Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Turkish minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Bağış, has stressed that Ankara’s path into the European Union (EU) will pass through the “gateway” of the Middle East and Gulf states, particularly as these are considered major investors and contributors to the European economy.
This comes in the same week that EU officials have announced that Turkey is likely to take a long-awaited step on its path towards EU membership next month, after France eased its opposition to Ankara’s accession talks.
Turkey’s EU talks have stalled in recent years, particularly as a result of opposition from Paris and a seemingly intractable dispute between Ankara and Cyprus.
However, EU officials revealed that talks relating to the 35 “chapters” an EU candidate state has to complete before it is ready to become a member are set to resume in June.
Bağış acknowledged that the controversy surrounding Cyprus, as well as strong Greek opposition to Turkish membership, are the most important challenges facing Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, the Turkish minister for EU Affairs revealed that Turkey and the EU had previously discussed 14 out of the 35 chapters. Bağış also stressed that Ankara has overcome a number of obstacles and implemented many of the required reforms, adding that this has allowed Turkey to outperform all EU member states economically.
The minister also told Asharq Al-Awsat that Athens had failed to follow the political solution to resolve the Cyprus crisis proposed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004, adding that Greece’s economic situation would be much better today if it had done so.
Bağış noted that relations between Turkey and the EU are based on a single principle, namely strengthening economic ties by securing greater transparency in all fields.
He added that Turkey first began the path of reform required for EU membership more than 50 years ago, and that the country’s GDP has more than doubled in the past ten years. Bağış stressed that just ten years ago, the country only had 14 universities nationally, while today that figure stands at 200, in addition to other developments in terms of national infrastructure.
“Income from tourism rose from USD 9 million to USD 30 billion. These developments have been achieved over the last ten years, during which Turkey recorded a number of achievements in all fields, particularly in terms of human rights,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He added that implementing these reforms on the ground is more important than Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
“The EU needs Turkey to join more than Turkey needs the EU. The EU member states should be aware of this,” Bağış said.
The Turkish minister revealed that trade between Turkey and the EU has fallen from 60% to 38%, but stressed that trade with the rest of the world has risen by 400%.
Bağış noted that “negotiations between Turkey and the EU are ongoing, and this could see Turkey enter the EU at any time.” However, he stressed that “there may come a time when we may reject joining the EU.”
Bağış, who visited Saudi Arabia last week, emphasized that claims that Turkey does not care about the Middle East, and is more concerned about the EU, are not true.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Turkey has historically considered itself a mediator between the East and the West,” adding, “this can be seen in our investments and our strong relations with both sides.”
The Turkish minister played up the strong ties between Ankara and Riyadh, particularly in light of the recent official visit paid by Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz to Turkey.