Turkish President: We don’t want anything other than EU membership

Turkey will not accept any new framework of relations to the EU except full membership, Turkish President Abdullah Gül told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.

Abdullah Gül is the 11th president of Turkey, a post he has held since August 2007. An economist by training, he previously served as prime minister from 2002 to 2003 and as foreign minister from 2003 to 2007.

He was speaking to Christophe Leclercq, publisher of EurActiv.com and Zeynep Göğüş, publisher of EurActiv Turkey.

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Do you think that events such as the conference 'Turkey and the world: New realities, new challenges', organised by the Institut du Bosphore and in the context of which we are meeting in Istanbul, can have a real impact in terms of rapprochement between Turkish and French people beyond the elites?

Yes, I believe this, because I see strong participation on this platform from both sides, from the Turkish side and from the French side. Such outstanding speakers do have the capacity to influence people. I am very optimistic about the future of this platform and I am sure it can greatly contribute to this rapprochement, as you called it.
What Turkish business and people want, besides the customs union which we have already, is mobility of people. They would like to travel in the EU without visas, and if they so choose, also to work in Europe…

No, working in Europe is not in the minds of the Turkish people. For the visas you are right, but I repeat, it's not a priority for the Turkish people to go to work in the EU. If you think of the past [when many Turks went to Germany as Gastarbeiter in the sixties and seventies as part of a formal guest worker programme], the Turkish people were invited. They were brought there.

Of course, there are family issues and later on some people really wished to go there [Western Europe], but I believe that if integration happens, the Turks in the heart of Europe, in Germany, in France, many of them would come back. Maybe you will try to stop them, because you need them [laughs]. This already happened with Spain and Portugal.

Look, we are not the Turkey from ten or twenty years ago. Turkey is becoming attractive. French and German [people] are coming to Turkey. Many ex-pats are coming to settle here. They are saying that Turkey is attractive. I don't need to say it myself.
In 1963 an Association Agreement gave Turkey the prospect of eventual membership of the European Economic Community (EEC). In the meantime, the European Union has become a very different animal from what it was at that time. Some French and German politicians have tried to sell the idea of a 'privileged partnership', and Turkey clearly responded that this was not acceptable. But we can see that enlargement is not to be envisaged in the short term, at least by some countries. Would Turkey be interested in becoming a founding member of something new, which would be like the initial EEC, with all the freedoms, while keeping your freedom in foreign policy?

No, no, we don't want new frameworks. What we want is to complete the ongoing negotiation process, which is transforming our country. Our main target is to accomplish this process.
Even if this process takes a very long time and runs the risk of being derailed by either side?

I don't think that can happen. It is not in the interest of Europe. And this is not a joke, this is something that has been striving for half a century already.
Regarding policy, Turkey has become a strong international player and has undertaken a lot of initiatives, including in the last few days. This seems to signal that Turkey needs an independent foreign policy. You could not easily have such a freedom within the European context. Don't you want to keep this freedom?

No, we subscribe to more than 95% of the European Union's foreign policy declarations. Our relations with our neighbours will be an asset to the EU, especially when we become a full member of the Union. We know the rules of the club we are trying to join. If Britain has privileged relations with the Commonwealth countries, or Spain with the Latin American countries, we can do the same with regard to countries from our region. You don't ask Britain or Spain to put a hold on their relations because of EU policy, do you?
Would you be in favour of having, like the rather successful model of the G20, a selected group of EU countries, together with Turkey and Ukraine, which would meet ahead of EU summits to discuss major world issues? This would mean that Turkey would be treated as a big country…

It may be arguable who is big and who is small, but Turkey is a member of the G20. What I want to say though is that EU membership is a very clear-cut target for us. We are now in a process of negotiations to join the EU and we hope to conclude it successfully.