Turkey is a key country for the European Union. It is therefore disappointing that there has been so limited progress in the accession process over the last year. This is a source of frustration to both sides, as we are insufficiently exploiting the strong political and economic ties that already exist between us. I think both of us would like to see better results and are interested in achieving more.
Turkey and the EU have much to gain through increased integration and dialogue. This is why we want to develop a renewed and positive EU-Turkey agenda. In my opinion, this agenda must consist of five different elements.
First of all, the European Commission is ready to work more intensively with Turkey on its domestic reforms. The EU accession process can offer strong transformative powers that have proved to foster reforms in Turkey. Turkey today is a more democratic country than it was ten years ago, thanks to its EU perspective.
Secondly, I hope that Turkey will continue its work on the alignment of laws with the European Union acquis. Not only will further adoption of the EU acquis increase the level of protection for all consumers and citizens of Turkey, but it also will allow us, once the political environment permits, to progress rapidly in the accession negotiations.
Thirdly, our new agenda should seek to maximise the potential of our economic relations. Of course, through the customs union we already have a deep economic relationship. The possibilities this offers to business in Turkey and the European Union are huge. Let’s have a look together at how we can deepen and expand our trade and economic relations.
Fourthly, travelling to Europe should be made easier. My colleague, Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, and I are committed to work to further facilitate travel to the European Union for Turkish businessmen and students via multiple-entry and long-validity visas. We all agree how important this is. An important step would be that Turkey takes the necessary steps for the swift conclusion of readmission agreement related to illegal immigrants who transited through Turkey.
Lastly, I believe that we should strengthen the EU-Turkey high-level dialogue on foreign policy. This has proven a valuable forum to discuss our shared strategic interests, and is a tool that can bring further benefits to us both. Especially now, at a time where the stakes are so high in the region following the developments across Northern Africa and the Middle East, Turkey and the European Union need to support jointly the aspirations for democracy, human rights, stability and prosperity.
These five elements together make a strong EU-Turkey agenda, which would allow the European Union and Turkey to move closer together economically and politically for the mutual benefit of all our peoples.
Let me turn to challenges facing Turkey that I believe are currently blocking Turkey’s own development: constitutional reform, the Kurdish issue, and the Cyprus issue.
To bring real benefits to Turkey’s citizens, the comprehensive constitutional reform announced by Prime Minister Erdoğan after the elections in June needs to be inclusive, bringing together all political parties and civil society. The first steps, including the launch of a website to function as a forum for public contributions and the launch of an ad-hoc committee with equal representation of all parties in Parliament, are encouraging.
On the Kurdish issue, Turkey needs to push ahead with the democratic opening, which was announced in 2009 and raised great hopes for a peaceful and democratic resolution of this issue. The commission reaffirms its full solidarity with Turkey in the struggle against terrorism.
Finally, a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue, on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and in line with the relevant UNSC Resolutions and the principles on which the EU is founded, can only be found with Turkey’s support. A settlement would be more than worth the effort: it would contribute to stability in the Mediterranean, boost trade and growth in Cyprus for the benefit of both communities and give a new, fresh momentum to Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.
After a year in which expectations have not been fully met, this is an ambitious agenda for the European Union and Turkey together and for Turkey alone. However, it is also a realistic agenda which, if it is met, will bring real benefits to all of us and move Turkey closer to its objective of EU membership.
* Stefan Füle is commissioner for enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy.