Turkey and the borders of Europe- seminaari, avauspuhe, Helsingin yliopisto, 15.10.2004

Opening Address

Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This autumn carries special significance with regard to the relationship between Turkey and the European Union. Last week, the Commission published its regular report on Turkey’s progress towards accession and its recommendation. The European Council in December will discuss the recommendation and make its decision on the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey.

As you know, the Commission clearly recommended the opening of accession negotiations based on Turkey’s progress in the fulfillment of the Copenhagen political criteria.

As it happens, right before the start of this seminar this morning, the Finnish Cabinet Committee on EU Affairs finalized its position on the Commission’s recommendation.

We found the Commission’s recommendation very realistic. It records the progress made in Turkey at the same time clearly drawing attention to the remaining work. It also answered to many of the concerns that have been put forward by the Member States.

The Finnish view is very close to that of the Commission. There is no doubt that Turkey has made substantial progress in fulfilling the Copenhagen political criteria, and we think that the time has come for the EU to decide to open the accession negotiations with Turkey. We hope that the December European Council will decide on a date for the opening of negotiations.

However, we also share the Commission’s assessment that much still needs to be done.

Let me in this context elaborate on three aspects of the Copenhagen political criteria which are of special interest to Finland and which we have followed very closely.

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The first item concerns human rights and the protection of minorities. Human rights are a key priority in the Finnish government’s foreign policy. Finland works actively for the strengthening of human rights worldwide through the EU and international organizations as well as through bilateral dialogue with different countries.

Finland and Turkey have been engaged in open and comprehensive human-rights dialogue. At the governmental level, the issue has been discussed in bilateral meetings and, at the grassroots level, Finland has supported various Turkish non-governmental organizations in their work to promote the respect for human rights. Examples of projects that have been financially supported by Finland include collaboration with the Human Rights Association in order to publish a handbook on human rights for teachers and students, a human-rights seminar for law practitioners in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, and two projects with the women’s organization Kamer to set up a women’s and children’s centre in two Kurdish cities. These projects have also provided us valuable firsthand information on the ground.

In terms of the basic structure, it is clear that Turkey has managed to develop into a society where the fundamental aspects of human rights are fully respected: among others, the death penalty has been abolished under all circumstances, gender equality has been strengthened, and the supremacy of international agreements over internal legislation in the area of fundamental freedoms has been recognized.

However, in our view it is important to also note that the work is not finished yet. The implementation of the reforms in a manner that is reflected in the everyday life of all Turkish citizens requires further efforts. We are particularly concerned about reports of continuing torture and ill-treatment in spite of the government’s evident policy of zero tolerance. Another cause for serious concern is violence against women.

As regards the freedom of expression, the situation has also improved significantly but still, in a number of cases, journalists and other citizens are prosecuted even for expressing non-violent views.

In terms of the protection of minorities, we welcome the amendment to the Constitution lifting the ban on the use of Kurdish and other minority languages. The possibilities for the expression of minority cultures have been expanded, including language instruction and radio and television broadcasts. However, the preconditions for the full enjoyment of rights and freedoms by the Kurds and other minorities still need to be established.

It is also important that the freedom of religion be fully respected and that the secular nature of the Turkish state and all its institutions be enhanced.

As concerns the south-eastern part of the country, that is, the Kurdish areas, the situation has improved especially since the state of emergency was cancelled. Now the focus should also be turned to the socio-economic development of the area.

The overall picture of human rights is thus one of improvement but there are numerous outstanding challenges. In spite of the difficulties, the message we receive from Turkish human rights NGOs is very explicit: The EU accession process in itself has brought about major changes, and the process must be allowed to continue.

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The second aspect in the Copenhagen political criteria that we have taken a particular interest in is civil-military relations. It is obvious that Turkey must align the relationship between the civil government and the military with European practice.

We are encouraged by the increasing shift towards full control of the military by the government. This includes measures regarding parliamentary supervision of military and defense expenditures, and the appointment of a civilian as secretary-general of the National Security Council.

Still, to put it in the words of the Commission, ”the armed forces in Turkey continue to exercise influence through a series of informal mechanisms”. This is not acceptable in any European country and we welcome the public debate that has been launched in this area.

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The third aspect of special interest is the rule of law. We can see that the eight legislative reform packages combined with the two major constitutional reforms have brought a substantial convergence in Turkey towards European standards.

The independence and efficiency of the judiciary have been strengthened. A very visible change is that the State Security Courts have been abolished and new specialized courts have been established. Legal amendments have improved the right of defense.

We are pleased to note that judges and prosecutors are provided training opportunities, including training in the European Convention on Human Rights. This has resulted in an increasing number of cases in which the Convention and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights have been successfully applied.

The principle of the independence of the judiciary is enshrined in the Turkish Constitution. However, it is to a certain extent still undermined by several other constitutional provisions.

In its recommendation, the Commission underlined certain legislative measures that need to be seen through in the near future. We share the Commission’s view. The basis of further progress lies in the adoption of a legal foundation in the spirit of the reforms.

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Joining the EU is only partly about aligning legislation and complying with directives. More importantly, it is about joining a community of values and about a common European identity. For Finland, joining the EU manifested confirmation of where we stand in the world, where our frame of reference is to be found.

This is an aspect of the EU membership that, I believe, we share with Turkey. Through the decades, the Republic of Turkey has shown a strong European orientation. Throughout the coming negotiation process it is our task to assist and support Turkey in affirming its European identity and finding its place among the European family of nations.

This requires time. An estimate according to which it will take about ten years before Turkey is a member of the EU is a realistic one. This should be seen as an opportunity for both parties: for Turkey, to prepare for its new role as a member, and for the Union, to prepare for an enlargement which in many ways will be different from the previous enlargements.

During these years, the discussion on the borders of Europe will undoubtedly intensify. It has been said that Turkey is a borderline case – part Europe, part non-Europe. However, physical borders should not be the decisive argument in this discussion. Values form our thinking, and values should be the centre of this discussion. For Turkey, a clear affirmation of common European values is the key issue, and for the EU, the strengthening of the inclusive aspect of our common values is equally important.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Discussion and dialogue are key elements in the quest for common values. In its recommendation the Commission also called for a ”substantially strengthened political and cultural dialogue bringing people together from EU member states and Turkey”. This seminar is an excellent example of such a dialogue, covering a broad range of issues of mutual interest. I hope it will be the beginning of sustained dialogue between Finland and Turkey and lead to intensified cooperation in many fields.

Turkey and the EU are about to embark on a new phase on our common journey. This part of the journey will certainly be very challenging, but it also opens up the prospect of rewards for both parties. We know from experience that fulfilling the obligations of membership of the EU is a major task. The commitment of the Turkish government and the strong wish of the Turkish people to join the European Union are a solid foundation for their way forward.

Thank you.