Turkey’s EU affairs minister said he was optimistic about progress on UK visas for Turkish nationals and slammed Cypriot obstacles to membership talks during his working visit to London.
Egemen Bağış said his country would ignore the rotating European Council presidency if, as expected, it is assumed on 1 July by the Greek Cypriot administration alone and not by a united Cyprus.
In a confident lecture at the London School of Economics that argued Europe needed Turkey’s extensive markets, robust growth and youthful population much more than Turkey that needed the European Union’s prescription of accession reforms, the minister unveiled a new slogan for his country’s EU membership bid: “Hold on Europe, Turkey is coming to your rescue”.
OPTIMISTIC ON VISAS
A question posed to the minister by Londra Gazete concerned visa regulations for Turkish nationals, an issue that affects large numbers in the London-based community as well as their relatives back home.
“I’ve been to UK many times,” Mr Bağış said, “but I enjoyed my entry the most yesterday because for the first time I came in without a visa because Turkish diplomatic passports no longer require visas.
“That only covers around 10 thousand of the 74 million people but it’s a good beginning.”
When asked whether Turkey’s negotiations to drop visas for its nationals in the Schengen Area were being mirrored by talks with the British government, which is outside the zone, Mr Bağış appeared to signal work was underway by saying he was optimistic about progress: “all great journeys start with the first step. I think with the UK we have taken the first step. I am more optimistic.”
“I believe being just, being rightful, having merits of your case is important, but being strong is more important. If Turkey continues to prosper economically, the fears of Turkish migration will evaporate and countries will continue to lift visas to our citizens.”
Londra Gazete also asked Mr Bağış about his country’s press freedom record, in particular the imprisonment of journalists serving terms because of their writing.
Mr Bağış’s reply was initally defensive:
“Turkey does not provide immunity to members of media,” he began, in a reply that was defensive at first. “Some of the people who are listed in these international NGOs as journalists who are detained have actually killed people. Some of them were actually captured while robbing a bank.
“And the fact that they were reporting at one stage in life in a newspaper or a radio station does not give them an immunity to commit crimes.”
But he added Turkish transparency needed to improve: “I’m not a judge, neither a prosecutor. My job is to pass laws to make sure everyone, those who work for me and those who don’t, live better. That’s why we’re coming with all these judicial reform packages to make things easier.
“It was the judicial branch that prevented us from solving some of the problems, but now – through changing the constitution, changing the legislation – we’re determined to make Turkey much more transparent for everyone.”
EUROPE NEEDS TURKEY
On his cabinet portfolio, Turkey’s relations with the European Union, Mr Bağış made reference to old adage often cited by opponents that Turkey is too big, too Muslim and too poor to ever join. He said Turkey’s youthful vigour and booming economy had turned these qualities into benefits.
“As far as I’m concerned, the EU is Turkey’s dietician,” he said. “All of us know for a fact that in order to lead a healthy life you need to watch what you eat and you need to exercise regularly, but usually when a dietician gives you a prescription of what to do, what not to do, what to eat, what not to eat, and when you implement that, you become a healthier person.
“Turkey is implementing the EU prescription, which is called the acquis. The fact that the dietician himself, the fact that Europe is overweight, is moody, has a few clogged arteries does not make the prescription bad. The prescription is still the best about.”
“Everyone should know Turkey is not coming to be an additional burden, but Turkey is coming … to take away some of the existing burdens from the EU. That is why we are implementing a new slogan in our process: ‘hold on tight Europe, Turkey is coming to your rescue’.
“Turkey’s membership will not downsize the slice but will enlarge the cake itself. That is the new concept that future leaders of Europe should start thinking about.”
Originally published in Londra Gazete, 01 March 2012.