Why Turkey and the EU must become closer

By Foreign Minister of Estonia URMAS PAET
and Foreign Minister of Sweden CARL BILDT

The strategic decisions on enlargement to be taken by European leaders in the coming days are about the kind of Europe we want to create. Is it a static Union turned inwards focusing on its own integration capacity? Or is a Europe looking outwards to the rest of the world ready to take on global challenges and global competition? Does the EU see the merits in building a wider community of stable, prosperous democracies or will we keep our neighbours at arms length?

The EU needs its success stories.  At a time when the Union needs to reconnect to its citizens and show the concrete benefits of European cooperation, enlargement should be proudly  displayed as one of the EU’s greatest achievements. And the benefits of continued enlargement must be carefully analysed.

Few people disagree that enlargement has peacefully united much of Europe after generations of division and conflict. It has brought further stability, democracy and prosperity to the continent. The prospect of membership has acted as a catalyst for reform in many countries. Spain, Portugal and Greece threw off one-party rule and began to entrench democratic institutions during the 1970s. The prospect of EU membership acted as a powerful motor for change. In the 1990s, as the countries of the Balkan region and Central Europe emerged from the shadows of communism, the EU again drove a similar process.

We have created the largest single market in the world and a win-win situation for all EU-member states. Growth and living standards in the newest member states  are blooming, while the old member states can enjoy a continued surplus in their trade balances with these countries. Three quarters of the investments in the new member states come from the older member states leading to production gains and increased competitiveness of European companies on the  global market.  Air pollution in the new member states have decreased 60-80% with clear environmental gains in neighbouring countries. The challenges of cross-border crime, drug trafficking and climate change are topics that can be efficiently tackled on a European level.

In short, the virtues of past enlargements can hardly be questioned. But what about the future? Enlargement skepticism is said to gain ground in Europe. It is no secret that enlargement skepticism is strongest in relation to the prospect of EU accession by Turkey. We argue -on the contrary - that a Turkish membership offers direct benefits to the people of Europe.

Europe will be more prosperous, more effective as a global player and more secure with Turkey as a member. A Turkey with a secular, democratic government will strengthen the EU with the addition of over 70 million people and a single market extending across one continent. Turkey's economy is one of the fastest growing in Europe; it is already a major market for European Union exporters. Turkey's geographical position is of vital strategic importance. The EU already depends on Turkey for cooperation against terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal migration and increasingly for the security of energy supplies to Europe.

And maybe most importantly, at a time when many of our citizens are worried about a so-called clash of civilisations, membership negotiations with Turkey provides reassurance that differing faiths can work together for a common goal. By binding our nearest and largest neighbour with a predominantly Muslim population closer we build a wider circle of prosperous and stable democracies.

According to the latest Eurobarometer there is across Europe a great support for the general arguments for enlargement. 62% of the population says that enlargement is a good way to express the European Union solidarity to candidate or potential candidate countries. Hence, the widely broadcasted message of enlargement skepticism seems somewhat exaggerated.

When we - in view of the European Council in December - discuss Turkey’s relations to the EU, we should be clear about what is at stake. We all have an interest in the  continued European modernization and reform of Turkey. It is no coincidence that Turkey’s nearest neighbours in the EU – Greece and Cyprus – have  been among the strongest supporters of this strategic imperative.

Both the European Union and Turkey have responsibilities they must fulfill in regard of Cyprus. Turkey must open its airports and harbors to airplanes and ships from all member states including the Republic of Cyprus. The European Union on its part must honour its commitment of 2004 to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. There is no formal link between these two tracks, but in the political reality they are interdependent.

Today’s difficulties in these negotiations are a result of the failure in April 2004 to bridge the division of Cyprus. The so called Annan-plan that had the explicit support of the EU was turned down in a referendum on the Greek Cypriotic part of the island. However, the Turkish Cypriots, cheered on by Ankara, welcomed the plan. This was a brave step taken by the Turkish leadership.

In today’s situation it is important to underline the importance of continued negotiations with Turkey – in every way possible – as well as renewed efforts to find a solution to the division of Cyprus under the auspices of the UN. A reunification of  the island can only be realized by bringing Turkey closer to Europe – otherwise there is an apparent risk that the division becomes permanent.

The Finnish Presidency has done their utmost to find a solution that would enable the uninterrupted continuation of Turkey’s accession process and improve the situation of both communities in Cyprus, but see, at present, no grounds for an agreement between the parties.  

European leaders must now take their responsibility to overcome the current impasse. We need to give a constructive response that clearly states what each party has to do, but that does not deep freeze our relations with Turkey, nor close any doors to future enlargement.  We must ensure that Turkey continues on its path towards further democratic reforms, prosperity and stability. In all other scenarios there is too much to loose for Turkey, for Cyprus and for the EU as a whole.

"Die Welt", 5 December 2006