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Georgia should share in Turkish delight 16 juin 2006

Posted by Acturca in Caucasus / Caucase, Economy / Economie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

The Messenger (Georgia), Wednesday, June 14, 2006

By William Dunbar

Almost twenty years after applying for membership in of one of the worlds most exclusive clubs, the EU finally opened formal accession talks with Turkey on Monday. In spite of a mixed reaction on the streets of Istanbul, where support for EU membership has fallen from 70 to 60 percent (thanks largely to Austria’s scandalous demand that Turkey be given some sort of second-class ‘partnership’), we should definitely be celebrating here in Tbilisi.

Though membership talks are likely to last for ten years, and though the process of reform will inevitably be torturous, there are many reasons to crack open a can of Efes in honor of Turkey’s hard-working Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

Georgia, in its National Security Concept, named Turkey a ‘strategic partner’ and the value of this partnership is now likely to increase. Ex-European Commission head Jaques Delors once infamously described the EU as « a Christian club », but Turkish membership in this era of ‘Islamophobia’ and Islamic terrorism is a hugely positive development. Most level headed (if slightly unoriginal) commentators in both Europe and Turkey have described Turkish membership as ‘a bridge between Islam and the West’, and the western integration of this large, powerful, secular and Muslim state is surely good for the world in general.

But, it is also good for Georgia in particular. With the forthcoming accession of Romania and Bulgaria, Georgia will have a sea border with the EU, but now the Turks are looking for pied-a-terres in Brussels too, direct EU engagement with Georgia can only increase. Aside from the economic opportunities that being a neighbor of the worlds largest free-trade zone is going to bring (Georgian-Turkish bilateral trade already stands at over 600 million dollars annually, and this is set to rise) there are other, even more important, vicarious perks.

For almost ten years there has been speculation over ‘the Turkish gate’ for hydrocarbons. The EU is trying to devise an energy policy which will focus on diversification of supplies, and as Russia continues to make courteous threats about « finding markets elsewhere » (as the head of Gazprom, Alexei Miller, warned audiences in London recently) and even starts cutting of supplies in the depths of winter, Turkey will be a central part of this strategy. This is great news for Georgia, which already transports oil (and soon gas) to Turkey.

Furthermore, it is just not in the EU’s interests to have unrecognized, ungoverned « black holes » on its borders. Not only does the instability they spread throughout the region endanger the energy supply lines, but the separatist territories are already transit hubs for drugs, arms, people, and even enriched uranium. Turkish membership will force even the most recalcitrant Eurocrats to sit up and take notice of the noisy neighbors. When Turkey does join, Georgia will be in the EU’s « near abroad »; this is bound to lead to the « internationalization » of the conflict-which is exactly what the Georgian government wants and needs.

Economic relations with Turkey deepening

By M. Alkhazashvili

Georgian-Turkish economic relations are developing very quickly. The newspaper Rezoansni quotes Turkish Ambassador to Georgia, HE Ertan Tezgori, as extolling the fact that « over the past two years the Georgian-Turkish relationship has reached a very high level. This is indicated by the two presidents’ mutual visits; the fact that in 5 months the Georgian Prime-Minister visited Turkey twice, and almost all senior ministers visited Turkey as well. »

In 2005 the trade between the two countries reached USD 600 million, but Georgia and Turkey are hoping to boost this to a mammoth 2 billion.

The vivid proof of the two countries increasing cooperation is the realization of strategic projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum natural gas pipeline.

On July 13 the gas pipeline’s official opening ceremony will be held, gas transport is due to begin next year.

Georgia’s and Turkey’s cooperation in new geo-strategic projects will continue. For instance, the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway is set to be built, and road infrastructure is also being improved. In 2003 13 thousand tracks entered Georgia from Turkey, in 2005 there were 27 thousand. Better roads and increased safety account for the increase.

Turkish investments are flooding Georgia, the reconstruction of Tbilisi and Batumi airports by Turkish companies, for example. Currently thousands of Turkish businessmen are in Georgia. Approximately 500 Turkish students are studying in Georgian universities.

Canceling of the visa regime between the two countries helped increase economic cooperation. In 2005 between 250,000 and 300,000 Georgians visited Turkey, this number is also likely to increase.

Finally, with Georgia desperately trying to market itself as a ‘European’ state, the Turkish accession talks must surely be a boost to morale. Prime Minister Nogaideli, who recently said Georgia was not going to push for EU membership owing to the latter’s « enlargement fatigue », may have been a little premature.


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