of the US President Obama at the NPT Review Conference held in New York on 2010 supporting this idea and invite other major actors to take initiative on disarmament.

In this way, it will be possible to resolve the Palestinian issue, which hurts the sense of justice in the Middle East and around the world and causes instability and extremism, in a fair and lasting manner; and to eliminate tensions arising from the major threat perceptions of Iran and other regional countries.

Our relations first and foremost with the European Union and the United States and our NATO Allies based on common values should not be interpreted solely as a foreign policy and security choice. These relations bear testimony to the political, democratic and economic characteristics of our country and play a significant role in terms of increasing our security and democratic and economic development.

Furthermore, I believe that the continuation of the recent diplomatic and economic activism of our country on all continents is necessary in order to maintain the rising profile of Turkey in world affairs and to expand our national interests.

We must continue to strengthen our multi-dimensional foreign policy as part of our growing relations with China, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific countries and most importantly with our neighbor and major trading partner Russia.

We must also maintain our focus on relations with the brotherly Central Asian Turkic Republics and the Islamic world while continuing to devote greater commitment and attention to the Cyprus cause.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

Today, western economies are fighting a major crisis and the European Union is looking inward in an effort to compensate for some of the shortcomings arising from its internal structure. Be that as it may, no crisis lasts forever. Many crises came to an end since the Great Depression in 1929 and many countries rose from these crises stronger as a result of a “creative destruction” process.

It is true that the perspective for EU membership has added impetus to the reforms implemented in Turkey to strengthen the economy and our democracy, raising the standards of living for our people.

Although the process has slowed down, due mostly to reasons that have to do with the other party, we must continue to do what we must and be determined to take the right steps in line with the Acquis. Therefore, I expect the Honorable Parliament to, once again, give priority to EU Harmonization laws and reforms and to translate them into concrete progress for all citizens.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of the Parliament,

Last year, the most important item on our national agenda was the making of a new constitution. The time for the completion of this highly anticipated constitution and fulfilling the expectations of the nation is the legislative year inaugurated today.

The preliminary work to include the suggestions of large masses and civil society was completed last year. I am following closely the work carried out by the Parliamentary Commission made up of equal number of members from all political parties represented in the Parliament.

The time has come to put this effort into words in the form of a common text. The text that will emerge must include common views upon which there is agreement to the greatest extent possible. I am aware of the difficulty of achieving hundred per cent agreement on such a fundamental text as the constitution.

We must enact a new citizenship contract through a freedom based constitution that guarantees rights and freedoms for all and does not exclude anyone.

In this process, the discussion of many issues and different constitutional systems and their advantages and disadvantages is a healthy discussion.

There are examples of successful implementation around the world for these systems as well as other examples with serious challenges in implementation. The important thing is to take the practice around the world into consideration and discuss all aspects in their entirety.

At the end of the day, we must, as soon as possible, prepare a constitution that will advance our nation; expand fundamental rights and freedoms; reinforce the unity and togetherness of our people  and institutionalize our democracy.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of the Parliament,

In our country today, everyone has the freedom to freely express their views. If there are shortcomings or wrong practices or instances which harm our democracy, then these must all be removed without delay.

There should be no doubt or concern in anyone’s mind that Turkey is a democratic state respecting the rule of law. We should not allow efforts in the domestic and international public opinion to unfairly cast a shadow over achievements in this area.

Countries where democratic rights and freedoms are more fully exercised hardly ever run into difficulty. On the other hand, countries with few rights and freedoms and are not democratic suffer most. Thankfully, Turkey today has a certain level of democratic maturity.

The reputation of a country grows when its writers, thinkers, opinion leaders are able to share their views without fear. In the same way, it is fundamental that journalists, newsmen and members of the media as a whole should face no obstacle in fulfilling their responsibility for informing the public. No one should be imprisoned because of expressing their views through the media. A clear distinction must be observed between those who incite violence and those who express an opinion.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of the Parliament,

Fundamental democratic principles such the rule of law, transparency and accountability make countries stronger. Focusing on these principles during critical times will add to the strength of our efforts and drive away all types of abuse and dirty propaganda.

Therefore, we must act with enough courage to remove all doubt and suspicion in order to preserve and improve the reputation of our institutions.

We must never make deeply-saddening events and misfortunes into a vicious cycle of domestic polemics; to the contrary, we must hold the issue in the balanced merits of scrutiny and accountability.

Such behavior is not a weakness, but a source of strength for our country and institutions.

Mr. Speaker,

Esteemed Members of Parliament,

The recent history of the Turkish economy is full of crises that hurt all fundamentals of the economy leading to major losses every single time. These times of crises have shown that our economy was always vulnerable and besieged with weaknesses.

Our country suffered its deepest economic crisis in history in 2001. As a result of the effective measures and comprehensive reforms which were implemented in the aftermath of the crisis, the economic trend has been one of steady growth and regular development with the exception of a few years.

In addition, the Turkish economy has proven resilient and flexible in face of the ongoing crisis which began in 2007 and deepened in 2008 becoming the biggest crisis the world has known in the last century. The reforms that were carried out protected us, this time, against external shocks.

Despite these difficult times, the Turkish economy grew approximately five times faster than the EU average in the last decade and this was an employment generating employment. The greatest share in this success belongs to the hardworking Turkish nation and to the Government and those managing the economy for their prudence and the correct policies implemented.

Unfortunately, we cannot say that this enviable economic performance appreciated by the rest of the world is sufficiently appreciated and considered in our country. We must be cognizant of the pain and difficulty suffered by the citizens of the strongest countries in Europe.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of the Parliament,

Global economic success in this day and age is possible through a sustainable growth trend and a stable economic environment. We must also remember that the results we desire may be achieved not by instruction, but only by pursuing the right policies.

These two concepts, in other words, sustainability and stability are also closely linked and inter-related.

I would like to emphasize that we should not be contented with the temporary achievements of current policies; we must not lose sight of the strategic vision for implementing medium to long-term structural reforms for a stronger structural economic foundation. We have fallen in this trap in the past and the consequences are well-known to us.

We have succeeded in resolving chronic problems because of the decisive steps taken in these two areas in the past term. In this process, there has been significant decrease in nominal and real interest rates in parallel with the curbing of the inflation rate. In short, our national budget was relieved of its debt burden and resources for growth and development were created.

We must achieve the same success in breaking the vicious cycle between growth and the current account deficit. Our goal should be to achieve high growth without a current account deficit and without distorting price stability and financial stability.

We need to achieve high growth rates in order to close the income gap with developed economies and to move to the next level from a medium income country. The current global economic environment grants us the historic opportunity for doing so.

I would like to state that I am very pleased to observe that medium to long-term policies are prepared with this view.

On the other hand, I remember calling to your attention last year certain matters about breaking the chronic link between growth and the current account deficit in the medium and long term and eliminating the structural defect that pushes industry into dependence on outside sources for raw materials and intermediate goods.

I would like to underscore that I find the steps taken to initiate effective and comprehensive policies on these matters quite promising.

While applauding the achievements attained in the area of the economy, I do find it necessary to draw your attention to some points and voice some concerns.

In an outward-oriented economy, monitoring developments abroad is as vitally important as keeping track of domestic developments.

Over-confidence and complacency are sentiments that administrators of the economy should always avoid.

It should not be forgotten that fiscal and monetary discipline are the important reasons behind the economic achievements so far. It should be remembered that any slackening in this area will lead to irreparable damage. Additionally, we must pay a lot of attention to our priorities in public spending at this critical time.

The most important factor in this success is, without doubt, our educated human capital. In this context, the keyword for the future should be “productivity”.

The fundamental elements to accomplish the goals of the economic program are, first and foremost, education and scientific study, research and development, and the pursuit of innovation. They should continue to be our primary priority.

Mr. Speaker,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,

We entered the 21st century as a country grappling with its issues, uncertain about how it would tackle the problems ahead. There were even many who referred to Turkey once again as the “Sick man of Europe.”

However, we are a strong country where people have faith in their country and a country that can contribute to a new order in a changing world.

We are growing more prosperous and seeking ways of equitably distribute this wealth. We are engaged in an effort to solve our problems through discussion and debate in a democratic environment. Turkey today is a country admired by those on the outside and one to be proud of for those inside...

This has been made possible through major contributions by all political parties including the government and the opposition and of course by the Honorable Grand National Assembly as a whole.

It is without doubt that many important domestic and international issues lie ahead. We cannot turn a blind eye to them. However, we have more power, will and experience today to overcome these problems than ever before. I must reiterate, then, my belief that the future of the Turkish nation and Turkey will be brighter and more radiant in every way.

In closing, I would like to offer my respects to the memory of Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and all of the other deceased members of our Esteemed Assembly. I pray to Mighty Allah and express my hope that the new legislative year will bring goodness and prosperity to the people of Turkey.