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Turkey and Spain meet – at the Bosporus 6 avril 2009

Posted by Acturca in Academic / Académique, EU / UE, Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey), 06 April 2009, Monday

Yavuz Baydar

Both are located on peninsulas at the edge of Europe. Both are Europe’s faces « outward » to other regions and continents. Both have a past as superpowers that boldly and through much bloodshed conquered large territories far away from their bases.

As monarchies they have both had their share of the coexistence of three monotheistic religions on their very soil. Both have their « cousins » sharing their respective language elsewhere in the world, connecting them to other continents. Both are now republics and democracies, with dictatorship and ethnic strife as bad ingredients in the last century. In culture and mentality, both societies now find more things in common than one can imagine.
Spain and Turkey should, therefore, find reasons to be close partners within the European Union, taking their mutual and global issues further. That is why, perhaps, it was no surprise when a huge crowd attended the opening of the first Annual Spanish-Turkish Conference, organized by the İstanbul Policy Center (IPC) of Sabancı University and the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) based in Barcelona.

The opening ceremony on Saturday also marked a fresh step for the IPC. The host of the event, Ms. Güler Sabancı, one of the most powerful businesswoman in the world and a leading voice for the reform process and democratization in Turkey, was visibly proud to inaugurate the modern annex of the well-known Sakıp Sabancı Museum on the Bosporus — a venue that will be devoted to international meetings. Those who know Ms. Sabancı well enough predicted escalated activity, as Turkey again attempts to revive its spirit for further reform.

The sign of revival, aside from the optimistic leaders of both organizations, was present in flesh and blood at the opening. State Minister Egemen Bağış, appointed as Turkey’s new chief negotiator for EU accession negotiations, delivered a speech filled with promises. The relations between Turkey and the EU are irreversible and the proof of their interdependency is to be seen in the top 10 priorities of the EU (security, energy, foreign policy, human trafficking, finance, etc.), Bağış told the filled hall.

Again voicing regret over the debate on whether Turkey belongs in Europe, Bağış pointed out that in the late 19th century Turkey was referred to as the « sick man of Europe »; even then, Bağış said, it was not called the « sick man of Asia, » so this debate should have long ended.

And as Yaşar Yakış, a former Justice and Development Party (AK Party) foreign minister, later underlined, « The EU cannot be explained, justified or limited in terms of geography, religion, language. The only valid element that defines the EU is its values. »

The striking part of what Yakış said at the end of his address, injecting a large dose of realism into what Bağış said earlier, was the following « confession. » In terms of where Turkey currently stands — in a « state of paralysis » in the ongoing accession negotiations — « We have run out of all excuses, » Yakış said.

It was a candid point, coming from an otherwise cautious former diplomat.

Participants then proceeded to discuss issues of mutual interest in several domains: politics, the economy and culture. The latter proved to be the session to learn not only how much both countries have in common, but also about — as Spanish Ambassador in Ankara Joan Clos reminded us — the lack of intensive cultural dialogue between the two countries. It should increase, particularly in the areas of literature, cinema, academia and the media.

Many Turks at the conference were unaware of the significance of a prominent guest from Barcelona. Narcis Serra, a former mayor of Barcelona, also served under Felipe Gonzalez as defense minister and is an expert on civilian-military relations in Spain, having served during a lengthy (six to seven year) period of reforming the Spanish military. Serra recently published a book in Spain called « La Transicion Militar » (The Military Transition / Reflections on the democratic reform of the armed forces, soon to be published in English). Serra « developed a model of transition and formulated a political line for explaining the military reforms that are necessary during the process of transition and democratic consolidation. »

One can only imagine how important it is for Turkey’s civilian politicians and the top command of the military to share that valuable experience. Serra’s book will — hopefully — be translated into Turkish.

A footnote: Even if it is presented as a fine deal, still, the choice of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as secretary-general of NATO is a result of bad judgment. That is, unless Rasmussen, today or tomorrow in İstanbul, clearly and openly apologizes for his government’s failure to manage the cartoon crisis. If not, he will transfer the credibility problem of Denmark to NATO. And Olli Rehn was also wrong in reducing his critique of the official Turkish stance as disrespect toward the freedom of expression. That freedom has no value unless unified with responsible behavior from the press. The Danish press acted in a most irresponsible manner in provoking an unnecessary global storm.

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