Turkish Ambassador to the UK Lecture: “Turkey’s Security Perspective in its Region and the Relations with the E.U”

HE Mr. Yiğit Alpogan*

His Excellency Mr. Yigit Alpogan has been Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since July 2007. Prior to this, he was Secretary-General of the National Security Council of Turkey from October 2004 to July 2007 and Ambassador of Turkey to Greece from November 2001 to September 2004. Mr. Alpogan entered the Foreign Service in January 1968 and has held positions as Deputy Under -Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Director General for Bilateral Political Affairs, and Ambassador of Turkey to Turkmenistan.

Although the topic mentions about the security aspects of Turkey and Turkey’s relations with the outside world, the main emphasis is going to be Turkey’s membership with the EU. However, before going into the Turkey’s membership to the EU, I am going to talk about the historical perspective of security and Turkey’s position in the world. We like to talk about Turkey and its geopolitical position on the world map by starting saying that Turkey tries to be a member of the EU and part of Europe but it does not stop there. Turkey is also a Balkan Country, a Mediterranean Country, a Black Sea Country, part of the Caucasus, part of the Middle East, and Asian Country. Therefore, it is like a prism for a policy formulator to look at the situation of Turkey in the world and its security aspects and its future aspirations about where Turkey’s position would like to be.


It was easy during the Cold War times as far as the security aspect was concerned because there was the cold war and there were two camps. In that, Turkey took a place rather early in 1952 and Turkey became a member of NATO. After the thaw of relations between east and west that was around mid-70s, when the conference for security and cooperation in Europe was founded, Turkey took its place. This was one forum where in the old terms east and west met, had discussions about arms control, economic cooperation, human rights, and so on. After the demise of the Soviet Union and when a new era opened, of course, the focus was still about security aspects to the relationships of Turkey but the main issue came from the development issue and Turkey’s position in the world where it would like to be and in which group Turkey should take its place. In fact, this has started with 1959 with the Rome Agreement as we all know, the first seeds of the EU. Turkey applied for an associate membership in 1959 and with Ankara Agreement in 1963, the first relation started with the EU started with this respect. This should not be any surprise to anybody that Turkey opted especially after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall and so on that Turkey made its choice with the West. Because this was a national trend, in fact, when one looks at the Turkish history. It has always been an ardent desire in both the times of Ottoman Empire and later in the Republican times to associate Turkey with Europe or in general sense with the West. Turkish government always tried to be in closer contact with the west and with the modernisation idea or the project that the West “always” generally represents. This process of modernisation began with the Tanzimat Prescript promulgated in 1839 and thereafter other steps were taken during the Ottoman times. We had our first constitutional era in 1876 and second one in 1908 and after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Turkish nation started to come into being and in 1920, we had the inauguration of the first Turkish Grand National Assembly which carried out the national war of liberation. In 1923, we had the proclamation of the republic and the Ataturk era dawned on Turkey which had undertaken many reforms which were of great importance as well as they concerned very different areas of social life in Turkey. In short, with these efforts Turkey came to become a country where the requirements of the modern age, as it was back in 1920s and so was already there. And for the Turkish Nation under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, these series of political, cultural, and social as well as economic reforms were implemented which put Turkey on a par to speak with the other countries of the West. Of course, there were still needed efforts which were to be followed later. This was the main background and the main foundation of the modern Turkey which has started to take shape.

In line with these progressive steps, Turkey also participated in almost all of the western institutions like the Council of Europe, OECD, OECE and NATO. In our eyes, the EU membership is a part of strategic process of transformation, modernization of Turkey. As I mentioned a while ago, the adventure of Turkey for full integration with Europe Union, as in those days was called European Communities, started with the first step, an application as an associate membership in the EU in 1959. In 1962, Ankara Agreement was followed. Other steps were: in 1987, the application for full membership to the EU, we signed for the Customs Union, in 1996, Turkey, in fact, was (and still is) the only country among the member states and the candidate states that has CU agreement with the EU, there is no other example of this. This is of course mainly in the field of economy and the customs but it was also a strong indication of the efforts trying to integrate the Turkish economy that of the EU back in 1996. In 1999, we have been finally recognised as a candidate country though we were not able to start negotiations. For this, we had to wait until 2005. 17th of December 2004 was a memorable day for us as Turkey was recognised as the country which had fulfilled at least the initial requirements to start negotiations with the EU. Of course, the understanding was that other additional reforms would follow and 10 months later after the gaining of the status to start the negotiations with EU and in October 2005, the actual negotiation period with the EU started. Today, the current negotiating process continues between Turkey and the EU. It is already close to 5 years.

Negotiations as you know is a process where a candidate country or an aspiring country adapts its legislation to that of the EU. Therefore maybe the word negotiation is a misnomer, because the EU if one regards it as a club, has certain criteria or qualifications to enter, and the aspirant would either fulfill the requirements, thereby adapt to all the requirements, thereby making the necessary changes to its legislation and undertake reforms in many fields because it’s a matter of adapting existing structure to the EU. Turkey is now in that process and it is done by chapters. There are 34 chapters that cover different areas. They are agriculture, social, relationship that is labour relations, foreign policy, monetary policy, economic policy, economic and social life in the country, etc. We have now opened 12 chapters and provisionally closed one chapter out of this. So the message is that the process is going slowly. Why is that? First of all, Turkish people feel that they have not been treated equally by the EU. Here I need to make a differentiation between EU and EU countries. EU is an entity-body whereas EU countries are different countries. When I talked about EU, this is the collective will or power of the EU where Turkey is facing difficulties in conducting its entry into the EU.

“Turkey, in fact, was (and still is) the only country among the member states and the candidate states that has CU agreement with the EU, there is no other example of this.”

Until Turkey has started negotiations, every country which has got the candidate status started negotiations. The aim of negotiations is clear and simple, full membership. When Turkey started negotiations, negotiations were open-ended, this is the first instance of inequality in Turkey’s relationship with the EU. Another one is that a new notion came around 2004 and 2005 when we started negotiations. People in the EU started to talk about digesting capacity of the EU. They said that Turkey was too big, too populous with a big economy; it might take time for the EU to digest Turkey. Previously there was no country classified like this, therefore, they had very smooth negotiation process. Now Turkey is being faced with such excuses from the EU. Third one is that, when any candidate country in the past, fulfilled the negotiations, requirements, they have become members automatically. For Turkey, when we finish up this negotiating period, in other words, closing all these 34 chapters in a successful manner, we would still be facing referendum from the EU member countries. That means even after Turkey has fulfilled all the requirements, those countries with those requirements would go to their citizens and ask whether they like Turkey in the EU. One such country as France. And after all these negotiations, with more than % 50 of votes saying no, Turkey would be rejected. This cannot be classified in any way as justice and right way of acting. Another country for this example is Austria. Also, there are other hurdles that have been put on the way of Turkey.
Eight chapters are blocked because of the Cyprus problem. Cyprus problem is a problem of an international issue. To us, the EU made a big mistake by taking this problematic area into its midst as a full member, and because of this problem and its repercussions, eight chapters are blocked.

“The Greek Cypriot administration as a result of unresolved Cypriot issue and as a result of the Greek Cypriot taking into the EU in a premature way, they have blocked all by themselves three or four more chapters.”

France blocked four more chapters. In the opinion of France, those chapters which had direct bearing on Turkey’s integration with Europe which is the substance of the matter, they should put on a hold. Foreign policy, for example, France doesn’t let Turkey to open up this chapter and start negotiations with the EU. Agriculture is another chapter. When chapter is not opened for negotiations, the adaptation processes that are legislation, law, etc. can- not be started to be discussed. About 14 chapters are blocked like this. The Greek Cypriot administration as a result of unresolved Cypriot issue and as a result of the Greek Cypriot taking into the EU in a premature way, they have blocked all by themselves three or four more chapters. Because

“we believe that ‘pacta sunt servanda’ should be essential and the signatures on the papers should be kept bythe EU.”

as we know that the EU works on a veto basis, when one country does not go along with the existing project or proposal, they can put a veto on it. So Greek Cypriot did exactly that. Depending on their mood, three or four additional chapters were also blocked. In short, we cannot touch upon 17 chapters. So the situation is there are 34 chapters. 12 have been opened, 22 left, 17 of these, because of those blockades or blockages, cannot be opened, there are only 5 chapters left on the way to the full membership which can be opened which is not enough while we have 17 resting over there without even being touched upon. In a sense, we can say that we are approaching a deadlock in a technical term and while Turkey is ready to become a full member and integrate with the EU, the negotiation process will apparently need some more time. Despite all these political difficulties involved, we are determined to accelerate the momentum of the reforms and prove our commitment to the accession process. We are not implementing the reforms to satisfy the EU, I think this message should be given to the EU. We are adopting new norms and legislation for Turk- ish people. Because this reformation and modernization is in interest of the Turkish people regardless of whether the EU takes us in or not. We will continue on this reform process.

In the EU, the EC the governing body has repeatedly reminded the EU as a whole, must not only stick to its commitments but also act in accordance with previous decisions taken by consensus. In other words, on the road to the full membership, we believe that ‘pacta sunt servanda’ should be essential and the signatures on the papers should be kept by the EU. Aside from Tur- key’s capabilities to adapt and own those principles that give life to the EU, no other consideration like the ones mentioned a while ago should play a role. We, on the one hand, try to negotiate with the EU, on the other hand, try to stress that point. We want to give the message that Turkey only wants equal treatment and justice in its negotiating process with the EU. Again I want to make a difference between EU as a common or joint will of group of nations and the attitude of individual countries. There are a great number of countries in the EU that support Turkey’s membership. I am happy to state that these countries are led by the Britain. Also, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Portugal, Baltic countries, which have the majority in voting if it came to voting (unfortunately it is not a matter of voting) and others are strongly in favour of Turkey’s participation. But because of this veto system and the stopping mechanism of negotiating, the process cannot do much except encouraging us with all these difficulties to continue on the road for full membership. When we ask for integration to the EU, we have a different set of arguments in favour of Turkish accession and we try to bring these to the attention of European people, political leaders especially to the countries who do not like to see Turkey in the EU, at least for the time being. We try to tell them to look at the accession from a political perspective first of all. Turkey is the only country simultaneously the member of G20, NATO, and the Organization of Islamic Countries. Turkey is the largest non EU contributor to ESDP missions which is the security armed of the EU. Turkey is also determined partner for security, stability, and harmony in a multitude of regions. On issues as diverse as, Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia, Kosovo, and others, Turkey’s efforts are directed at facilitating dialogue and compromising. Turkey has taken the initiative in the Cauca- sus by suggesting the Caucasus stability and cooperation platform. The normalization between Turkey and Armenia is in progress. We also worked for the stability of the Balkans. Kosovo and Bosnia Herzegovina still need our attention and support. Also in the few last years, Turkey brought Israel and Syria together, conducted facilitation work between these countries, but because of Israel’s attack to Gaza, unfortunately, it didn’t bear any result. Also in Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan met and came together. Moreover, Lebanon and Iraq’s embittered groups came together in Turkey through quite and effective diplomacy. Turkey supports the Middle East peace process and we would like to see that NATO is successful in Afghanistan and Pakistan. International terrorism should be eradicated. Turkey is also a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and this is a reflection of our increasing weight in international politics. We enjoy the confidence and we are trusted by the international community in those different areas in diplomacy. In short, we want to give the message that Turkey politically would be an asset for the EU. Turkey would be an arm where EU cannot reach. We would facilitate EU’s outreach to Caucasus, the Middle East, central Asian Turkic republics, other areas in our region if only EU has realized this asset and taken Turkey without further objections to its midst. In terms of economy, Turkish economy has become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world which is due to the decisive implemented structural reforms and successful macro economic policies. Turkey is the 15th largest economy in the world and 6th largest economy in Europe. Also, Turkey is predicted by international observers to have one of the top ten economies in 2050. High growth rates recently have positive impact on our GDP per capita, raising it to almost 10000 $. Also according to the OECD figures, Turkey will become the third-highest growing country after China and India in 2017. As a result of the liberalization policies since 1980s, Turkish economy enjoys high growth rates on its foreign trade every year. Consequently, the total trade volume hit 334 billion dollars in 2008.

“Turkey is the 15 th largest economy in the world and 6 largest economy in Europe. Also Turkey is predicted by international observers to have one of the top ten economies in 2050.”

With a population of 73 million people, Turkey is one of the 10 emerging markets in the world and attracting about 17 million dollars FDI on the average annually. In short, economically, let alone being a burden of the EU, Turkey would become an asset of the EU with this high level of development, and with these economic indicators. I should add here very briefly that Turkey was affected very lightly by the recent global economic crisis. This was started as a financial-economic crisis, since reforms that have been undertaken back in 2001 as a result of preparation for eventual EU negotiations. The Turkish banking sector is the strongest economic banking sector in the world today. Therefore it was very comfortable for Turkey to weather this storm because of the strength of our banking sector. One other important asset for the EU is the field of energy. Turkey is close to the 70% of the world’s energy resources. Being at the centre of world energy map, Turkey is trying to realize projects with a view of strengthening its role as a transit country. In order to contribute to the Europe’s energy through source and route diversification, Turkey has elaborated all its energy efforts under two main projects. First one is the east-west energy corridor and second one is the north-south axis. In the east-west energy corridor, the first one is the Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan oil pipeline which carries about 50 million tons of oil from Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea. In other words, oil richness of the countries of the east of Turkey is carried to the Mediterranean. Second one is the natural gas capacity of the Caspian Sea and Azerbaijan where it is integrated into the national grid in Erzurum in Turkey. This line brings Azerbaijan’s and Caspian’s natural gas resources to be available first for Turkish domestic needs and following that, for two main projects. First one is called the Turkish -Greek interconnection. Turkey is transmitting natural gas from Azerbaijan to first Greece and it is proposed through Greece down into the Mediterranean and to Italy. Second one is to connect Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Austria, which is called the Nabucco project.

The basic agreement has been signed and the start of the project is 2012 which will take 3 years of construction. So a huge natural resource has been transformed through Turkey to satisfy Europe’s needs. By this way turkey would be instrumental in providing EU as the fourth major artery. We know that Europe gets gas mainly from Russia, in that sense Europe needs a diversification of its resources, from Norway, LNG from Algeria. Therefore, in addition to these three, this line around 2015 will be the fourth energy supply artery for Europe.

“As Turks, we would like to believe that the EU is not a Christian club; in- stead, we hope that the EU will be opening its arms to all the cultures and civilizations in the world.”

This is another argument for Turkey to become a full member of the EU so that everything should be smooth and Turkey should be playing this role as an EU country. This shows the merits of Turkish accession into the EU in the field of energy. Also geographically, by its mere position, Turkey’s proximity to the Balkans and the rest of Europe as well as to the emerging market in central Asia, the Middle East, and the North Africa would create significant business opportunities for the European firms and European private sector. One of Turkey’s biggest assets is its educated, young, dynamic human resource. The current average age is 28 years. By contrast, the west European population growth is stable or negative, therefore, in the future, Turkey’s distinctive capacity is expected to contribute significantly not only to Turkey but also Europe. The centre of gravity as we all know of the global economy is shifting from developed to emerging countries and from west to east. There is a growing interest from US to China, India, Asia, Russia, and the Asia Pacific region. This region is a priority of the Obama administration as the secretary of state Hilary Clinton states America’s future is linked to the future of the Asia Pacific and future of this region depends on America. Hence the European continent is losing its political importance in the world stage day by day and without Turkey, we believe it can hardly influence world politics in the 21 st century. Some European politicians are well aware of the benefits of Turkish membership to the EU including foreign secretary Milliband who stated that the project of an out-ward-looking EU needs a clear goal, inclusion of Turkey as a full and equal member. As a member of the EU, Turkey’s contribution to the EU will be much more than European opinion thinks. With Turkey as a member, the EU will be a stronger economic, military, and political power. The Turkish membership will enable the EU to be more effective in areas targeted by its neighbourhood policy as well as in volatile but strategic regions. With Turkey on board, the EU will demonstrate that European ideas are about humanity and civility and it embraces not clashes with different cultures. The Turkish membership will prove that the EU is not an exclusive club based on religious and others subject considerations. As Turks, we would like to believe that the EU is not a Christian club; instead, we hope that the EU will be opening its arms to all the cultures and civilizations in the world. Finally we believe that Turkey’s membership will help the EU and the West in broader terms to promote security, security, and prosperity. We will continue to bring this to the attention of the European leaders. Meantime we will continue faithfully to negotiate as much as we can negotiate in the light of those impediments that I have mentioned. We won’t lose our hopes because we believe that Turkey’s place is in Europe and Turks will continue to be working together and cooperating with the Europeans.


* Political Reflection’s Editorial Board would like to thank Aksel Ersoy for his efforts to prepare the transcription of Mr. Yigit Alpogan’s speech at the University of Birmingham on May 11th, 2010.




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