Jack Straw – 2006 Comments on Turkey Joining the European Union (EU)

The comments made by Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, on 25 January 2006.

Let me begin with a confession. There are many aspects of the job of Foreign Secretary which I love. But – and I suspect that my good friend, Abdullah [Gul] might sympathise here – the daily ritual of answering huge piles of mail is not top of that list.

However, every so often, in amongst the complaints, the bad news and the requests for the impossible, I find one letter which truly brightens my day. Such letters are always welcome; but none more so than the one which invited me to come here tonight to receive this award. Accepting that invitation was certainly one of the easier and more pleasant decisions I have had to make.

It is indeed an immense honour to receive this award from you. And I want to thank the President of the High Advisory Council, Mustafa Koc, the Chairman of the Board, Omer Sabanci, and all the members of TUSIAD for the friendship and support which this award represents.

Now, as I have said, I count Abdullah as a friend. We have worked together closely for many years and on many difficult tasks. It is always a pleasure to see him – and tonight is no exception. But I don’t think that there has ever been a time when I have been happier to glimpse him heading in my direction than on a cold night in Luxembourg just under four months ago.

That night was a night to remember. But in accepting this award, I am conscious of two things. First, that the credit for getting agreement to open membership talks does not fall to any single person, group or country. And second, that we are at the beginning of a process and not at the end.

In October, we were proud to play our role as Presidency. There were obstacles to be overcome. But with courage and flexibility we were able to do so. The political leadership shown by all sides that night was crucial. But – and this is something which I wrote to Omer Sabanci when I first accepted this award – our success was above all a reflection of Turkey’s own accomplishments over recent years; and an acknowledgement of this country’s future within Europe. In the end, we opened accession talks in October because it was in all our interests to do so – in Turkey’s interest, in the interest of the European Union as a whole, and of every other individual state.

Economically, the European single market will be stronger by expanding to take in a country which in 2006 is projected to see an impressive GDP growth of around six per cent – more than three times the average growth in the EU-25. This is also a country which attracted foreign investment to the tune of US$ 24 billion last year – hard evidence that the private sector has firm faith in Turkey’s future.

And there is no better reminder of the political importance of Turkey than this great city itself. For thousands of years Istanbul has been a bridge between Asia and Europe; and during that long and illustrious history it has been a centre for both the Christian and Muslim faiths.

Turkey’s geographical position is of huge strategic importance, with such interesting neighbours such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Georgia, as well as EU partners Bulgaria and Greece. I applaud Turkey for the contribution it is playing in difficult dossiers like Iran Nuclear; and on Iraq where an important meeting in December held here encouraged the Sunni communities to take part in last months elections – and on the MEPP, where the Government of Turkey facilitated last years historic meeting between Israel and Pakistan. We already depend on Turkey for good cooperation against terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal migration, and increasingly for the security of energy supplies to Europe.

Despite these mutual dependencies on Turkey, it is no secret that some people within the European Union worry about the potential impact of Turkish membership, especially on their jobs and livelihoods. European leaders have a responsibility to allay those fears and to set out to their citizens the overwhelmingly positive case – as I have above –– for Turkey, when ready, joining the Union.

We in the United Kingdom – Government and business alike – are in absolutely no doubt that our own interests lie in ever closer partnership with this modern, European country. The United Kingdom and Turkey have enjoyed a good bilateral relationship for many years. In 2004, Prime Ministers Blair and Erdogan signed an action plan to further bolster bilateral ties. And the relationship now is closer than it’s ever been.

Today, the United Kingdom is the second largest destination for Turkish exports, bilateral trade between our two countries stands at around US$ 10 billion per annum. There are 400 British companies in operation here. A single British company, Vodafone, is investing over US$ 4.5 billion here. Another, BP, is the largest single shareholder in the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Some of the chief executives of the largest of those British companies are here tonight: Vodafone, International Power, HSBC and Diageo. Also present is Ladbrokes, which is interested in the privatisation of the Turkish lottery.

And, of course, it’s not just about exchanges in goods and capital. The British Council – which runs cultural and educational exchanges – has a bigger operation in Turkey than in any of the current EU-25 member states. On a very personal note, the Turkish footballer Tugay Kerimoglu has been terrific as a team member of Blackburn Rovers on the field; but he is also a great ambassador for Turkey and imperceptibly I believe the presence in our team of a player of the Muslim faith has encouraged more of my Muslim constituents to attend matches. And last year around 1.8 million British tourists came to Turkey – a year on year increase of nearly 30 per cent, in spite of July’s cowardly terrorist attacks in Kusadasi and other resorts.

The second point I wanted to make this evening is this. On October 3rd we ended a long journey dating back to Turkey’s original association agreement with the EEC in 1963. But we also embarked on a new road which may take a decade or more and which will require continued flexibility and commitment from all sides. That process, leading to full membership, of itself draws Turkey, its people and its institutions closer to Europe.

A settlement on Cyprus – under the good offices of the UN Secretary General and under the authority of a number of UN Security Council Resolutions – is, of course, vital.

Before I came here, I visited Cyprus I shall be reporting back to Kofi Annan, Ursula Plassnick (EU Presidency) and Olli Rehn (EU Enlargement Commissioner). I welcome Abdullah Gul’s proposals on Cyprus set out in his speech yesterday. If I may so, Abdullah, you rightly say the current deadlock works against the interest of all. I welcome the priority the Turkish Government continues to give to the tasks of finding a lasting and just comprehensive settlement, and to your willingness to take concrete steps to improve the overall atmosphere in the region. Like Olli Rehn I believe that these proposals should be examined with care.

Both the European Union and Turkey have responsibilities they must fulfil in regard of Cyprus: Turkey to apply the Ankara Protocol fully to all member states and to normalise relations with them as soon as possible; we to find a way of ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and for them to trade with the rest of the European Union. These are separate tracks but they must both work.

My belief is that the very process of holding accession talks – the daily, mundane business of political engagement – will help break barriers and give impetus to the resolution of this dispute; much as it was an important element in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland resolving our differences over Northern Ireland. But – just as in that long-running problem – it will require bold leadership and some tough decisions.

It’s also important, of course, that the momentum for reform and modernisation is maintained; and that the political will of Prime Minister Erdogan’s government – which is not in any doubt – is reflected in the decisions taken by those applying laws on the ground. Thankfully the case against Orhan Pamuk has now been dropped but there are a number of others ongoing, and I know that Abdullah and his colleagues are all to aware that such cases have the potential overshadow Turkey’s considerable achievements over the past few years.

I’m aware that I’ve been speaking for quite a while. If I was receiving an award at the Oscars they would have started up the orchestra and bundled me off stage by now. So may I just finish by once again thanking all the members of TUSIAD for this Bosphorus Prize for European Understanding. In all honesty, I cannot think of an award I would rather receive.