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Turkey’s EU mission a source of inspiration 20 mai 2011

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Gulf News (UAE) May 20, 2011

By Egemen Bagis *, Special to Gulf News

Egemen Bagis writes: Nation’s accession to Europe will send a positive signal to the Arab people in search of a beacon of democracy and prosperity

As the wave of uprisings sweep over Middle East and Northern Africa, Turkey’s democratisation process coupled with its socio-economic transformation particularly in the last one decade, has been attracting extensive attention. Turkey emerged as a ‘source of inspiration’ to the pro-change groups of the region.

Historical ties with the countries of the region dating back to the Ottoman era contribute to Turkey’s popularity. Yet, the source of inspiration is rather about what Turkey symbolises today — that is, a strong regional actor with major socio-economic transformation backed up with democratic development.

The firm anchoring of Turkey within international structures has definitely strengthened the internal dynamics of the country. The orientation of Turkey in such organisations acted as a strong stimulus of the consolidation of democracy. Particularly in the last decade, Turkey has taken bold steps on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, privacy of individual life, freedom of religion, freedom of association. Death penalty has been abolished. Civilian-military relations have been normalised. Turkey of today has become a ‘beacon of democracy’ for those people who are trying to overthrow authoritarian regimes in their homeland.

On the economic front, the remarkable growth performance starting from 2002, as a result of sound macroeconomic policies and comprehensive structural reforms, made Turkey a centre of attraction for foreign investment.

The sixth largest economy in Europe and the 16th largest in the world, Turkey now has per capita income higher than several EU countries. Turkish economy is Europe’s fastest growing sizeable economy.

Driving force

The economic success of the recent years facilitated the socio-economic transformation of the country by improving the living standards of Turkish citizens. In the last 10 years, the number of hospitals, schools and highways has tripled.

The EU accession process has definitely been the driving force of the socio-economic transformation. Observing Turkey’s amazing socio-economic change, people of the region pose the question: « We have historical, cultural, religious similarities with Turks; why cannot we have a similar life-style, why cannot we have similar opportunities? » This mere question reflects the disappointment of the people explaining the protests at the streets of Middle East.

Turkey’s active foreign policy of the recent years made this democratic and economic source of inspiration more visible for the countries of the region. Turkey is the only country that can hold the chair of the Organisation of Islamic Conference and at the very same time pursue membership negotiations with the European Union. Turkey has been following a proactive foreign policy stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East and the Caucasus. Turkey’s ‘zero-problem, limitless trade’ policy with the countries of the wider region created a haven of stability. It has been a mediator between parties to resolve long-lasting problems of the region.

During the uprisings in the countries of the region, Prime Minister Erdogan was one of the first leaders in the world to urge the regimes to heed the outcry of the streets. Today, Prime Minister Erdogan’s reputation is stronger than ever in the wider region from Morocco to Afghanistan, from Egypt to Palestine.

Against this backdrop, the Arab transition brings to forefront once more the importance of the integration between Turkey and the European Union. The people, media, and governments of the Middle Eastern countries are carefully following Turkey’s EU vocation.

It is no surprise to come across a Moroccan taxi-driver in New-York or an Egyptian waiter in London asking whether Turkey will be a member of the EU someday. Turkey’s accession to the EU will send a positive signal to the Arab people in search of a beacon of democracy and prosperity. Moreover, millions of people that somehow feel marginalised by Western structures for centuries have an interest in this process.

In the Muslim world, the double standards Turkey has been facing raises questions on whether the EU is really a set of values or simply a narrow interpretation of a ‘Christian Europe’. It brings about the risk of sending negative messages to the reformist movements of the region and the questioning of the sincerity of the fundamental values of the EU.

Alienating Turkey from the EU track because of political short-sightedness of some member states will not only discourage millions of people who see Turkey as a ‘beacon of democracy’ and ‘source of inspiration’ for their own development and democratisation, but will also damage the credibility of the Union that aspires to be a normative power embracing and promoting universal values of democracy, cultural diversity and pluralism. It is for the EU to decide whether to become a genuine global power or not…

* Egemen Bagis is Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and chief negotiator.


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