Session 1: Extending Euro-Atlanticism
Executive Vice President, Atlantic Council
His Excellency Egeman Bağis,
Minister for European Affairs and Chief Negotiator,
Republic of Turkey
His Excellency Alexi Petriashvili,
State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration,
Republic of Georgia
His Excellency Ion Sturza,
Greenlight Investment and Former Prime Minister, Republic of Moldova
Fuji Ballroom 1
Swissôtel, The Bosphorus
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Federal News Service
DAMON WILSON: Thank you very much. I want to welcome you to this session that we’re having this afternoon on extending Euro-Atlanticism. I’m Damon Wilson. I want to welcome all of you here. I’m the executive vice president at the Atlantic Council. We’re delighted to be back in Istanbul and as part of this summit to have an important conversation about the continuing extension of Euro-Atlanticism to this region and beyond, the focus of the summit here in Istanbul.
This issue is really a topic which is at the core of what the Atlantic Council does. It’s at the core of our mission. It’s about helping to create a community that’s based on the values of freedom, democracy, free markets, rule of law, human rights. It’s the shared values, the common interests that bring the Atlantic community together. The idea of extending Euro-Atlanticism has been really driven by the processes of NATO and EU enlargement sort of as vehicles for advancing this political liberalization.
And it’s really helped to create a Europe that’s more whole, more free than ever in its history. It’s been an animating policy for U.S. foreign policy objective. It’s been shared in terms of a bipartisan consensus and a trans-Atlantic consensus on forging a Europe whole, free and at peace. Yet many today as they look out across the landscape and they look to Europe’s south and Europe’s east are concerned that this vision, that this approach, that this strategy is running out of steam.
Is there still a momentum to build a Europe whole, free and at peace? We have a Europe that’s gripped with a eurozone crisis. In many respects, as we heard from one of our speakers this morning, maybe it’s an identity or leadership crisis. There is increasing skepticism towards the East among many political actors in Europe. And the United States itself sees itself as less invested as a European power itself. Its so-called pivot or rebalancing towards Asia has focused priorities elsewhere at a time when it’s really focused domestically on this issue of our fiscal cliff coming in the coming weeks.
And yet there remains demand. There remains interest. And there remains progress on this front of extending Euro-Atlanticism. And I think that’s represented by many of the speakers we have here today to get us into a conversation about where are we headed with the Western Balkans, with Turkey, with the South Caucasus, the Ukraine, Moldova but even further afield in terms of Russia and Central Asia’s relationship to the Euro-Atlantic region.
To get the conversation started, we’re going to turn to four terrific panelists today. We’ll start with Minister Egemen Bağış, who is the minister for European Union affairs and the chief negotiator with the European Union. He’s played that role since 2009. He’s served as a member of parliament since 2002 when he was a vice chair of the Justice and Development AK PARTI responsible for foreign affairs. He has been a prominent voice on Turkey’s relationship towards Europe, chair of the Turkey-U.S. Inter-parliamentary Friendship Caucus and also been active in the arts scene here in Istanbul.
We’ll then turn to Minister Alexi Petriashvili, the state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration from Georgia. Minister Petriashvili is part of the newly elected Georgian government of the Georgian Dream Coalition. He served previously as the political secretary for the Free Democrats, which is part of that coalition, served as Georgia’s ambassador to Turkmenistan, Afghanistan as well as spending time in the United States in the OSCE.
We’ll then come to a voice from – an active voice from Europe on these issues, to Ria Oomen-Ruijten, a member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands. She’s served in the European Parliament since 1989, has been an active member of the foreign affairs committee, served as a delegate to the EU-Russian Parliamentary Cooperation Committee and is the rapporteur for Turkey. She has been active in Dutch politics within the Christian Democratic Appeal Party.
And then finally, we’ll come to Ion Sturza, the former prime minister of Moldova, now the CEO of Rompetrol in Moldova, who has played a key role in his country in its thinking about its path towards Europe, who has pursued in private sector his own banking career and continues to play an active role with Rompetrol’s activities in Russia and the CIS states and served as prime minister in 1999 when it was – when one analyst noted it was a tenure that manifested – Moldova manifested a cabinet that was democratic, reforming and truly attached to European values.
So to kick off our conversation, let me turn back to you, Minister Bağış, on Turkey’s relationship with Europe. You’ve had the lead in the negotiations that have been taking place with the European Union. You’ve been stewarding the relationship for many years now.
In the midst of what’s happening both with uncertainty in Europe itself about how it’s doing with its immediate crisis, how it’s thinking about its long-term future and with Turkey’s perspective of greater confidence in what’s happening here economically, a greater role that Turkey is playing in the region and indeed the world, how do you see Turkey’s relationship and path towards Europe today?
EGEMEN BAĞIŞ: Well, first of all, let me welcome everyone to Turkey, to Istanbul, most importantly to my election – to my constituency. Great to have the Atlantic Council again in Istanbul. And I’m looking forward to next year’s event because this is really becoming an established Istanbul event. As far as what European Union is and how we perceive our relations with that organization, first, we have to understand that the European Union is not only a political project, not only an economic project but more importantly than all of them, it’s a peace project. It has established stability and peace on the continent.
If you look at the history of EU member nations, you realize that the continent had faced long wars, bloody wars, devastating human tragedy. And because of the European Union, for more than a – for a period of more than 50 years, we have stability and peace on the continent. As far as I’m concerned, the EU is the grandest peace project of the history of mankind.
But it is yet a continental project. It has room to grow. It has potential to grow. And I believe membership of countries like Turkey can turn this continental project into a global one. Talking of peace and I think global peace is at a major risk, has been threatened since last night because of Israel’s irresponsible attack to Gaza. At a time when a new president is trying to form his own Cabinet in Washington, when there is turmoil in Syria, when there are preparations for elections in Iran and when there are major disputes going on in Iraq, this attempt which is geared toward creating another uncertainty not only in Israel and United States but throughout the world is not going to help those of us who believe in peace. We condemned it very strongly and I think this panel should also voice a very strong statement against ending all types of violence throughout the world, especially in the Middle East.
NATO is also a very important peace project. It’s just like European Union ensures peace, NATO has been a very important deterrent against those who want to put an end to peace. And I don’t think EU and NATO should be analyzed separately. For many countries in the region, and you mentioned the Balkans, the former Soviet republics, which two of them are represented here, the NATO perspective is very, very important to anchor their not only sovereignty but also their relations for peace with the rest of the world.
And Turkey as a very determined member of NATO is a hundred percent for enlargement and having an open-door policy to all those countries who are ready to accept the founding principles of NATO, which are not very different than the founding principles of the EU.
And one of the most relevant questions I get when I travel within my own country is people – Turkish constituents, voters ask me, my taxpayers ask me, how come we have been good enough to die in NATO operations for the very same values for more than 60 years but we have not been good enough to become a member of EU which embraces the same values for more than 50 years? Because Turkey has been trying to become a member for 53 years, since 1959, to EU whereas we have been one of the strongest members of NATO.
So there is an oxymoron. And I think that also needs to be addressed for us to give a better signal to all the future members of NATO as well.
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much, Minister Bağış. That’s a – I’m going to come back to you, Ria, to pick up some of those issues. But first, let me turn to Minister Petriashvili. You’ve just heard Minister Bağış say that Turkey is a hundred percent for the idea of enlargement, a continued open-door policy, framed NATO and the European Union as these great peace projects.
Well, obviously you’ve just come to power in Tbilisi in a very dramatic election with the Georgian Dream’s surprise victory at the polls in October. Your prime minister has just had a visit to Brussels to meet with EU and NATO leaders to reiterate Georgia’s commitment to that. And your country is one that actually in terms of a great peace project has known violence, has experienced a war in 2008 with Russia. So given that context, can you give us a sense of where you see Georgia going, where this new government intends to take Georgia in terms of its Euro-Atlantic aspirations?
ALEXI PETRIASHVILI: Thank you –
MR. WILSON: Please.
MR. PETRIASHVILI: Thank you. First of all, let me thank the Turkish hosts for hosting this very important event on energy and economy. I would like to thank you, the Atlantic Council, for giving me this opportunity to participate and share with you my thoughts on the very important and the very crucial time for Georgia.
You know that we had very important historic elections – parliamentary elections – in October. And Georgian people, Georgia as a nation has demonstrated the political maturity, showing that the peaceful transition of power in the country is possible and the democratic development after the elections is possible.
This is – Georgia has shown a good model, a good example for further development of the democracy in the country, of the democratic institutions. It is really important to underline that Georgia’s foreign policy priorities – key foreign policy priorities will – are and will be remaining as Georgia’s integration into the EU and Georgia’s integration into NATO. I appreciate my Turkish colleagues’ and friends’ support for our enlargement of EU and NATO and Georgia. We always feel this support from our friends and partners in Turkey on Georgia’s aspiration.
You know that the upcoming ministerial in NATO will be very important for Georgia and for the Georgian people to demonstrate the progress and adequately assess Georgia’s progress and Georgia’s achievement on the very peaceful transition of power. And we hope very much that the ministerial meeting with underline and will provide the adequate assessment to Georgia’s successful elections.
But what I wanted to underline as well that despite the political differences, all major political forces are united in Georgia’s aspiration to become NATO and EU members. And when it goes to the national interest and to the foreign policy priorities and the security priorities, we agree – all political – major political forces – that Georgia’s security and Georgia’s stable and secure future is in NATO and is in EU.
In this regard, I must underline that under the previous government, the process of the negotiations with EU on the association agreement, on the different comprehensive free and trade areas has been very successful and we will be not only continuing but try to accelerate and looking forward for the next year Vilnius European neighborhood summit.
And we hope very much that by that time we will demonstrate the steady progress in the democratic development and in the negotiations. We are really optimistic on concluding at least the negotiations and hoping to sign the – have signed the agreements. But you know, this Georgian Dream is the name of my coalition. So some of our dreams have already become the reality and we hope that the dreams of Georgia getting as close as possible to EU and NATO will become the truth.
And so Georgia’s European perspective is very much awaited in Georgia because this is Georgian people’s decision, not only particular political party’s decision but this is Georgian people’s decision that we must – we have to become the member of NATO and member of EU, member of the larger European family. And this process I can assure you is irreversible. It will go forward and it will go forward with through all the instruments and the political dialogue.
Next week we will be again in Brussels negotiating within the NATO structures. It will be the NATO-Georgia ambassadorial meeting and the preparing for the NATO-Georgia commission which is very important too for the Georgian-NATO relationship. Of course with regard to the security challenges, and here was the issue raised by the distinguished minister.
First of all, I must say that Georgia has transformed during the years from the consumer of the security to the contributor of the security by participating in international security operations, particularly in Afghanistan I must say shoulder-to-shoulder, fighting with our friends and partners. Georgia is becoming – has become the number one non-NATO contributor to the international operations and is committed to contribute further after 2014.
It doesn’t matter how the operation will transform, in the civilian or the military format. We will be very active in the planning process and we will be very active in providing and contributing further to the security in Afghanistan and in the region in particular.
But we have our own regional security challenges. It’s well-known that we have conflict with Russia. We had a very dramatic war in 2008. We have 20 – more than 20 percent of the Georgian territories occupied by the Russian forces. We are very grateful to the international community for the very strong support of Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and for very successful non-recognition policy.
As I mentioned, Georgia’s integration – the process of Georgia’s integration in NATO and EU is irreversible process. But we all realize that it is – there is a need – there is an importance for the Georgia-Russia dialogue to be opened, to be reopened, to be started. There is a very important instrument for that dialogue – Geneva process, Geneva talks. And there is no alternative for the moment for the Geneva talks and we are very strong – strongly supporting to continue within the Geneva framework our negotiations with Russia.
But also may I just – very recently the prime minister has appointed his personal representative in talks with the Russian Federation, a very experienced and highly qualified Zurab Abashidze in order to give new opportunities to reopen in regard of the establishing cultural, humanitarian and economic ties between Russia and Georgia.
You know that we have supported – agreed on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization and we will be looking forward to see the economic ties opened and the trade which is important for Georgia to be reopened with the Russian Federation. Of course, it will not be in exchange of any of the Georgian national interests. And especially and in particular with regard to the EU and NATO integration.
But it is very obvious and this is the demand from the Georgian population, from our voters. It’s important to open the economic ties and relationship with Russian Federation. It can be a good tool for further normalizing the relationship, deescalating the relationship and the rhetoric – to remove the rhetoric from our bilateral relationship. And in conclusion, I must – this is the energy and economic summit.
So we are very much supportive to the diversification of the energy transportation routes. And we are already hosting the two very important projects – Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum – with our Azerbaijani and the Turkish strategic partners and friends. We are realizing the project which is very important element for the energy independence – for the non-dependence of Europe on particular energy providers.
And for Georgia, it was really absolutely very important. In last few years, we managed in parallel with realizing the – providing the transit to the international energy projects, we have developed very much our internal hydropower market and hydropower resources. And we are inviting the foreign investors. But we are strongly cooperating with our Turkish friends and colleagues in that regard. We have become the exporters.
You, Damon, and other friends of course remember the dark, dark days of Georgia in early ’90s. And now, I am proud to say that Georgia has again transformed into the provider – contributor and exporter of the energy resources, electric energy resources. So for us, what we are hearing, the diversification of the energy routes is very important. Of course my preference is to have as much energy resources being transported through the Georgian territory and the pipelines
And I have heard that there will be an increase in the natural gas being transported through the Georgian territory. But I believe that in general the security, the energy security, the political security is very much, very much dependent on the will of the Georgian nation first of all to develop democratically and of course now our partners and international friends which are very much supportive to our country. Thank you very much. Sorry for my little bit long –
MR. WILSON: No, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Minister. There are quite a few issues I want to bring out in our conversation. So I’ll come back to you to follow up. But before I do that, let me come to Ria – to Ria Oomen-Ruijten. You represent a European Parliament voice, an important one on the discussion about the future of European enlargement. You’ve heard from Minister Bağış about Turkey’s interest and frustration in terms of some – in terms of the length of negotiations with the European Union.
You’ve heard from our Georgian minister about a continuing constituent appetite in Tbilisi for movement towards both the European Union and NATO. Given what’s going on in Europe right now, given the challenges that European leaders are facing with the Eurozone crisis, the actual future of the European Union itself, what the entity is going to look like, how much of an appetite is there really for the continued extension, if you will, of Euro-Atlanticism, whether it’s through European Union or NATO enlargement into this part of Europe?
RIA OOMEN-RUIJTEN: Let me first start by congratulating our Georgian minister. It was indeed – and I did it – I said it also in a press declaration – a peaceful transition. We are a bit worried on the fact if they can continue it to be peaceful because if you are speaking about NATO and the European Union, we are speaking about values. And what we sincerely hope is that also for members of the former governments that if something happens, the independent and impartial justice will be guaranteed.
We have some doubts there. And but I count on Georgia. I count on Georgia that they will respect everybody in the country, also the opposition. That’s one. The second point is what you’ve mentioned. You want to continue the relationship with the European Union and also with NATO. At the same time and that we are looking at now, you want to decrease the relations with Russia, which is a good thing. I’m also responsive for my political group, the biggest one in the parliament, for Russian relations. So that’s a good thing.
But how can you do both? That’s what I would like – would like to know because the statements we had up until now give us not the right answers up until now. So perhaps you could – we could discuss that. Second is on the European Union and its relationship to Turkey. We accepted Turkey as a candidate country of the European Union and that was a big deal because in a community of now 500 million European citizens, we accept to enlarge with 75 million Turkey citizens.
That can’t be neglected. But in a moment that we accepted Turkey, we said you have to share our values. And our values, they are at the heart of our cooperation. And what are our values? That your country is a democracy. Turkey is a democracy. You respect the rule of law, that you have an independent and impartial justice. Therefore, reforms are needed.
That you have not only in your constitution and your legislation, a recognition of the human rights but that you also live along this. And that is nowadays a massive criticism on Turkey because the reforms are slowing down. And what is in particular of importance is the reforms in the – (inaudible). That is what we are telling each other. And that’s a message which you don’t like. And if you tell us –
MR. BAĞIŞ: Because it’s not accurate. I’ll tell you why.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: Yeah. And if you tell us that NATO is of major importance for both of us, besides we also have the European defensive security policy because we want to share our part in the NATO. But many soldiers are brought in danger because of the fact that Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus and because of that you don’t – you are not willing to implement the Berlin Plus Agreement. That’s a problem. That’s a problem.
So what we have to do is start perhaps a new dialogue and have a bit more mutual trust and confidence and not shouting at the European Union when we show you the mirror. You can’t say that it’s a broken mirror. You have another word for this. You can’t say that. And you can’t say I don’t pay attention when also the parliament and I am responsible for that. Presents a report to Turkey in which the good things but also those questions which have to be solved in your society are mentioned.
You don’t need to reform for the European Union. You need to reform for your own democracy, for your own citizens because if you want to be a modern and prosperous society, then reforms are needed. And that’s the battle we are doing. And if we are speaking about freezing relations, yes, last half-year, the relations were frozen because a member of the club is not recognized by you.
So please come up, you also by doing as a big country, as a big nation, doing some steps towards a solution of the Cyprus question. Please come up with that. We can’t accept that a member of our club is not recognized anymore and we don’t need to repeat what we said. I was as disappointed as you were when the – (inaudible) – was not accepted in 2004. I was sad.
There is a new reality and in that new reality we want to be Turkey in. We know that we need each other as countries which have a rule of law, which have values but also in economic terms we are highly dependent of each other. More than half of your trade is with European countries. So we are dependent of each other. But do you at most to do something and do also accept a mirror to which you said in 2004 that you would accept it. That’s it.
MR. BAĞIŞ: Sorry, can I –
MR. WILSON: Yes, sir, I will. So Prime Minister Sturza, with your indulgence, so because Ria Oomen-Ruijten has put some serious issues on the table both for I think you, Minister Bağış, and you, Minister Petriashvili, I mean, this is a voice who has been involved in helping to prepare the reports in the European Parliament on Turkey.
And so how – part of it, as Americans watch this debate, one of the questions I want you to pick up on this, respond to the issues of the values, the rule of law, how does the constitutional reform process, civil-military relations, media freedom, human rights, the Cyprus issue, how does all of this fit into the way Turkey thinks about Europe.
But as an American watching it, also how do we avoid a dynamic that goes into play of finger pointing between Brussels and Ankara that creates more of a negative spiral away from Turkey and the European Union membership rather than a positive spiral towards that? So please respond and then I’ll come to you, Mr. Minister.
MR. BAĞIŞ: First of all, Ria, thank you for waking me up and provoking me and giving me a chance to share some of my frustration because really the history of Turkish-EU relations is a history of un-kept promises by the EU. And I’ll share some of them with you in response to some of your allegations. You asked my Georgian colleague how they plan to enhance their relations with Russia and EU at the same time.
First of all, you should ask your so-called president state how come they are making statements that they have not decided to borrow funds from Europe or Russia and they are still in the process of discussing for their economic crisis. A member state of EU who is not in the process of running the presidency is serving as laundry facility for Russian banking system. When it comes to a member state, they can get away with it.
But for a potential member state, you’re even questioning their talks. I don’t think this is really realistic. Now, you mentioned that Turkey should accept the values. And that’s why in my opening remarks I said those values are also in NATO. When it comes to taking advantage of the second largest military in NATO, the largest military in Europe, Turkey is fine with these values. But when it comes to EU membership, there is a question mark.
Now, you said reforms are needed and relations have come to a – have frozen. You are dead wrong there. In the last six months, relations were not frozen because we created a new concept with the commission called positive agenda. In order to go around this Greek Cypriot presidency, we established eight working groups on eight chapters that have been blocked by member states. And some of the things that were not resolved between Turkey and Europe during the last 30 years were resolved during the last six months.
For the first time, all member states gave the commission the authority to start visa liberalization talks with Turkey. For the first time, the commission sent us in writing that closing benchmarks on four different chapters have been met by Turkey and as soon as the political blocks are lifted, the commission will present to the council proposals to formally close those chapters. You mentioned the Cyprus problem.
What is so unacceptable to anyone with common sense is how come the Cyprus problem was not a prerequisite for membership of Cyprus is now being portrayed as if it is a prerequisite for membership of Turkey. If Cyprus issue was so important for you guys, why did you allow a country despite your own a key (ph) that has not resolved its own border problems?
Two days after the referenda that you mentioned, the EU Council unanimously took a decision, April 26th, 2004. The EU Council said we will put an end to all isolation against Northern Cyprus. And today is the 29th birthday of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and I congratulate their prosperity.
For the last 29 years, there has not been any bloodshed, any argument. So the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has been good for the whole island. And the council decision on 2004 said the EU should start relations with Northern Cyprus. Implement your own decision. We’re not asking you to do anything new.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: (Off mic.)
MR. BAĞIŞ: No, you have not implemented that decision because four days after that, the Greek Cypriots became a member and they blocked the decision. But that was a unanimous decision. So EU should realize it has a major credibility problem outside of EU. You don’t like my phrase about the commission’s progress report, broken mirror. I’ll tell you, I was in Rome two weeks ago and I met with the speaker of the Italian parliament who had served as their foreign minister.
And without me opening the issue, he said: I read your statement about the commission’s progress report and the term you used, “broken mirror,” is the best example, the bet analysis I’ve heard in the last couple of years about the attitude coming out of commission. So there are – there is different approaches to that terminology as well. You can ask Speaker Fini on that issue.
Now, you mentioned that we need reforms for our own. We know. That’s why we are doing it. And in the last six months, which you claim that the relations were frozen and the reforms have come to an end, we passed the third judicial reform package through our parliament. And as a result of that package, 35,000 people were released from Turkish prisons because they were detained for too long. Thirty-five thousand families have been reunited in the last six months.
I’m not claiming Turkey is perfect. We have issues. But believe me, many countries around the world, including many member states, are not perfect either. As a matter of fact, there is no perfect country. If you analyze enough, you can find a whole list of misconceptions and wrongdoings in every country.
But what is different in Turkey is we’re taking major steps. In the last six months, we passed a law on disarmament and right now as we speak here, the Turkish parliament committee is electing the ombudsman of Turkey, which is an EU regulation. So our reforms have not stopped. Our reforms are going faster than ever. And I am very serious about this. Turkey is the most reformist government in Europe today, looking at the need for reform in Europe. You guys are acting much slower than we are.
And I think you should also do your own reforms for your own sake. Europe needs to reform itself. With this concept of unanimity in every decision-making, you are forcing your economies to go to bankruptcy. And I think as a future member, we care. And we should also help you look at your mirror so you can fix your problems because we don’t want to join a bankrupt union. We want to join a strong union and that’s why we will do our best to help you.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Let me just –
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: You are going – you are going a bit far. You are going a bit far. First of all, let me say that I am absolutely –
MR. BAĞIŞ: By the way, we are used to this, the two of us.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: Yeah, I’m absolutely happy that you embrace now the positive agenda. You know that I did it and you also do it. So on that issue we don’t have any comments anymore.
MR. BAĞIŞ: If I embraced it, it would not be in effect.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: You embraced it. The second thing is that on the visa issue, I think it’s of major importance for both of us. But to get it through, we need something. We need also a readmission of the refugees.
MR. BAĞIŞ: Ria, give me a date. Give me a date when visas will be lifted for Turkish citizens. Readmission agreement will go into effect tomorrow.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: Yeah, but you know – yeah, but you know –
MR. WILSON: We’ll try to go through it one-by-one here.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: Then on the major problems of Europe in the financial crisis, yes, we have a banking crisis in Europe. But I was last week I was in United States. And if the receipts of the United States would be taken by the European countries, then we would be really bankrupt because if you look at United States, 70 billion – nay, 17 thousand billion – public debts, public debts. And who caused our problems because our banks were so connected to the American banks. That is the cause of the problem.
It’s not from the beginning a European problem. No, it came from the global linkage between our banks towards American banks. And you know that. And we are trying to solve it. We are trying to give countries the time and the money to restructure their economies and to look over their budgets are equal in –
MR. WILSON: And Ria, the issue here rather than re-litigate the crisis, the issue is how is this going to impact Europe’s ability or willingness to continue to move forward, whether it’s with Turkey or Georgia or Moldova, on DCFTAs, on visa-free travel, on the process of European integration.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: What you should distinguish is following. First of all, we have candidate countries and Turkey is one of the preferred candidate countries. And what I see is that more and more European countries – European chancellor of Germany — is willing to accept Turkey.
They had remarks but they are less and less. So that’s one. The second is we can’t have everybody in due time in the European Union. So that means that we have cooperation agreements with some other countries. And that’s also the case for Georgia, for instance. We do our most but we can’t negotiate and accept everybody at the same time.
MR. WILSON: So I want to make a point of trying to get through our discussion to bring in some questions from the audience as well. So we’ve got more issues on the table. I’m going to come back to you, Mr. Minister Petriashvili. But give me a moment. Prime Minister Sturza, I want to hear from you. You’re here representing Moldova, representing a country that at a time of a lot of concern about transitions in Europe’s east, there’s actually a degree of optimism about Moldova to some degree.
You’ve made progress with the European Union on a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. There’s even discussion about whether Moldova will be given a European perspective in the coming year.
The U.S. House of Representatives is going to pass legislation I think this Friday to rescind the Jackson-Vanik restrictions on Moldova as part of your membership in the WTO. There actually is some momentum on this issue. So give us a perspective from Chişinău how you see the whole process of the extension of Euro-Atlanticism to your country but more broadly in the region.
ION STURZA: Thank you very much. First of all, I won’t mention this discussion between you because when we launched these initiatives with Atlantic Council five years ago, we not expect such an intensive dialogue between European Union representatives and Turkish representatives. It is a great achievement of our initiative. And Mr. Kempe was here. Congratulations.
From the beginning, I want to apologize on behalf of some high level officials from Moldova which were supposed to be today here. But due to the fact of un-optimum visit of Mr. Rogozin in our region and needs to be in the country and to meet and to be part of the show and PR of Mr. Rogozin, they postponed the council visit in Istanbul.
MR. WILSON: So you can take up the question that Ria put also. How do you pursue the right relationship with the EU and Russia at the same time?
MR. STURZA: Yes, these facts shows no contradiction between our European perspective and cooperation with Russia. We need to care about this relation because although it’s a small country – it’s just on the border between two worlds. And we Moldavians live simultaneously at least in three informational, cultural and economic systems. One is the former Soviet Union – the CIS region. One is a local. Then one it’s a European Union.
And take care about everything and mentally, culturally we are in the same time in different world. We are speaking different language. In the morning we start to show – to see the events in Central Asia, Russia, Moldova, Romania, European and this is our, you know, advantage.
At the same time it’s a disadvantage because when you speak about, you know, why Moldovans at the same time maintain a good relation with neighborhood and with Russia and European Union. Moldova, of course, it’s in favor of European future because Moldova geographically, historically and politically, it’s a part of Europe. It’s not far from the geographical center of Europe.
And of course, according to social polls, two-thirds of our national population is in favor of European Union. It was some time eight years which will be ambiguity in our foreign policy due to the several reasons. Today there is consent between elites, between our population about our future – common future with the European Union. But it’s not the best times maybe to now to come to Europe and say, we want to be a part of Europe, because despite the internal problem, our success – in success in our reforms, there is a lot of problem inside European Union.
We are happy with little which we receive from European Union, little encouraging, little discussing, little – much little money. But in many this is for us no questions and no doubts about, you know, value. We share values with European Union.
For us, from my perspective, from my point of view, it’s much more important to implement European model of development than to be in European Union, which is maybe the dream for us because to sell to internally for public opinion Europe in next enlargement will be very difficult due to the several reasons – I don’t want to mention once again this problem.
And one more, the most important statement in our summit until now was a statement of our Georgian colleague which is practically end of any speculation about future of intention for Georgia. In some sense, for us Georgia was a benchmark in implementation of reforms, democracy and so on. I’ve been in Georgia several times.
For me, it was not so, you know, sure about what’s happening in Georgia during the last 10 years. I think this was partially through project democratical (sic) and economical process and sometime it was a PR project. Now, it’s time for Georgia to give some muscles for all this PR project. And I congratulate the new government with my statement which is close any speculation of opposition of Georgia in the future.
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. Just very briefly, Ria, and then I’m going to turn to the audience and come back to you.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: Only one sentence. I want to take away every misunderstanding that I wouldn’t love to have good neighbor relations from your countries with Russia. I am the one who is co-responsible for the new partnership agreement, European Union to Russia. So I did, please, in Poland, for instance, no doubt. But to share two different views is not quite simple, because do you speak with the Russians also about your foreign and security politics? There you will have – you will have a problem, I think.
MR. WILSON: So Minister Petriashvili, the other issue that Ria put on the table was the concern extending Euro-Atlanticism is much about what happens internally as your external policies.
So when your prime minister was in Brussels, he heard from senior EU and NATO officials concern about allegations of potential retribution against members of the former government, the charges that are out there against the defense minister, other senior military officers. Would you be willing to address that – help address those concerns about maintaining the civil liberties that Georgian citizens and former government officials should enjoy?
MR. PETRIASHVILI: Thank you. Thank you very much. And thank you for reminding me the questions because the last thing, you know, all last year since Georgia’s independence we have always been hearing that Georgia is the subject to confrontation between United States and Russia, between EU and Russia. So last thing I want today is it has to become the subject of confrontation between Turkey and the EU. So I hope that it will be just a very healthy debate.
But I can tell you very honestly that first of all on the developments – recent developments in Georgia, Prime Minister Ivanishvili, he had very successful meetings in Brussels, has raised this issue himself and offered to the international community first of all reassured that all investigation will go under the very serious monitoring of the international community and with all due respect to the international standards of human rights, with the law – rule of law and the justice and the court, will be free and independent in making decisions from the political pressure.
I can assure the audience, can assure you that there will be no more selective justice in Georgia. That is very important for us because if I go back to the court decision figures, it will make very different that 99-point. Two percent of the court decisions were in favor of prosecution. But it was in past.
I can tell you that the democratic reforms, the judiciary system reforms and all the investigation and all the particular cases and don’t think that it is not concerning us personally because it is always concern when the acting chairman of the defense forces is under the investigation, particularly with relationship with NATO.
But the questions which are existing and the evidences which are coming up during the investigation must be responded and we believe that the cabinet members, the minister of justice, new minister of justice who is very highly professional and open to the international community as well as the prosecutor general in having very often communication with the diplomatic corps represented in Georgia will close any questions with regard to the political repressions and with regard to the selective justice.
In upcoming few days, in upcoming future there may be other cases. But I can tell you that it will be under the very, very serious monitoring of the international community. And the second issue is with regard to the two-track – we have started to try to have a dialogue with Russia. And first of all, when we are underlining the issue of the economic ties, of trade, Russia has become with our consent the member of the WTO.
There is a bilateral – on both sides there is a will of reopening the trade relationship between the – between the two neighbors. And we are rightly interested in getting back Georgian product to the Russian markets.
And I believe every country is interested in getting their goods to the Russian markets. They have a huge market. I doubt very much that this will be the issue for the trade of Russians because they also – in my belief they also want to make a step forward. I’m not any illusions that they will make a reverse of their recognition in upcoming years.
But we have to start. We have to start with trade, with cultural ties, with the humanitarian projects, with the public diplomacy, with the Abkhaz and Ossetian brothers and to demonstrate that Georgia is the kind of country where they would be happy to return as a democratic and very economically developing country. This is the key to the relationship with Abkhaz and the Ossetians. But I must reiterate here that the process of integration with EU and NATO will go much faster and much more dynamically with the Russian Federation.
There is no doubt. I was always saying we will start the negotiations but they will be very difficult. There is no illusion that it will be easy negotiations. But I must remind my distinguished friends and colleagues here in this room the negotiations on withdrawal of the Russian military bases. They were very tough. I have participated in those negotiations. And they were the same four-start generals who were righting thumbs and nails but not getting their military forces.
OK, there was different times. But it happened. It happened and then it’s here in Istanbul in 1999 with the historic agreement on the withdrawal. So that is nothing that cannot happen. But we need to move and we have the potential of starting talking with Russian Federation and continue integrating in the EU and NATO.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Minister, thank you. I think two important statements – one, to hear of no more – no selective justice in Georgia I think is an important statement to make. One of the countries we haven’t talked about is Ukraine in this discussion. And obviously as the trials have played out in Ukraine, it’s disrupted Ukraine’s relationship with Europe.
And I think having that in the square of the new government’s agenda is going to be quite important to continue to advance your relationship with Europe as well as the idea of trying to rebuild something with Russia on the basis of trade as it enters the World Trade Organization, a real opportunity there. I’m sensitive to –
MR. PETRIASHVILI: Yes, very small –
MR. WILSON: Very brief because I want to bring in the audience.
MR. PETRIASHVILI: Very brief. When I was saying there are no more selective justice, I was meaning the selective justice which we were witnessing before October 1st, not after that.
MR. WILSON: OK, let me bring in the gentleman here please. Please, question in the front. I think we can hear you.
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. WILSON: Right, and if you could speak up just a bit so we can hear you here.
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. WILSON: Sorry, here’s the mic. I apologize for that.
Q: Thank you – from the inside of the EU, how we see things. And I would like to thank you for your initial intervention which I liked. But on the other hand, you spoke about values. And there is I think that the European Union has serious problems with values because there is a democratic deficit in the European Union. We are no longer democratic as we used to be. I would say one thing.
The measures that were adopted by Greek parliament last week were unconstitutional. They were against Greek constitution. And it was voted upon and the European Parliament applauded it. They welcomed it. So that’s one aspect. And then there’s the other aspect that the European Union is destroying one of its members states now.
The society is dissolving. Unemployment has increased with a measured statement by the European Union to 25, 26 percent. And this was a result of the measures in order to resolve the problem. So as Minister Bağış said, you don’t want to join an EU that would be bankrupt. Perhaps we might reach that.
MR. WILSON: Thank you. And if anyone’s got any questions or comments, please catch my eye, catch my attention. So we’ve managed to get the Greeks and the Turks offering a critique of Brussels. So Ria, as a representative of the parliament –
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: The point is the measures which have to be taken now by Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal are harsh. That is recognized. And you have very, very much social consequences. I recognize that. But it’s not Europe who caused your problem. You did it yourself. If you have a budget deficit which is over 200 percent, it’s you who caused the problem and you gave the wrong information.
I would like you to join me when I am defending the measures, not only the austerity measures from your country but also when I’m defending the money which the European Union has to spend in Greece and all the other countries to resolve the crisis.
Then you would be aware that citizens in my country don’t accept that. But I defend it and I will defend it but that you also have to do something in Greece and perhaps also look over what amounts of money is already gone from your country by big traders, big companies, wealthy persons abroad. Do you bring it back?
MR. WILSON: And Ria, as the EU struggles with this issue of the financial crisis, as it struggles with the members of the permanent states, its –
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: No, this financial crisis – yeah, the financial crisis is caused – is caused by member states and banks.
MR. WILSON: But my question is the lack – there’s a strain on the sense of solidarity within Europe. And at a time of strain within the sense of solidarity inside the EU, what does that mean in terms of forging a new sense of solidarity, new bonds with the countries on this platform that are represented today?
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: No, no. There is solidarity. There is almost in all the fundings for those countries – there is a reserve of almost 1,000 billion euros to solve the problems. That is the fact, going to the ESM and all the other funds. That’s the facts. That money is available. And because of that fact, we can restore the confidence in Greece.
But that also Greece like Turkey also had to do 10 years ago. You also had a crisis, a financial crisis. And then your citizens suffer. It’s caused by politicians. But citizens suffer now. But we have to give them a good and light in the future. There I totally agree.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Ria. We have just a few more minutes. So I want to try to catch any remaining questions from the audience. If we can bring the mic back to this gentleman and if there’s another person, just catch my eye.
Q: I’m – (inaudible) – former special representative of the European Union for the last six years. And I have had a strange experience here in Istanbul and Ankara. The more I visit Ankara and Istanbul, the more I hear your bashing of Europe. Bashing of Europe is quite usual. And the more I come and the more I’ve been working very efficiently on Central Asia. So we have a rather two-tier system. And I think many Europeans could say a lot about working with Turkey anyway.
There is too much emotion. There is too much playing with public opinion. And this is dangerous. And we should scale down because everybody is under pressure and everybody is under tension. You can say you are successful, you are stupid, you are bad. I mean, I don’t think you would convince 500 million citizens that way and 27 fully equal and independent countries whose position in the end will be determining for future expansion of the union, which is necessary.
But I don’t think we will win in playing on emotions. I would just add something on this European failure and so on. Tremendous steps, undreamed of, have been done in the last two years of this failing Europe. Sorry, nobody would have been ready for that. And I would just like to take two small examples: Moldova, Transnistria. I’ve been ambassador to – this has been a drama. This has been a terrible situation. Step-by-step, it’s too slow. But Europe is trying to contribute with others to solving this pending drama for a nation which has cut off its own path.
So we know and we care for that. And believe me, to convince somebody in Lisbon or in – (inaudible) – or in Paris or elsewhere that we have to care about the problem in Tiraspol, you have to work with 500 citizens – 500 million citizens. This is part of the game. And this is what the European Parliament is doing Brussels. Second example, Georgia – I’ve been there working endlessly for three years. We’ve stopped the war. Sorry, we don’t solve the problem. It’s a big problem which is 20 years of history of war. But we did it.
And I would have said to our European countries four years ago it will take 300 people to go there and be on this no-man’s land and work for four years. They would not have gone. But they stay now and they continue the job and I think everybody recognizes this. So this is also Europe. It’s just work done and not politics and feelings put too high in this present situation. sorry, thank you.
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much. And for all of us –
MR. BAĞIŞ: I need to make a point.
MR. WILSON: I will. For all of us that know your work, you’ve done tremendous work and job in helping to connect Europe to Central Asia as well. And we haven’t gotten that into the conversation. We have just under five minutes left. So what I want to do is come back to all of you to offer – be able to respond to what you’ve just heard but use that to offer some concluding comments for our audience here as well as the television audience.
And Minister Bağış, why don’t we start with you? But I’m going to – as you think about responding to what you’ve heard, part of this is how do we think about avoiding a negative dynamic that pushes Turkey and the European Union further away from each other as you go through the negotiating process and how as you watch the evolution of Turkish public opinion, how do you actually create a more positive spiral, positive dynamic.
You’re about to begin constitutional reforms, if you could work that into your conclusion as well as how that relates to the agenda. And then we’ll work down the line for a conclusion. Thank you.
MR. BAĞIŞ: Churchill once said something about Americans which is actually very accurate about Europeans today. He said Americans always do the right thing after exploiting all the other options. We are now witnessing Europe who are trying to exploit all the other options and I’m sure at the end they will do the right thing. We are not playing with emotions in Turkey. We have realities which create frustration.
The reality is Turkey is the only candidate or potential candidate country whose citizens are still forced to apply for visas to go to the Schengen region. That’s discriminatory. The Cyprus problem which was not a prerequisite for membership of Cyprus is now being portrayed as if it’s a prerequisite for Turkey.
Europe has an economic crisis. Turkey has a market of 75 million with the fastest growing economy and a bridge to 1.5 billion consumers – (inaudible). But and as a member of customs union we are having a lot of difficulties in terms of trade relations as well which we deal with the commission.
Europe has another upcoming crisis which my Georgian colleague mentioned vis-à-vis energy. Seventy-five percent of all energy resources Europe needs today are either to the south, north or east of Turkey. So unless someone comes up with a new viable technology of energy distribution, Turkey’s cooperation is a must for Europe. But the chapter on energy is blocked only because Cyprus feels like blocking it. You talked about the interest of 500 million Europeans. Don’t let 500,000 take away the interest of500 million hostage. We have to come to our senses in terms of their relations.
Turkey is suffering from PKK terrorism and PKK is a terrorist organization which is on the list of EU’s terrorist organizations can build tents in city centers of some of the capitals of Europe and collect donations. That’s something wrong there. We have to be honest with each other. We have to be credible partners. And my nation, which had 78 percent support for EU membership back in 2005, has now around 30 percent, 35 percent support. I am doing my best to reengineer the public support.
But my people see the facts. And the response to your question, what we can do. The first immediate thing that needs to be done is to lift visas against Turkish citizens. If it takes the readmission agreement, we are willing to do it. We already spent four years on and finalized the text of the readmission agreement. We even initialed it to show that we are serious about it.
But we need to be given a clear promise with a date when the visas will be lifted. And we’re willing to spend our funds, our resources, our personnel in terms of processing with the contents of the readmission agreement. But unfortunately, as I said, we have seen 53 years of un-kept promises by Europe. So we’re not going to take a pat on the shoulder to do what needs to be done. We need a clear commitment.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Let me turn to you, Minister Petriashvili, for your final word. I’m going to remind –
MR. PETRIASHVILI: Thank you.
MR. WILSON: If I could ask each of you to be very brief. We’re bumping up against lunch, so –
MR. PETRIASHVILI: I will be very brief, first of all in praising Ambassador Morel (ph) in doing wonderful job during last years for negotiating the conflict with Russia – Georgia’s conflict with Russia in the frame of the Geneva talks. And my standard line as well and express my appreciation for the EU monitoring mission doing very important job and which is facing the problems from the other side of the conflict.
But I must say that there is – with regard to the reforms in the frame of the European Union, there is a very wonderful initiative which is called more for more. I mean, so we are always demanding more for more. So we are progressing. We are developing. We are moving forward and we are doing our best to speed up the process of the integration in the EU and NATO.
So we will be looking forward for getting reciprocal response from the EU side. And we really value the support which we are receiving from the European Union technically, financially, politically. And finally, last but not least, we have been discussing the issue of the occupation. The issue of the occupation is of vital importance. And we will be continuing the negotiations and the consultations because the policy of the occupation recognition will be very important in terms of keeping the issue very important for the international community.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Minister Petriashvili. Let me come to you, Ria.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: Yeah, I would like to come back to the positive agenda which was mentioned by Mr. Bağış before. He said we do good things. The problem is as the ambassador said that we have to defend an enlargement of 75 Turkish citizens in the European Union in a time where Europe is indeed for the financial crisis already suffering because the Dutch, the Deutsch, the Luxembourgs, the Irish, also the new countries have to pay for the debts of the others.
And in that crisis we see that such a large potential comes to us and we need then to see how can we pick them up. We are all – the ambassador and I and my colleagues are defending the enlargement of Turkey. But in the moment that Turkey itself is bashing us, then our citizens ask us what are we doing. Why should we do it? And I have the impression but I can’t resubmit that to everybody. I have the impression that sometimes discussions are only for internal use. If we are speaking about the disparity, it was this government who ratified – who ratified the conventions. So I don’t think –
MR. BAĞIŞ: Do you want to limit freedom of speech in turkey?
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: No, I don’t think that –
MR. BAĞIŞ: I mean, it’s a discussion.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: Yes, but I don’t think that it was serious.
MR. WILSON: And if you can briefly wrap it up, Ria?
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: But that makes – that gives a negative inference in the European society. And that is what I would like to avoid. Also on the PKK, we were absolutely strong in the European Parliament on it. And you know that. You know that.
MR. WILSON: Final word, Ria. OK.
MS. OOMEN-RUIJTEN: My final part is let’s start a dialogue. Let’s have a bit of confidence in each other and don’t use all the bashing issues as debates for internal – use them for internally but don’t do it anymore so that we can come closer together. That’s what I would like to see.
MR. WILSON: All right. I’m going to turn to Mr. Prime Minister Sturza for the final word of the panel.
MR. STURZA: Yes, I want to be positive in a way.
MR. WILSON: Please, a brief final comment.
MR. STURZA: Yeah, in spite of problem in European Union, we believe in this project. And for us, Europe, first of all, it’s a place of high level standards and peace. But Europeans don’t play with these values. Thank you.
MR. WILSON: All right. And a good way to end. I think what we’re seeing – what we’re talking about is joining the family. We’re talking about extending Euro-Atlanticism and in joining the family there are always heated debates. And I think we’ve seen that today. But what is remarkable is that even as Europe is going through its own financial crisis, it’s political crisis, you have a Turkey that is advancing reforms.
You have a Georgia and Moldova that are concluding deep and comprehensive free trade agreements despite the problems that are taking place across the continent. This process of extending Euro-Atlanticism, it moves forward. And there’s a degree of inevitability taking place right now. I think we’re grateful for that. That’s something that the Atlantic Council intends to stand behind and continue working with all of you in the weeks and months ahead. Thank you very much. Please join me in thanking the panel. (Applause.)