January 10, 2007
Olli Rehn

Ipek Cem was recently in Brussels to meeet with Olli Rehn, European Union Commissioner responsible for Enlargement. The conversation naturally centered around Turkey's membership to the E.U., the Cyprus issue, the enlargement of E.U. and the future of E.U.

Ipek Cem: Our guest today is Olli Rehn, EU Commissioner responsible for Enlargement. Welcome to the show.


Olli Rehn: Thank you very much.


Ipek Cem: You recently had a lecture at the University of Helsinki where you talked about the accession process of Turkey. And actually it was quite an interesting speech. And you mentioned in the beginning of the speech that when Turkey was being mentioned as a possible accession country some of the EU countries perceived this as a "flying saucer landing out of space", and then you proceeded to talk about why this is not so. What has happened in the past week; does that confirm that view?


Olli Rehn: No. Well.. in a way yes, but in some other ways , no. In other words, what I meant in the speech was that in the public debate in Europe the issue of Turkey's accession negotiations came quite suddenly, even though we have had decades of common history in terms of European integration. And therefore, rationally, it should not have been a surprise, but public debate is not always so "super rational". And now the negotiations with Turkey have been started, as we know, in October 2005. And last week we took a decision in the European Union which on the one hand implies consequences because Turkey has not met certain obligations, while at the same time we agreed on the management of the continuation of the accession process. So in that sense we reconfirmed the EU accession perspective of Turkey, once Turkey meets the conditions.


Ipek Cem: At the same time it was decided that  eight chapters were frozen. But for example Foreign Minister of Greek Cypriots, he mentioned yesterday they are going to veto any chapter that is going to be opened, and they are not going to let the negotiations go four chapters to start. So when a decision is taken, and then according to the rules of the EU, member states have certain powers, veto powers. How can the process go forward if one EU member is not willing for the process to move forward?


Olli Rehn: Last week's decision in the Foreign Ministers' meeting in the  Council of Ministers was very clear in this account. It was a very carefully calibrated decision. On the one hand it implies that it sends a clear signal to Turkey, that there are consequences if legal obligations are not met, and that's why the EU will not open chapters related to Turkey's restrictions under the Customs Union protocol before the obligations have been met. In the mean time, on the other chapters we will enter the previously existing sort of an undeclared strike in the Council, because nothing was moving since the summer because of this unclear situation. Now, the situation is very clear. There is a political agreement of the EU member states to complete the screening process, and open such chapters where the technical preparations have been conducted. I trust that all the twenty five EU member states will adhere to this decision now, and over twenty seven since January because Bulgaria and Romania are joining.


Ipek Cem: Now before the meetings of the Foreign Ministers, our Prime Minister Erdoğan,  made a proposal to the EU about opening one port and one airport. And this was met, in the beginning, with some enthusiasm thinking that it was a step forward, that it was a good start to build a dialogue, but then it didn't really have an impact. What did you think about this offer of Turkey?


Olli Rehn: If confirmed, and if expressed clearly as a good will gesture and realised without any specific conditions then it would have been certainly a step towards full implementation of the Ankara Protocol, which of course we would have considered as a welcome initiative. However, it was not clearly confirmed, and the European Union cannot base its decisions on uncertain initiatives which have not been clearly either in written form or otherwise politically unequivocal form clarified to the European Union.


Ipek Cem: Does that mean that if at this point or moving forward that the same offer, which if it were presented in a written and more elaborate manner would be considered accordingly?


Olli Rehn: It is not a matter of bargaining. It is not a matter of holding an auction, but it's a matter of meeting certain legal and contractual obligations. Which mean that Turkey as a condition to open the accession negotiations agreed to sign the Ankara Protocol and also fully implement the Ankara Protocol. That is what we are asking. And whatever paves the way for fully implementing the Ankara Protocol is positive, but as regards the decision of the Foreign Ministers that of course implies that we expect full implementation by Turkey.


Ipek Cem: This is an issue I don't want to go around and around the same issue, but this is a highly political issue as well, and it is a historic problem with many complications and even Kofi Annan, with all his good will, has not been able to have the Annan plan accepted. And it is going to take some time still, even if a solution can be found under the UN auspices, which I sincerely hope we can. So though we understand of course the legality, and respect the legality, but at the same time there is the sense that we are not looking at the full picture. The full picture is very complicated and there is a sense in the Turkish public opinion that the people suffering the most from this isolation are the Turkish Cypriots. So this is why there is a sense that perhaps that legality is important, but at the same time somebody has to hear out the real concerns of the Turkish Cypriots who are isolated and who are not real European citizens, even though on paper they are. Any thoughts on that?


Olli Rehn: These are two separate issues, and as I said we expect that Turkey meets its obligations under the Ankara Protocol, without linking it to other issues. At the same time it is important to note that last week's decision was very clear concerning support for ending the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community, and facilitating its economic development with a perspective of reunification of the island. In other words, the EU Foreign Ministers decided after a lengthy debate to resume without delay in January the work in order to get the regulation for special conditions on trade between the Turkish Cypriot community and the rest of the European Union adopted. Moreover there was a very strong political support for resuming talks on a comprehensive settlement under the auspices of the United Nations. And indeed it is a high time and I refuse to believe that there is no such a thing as a win-win situation in the southeastern Mediterranean.


Ipek Cem: Going to enlargement, which is your topic, it is a very important topic and linked also to the mission of the European Union. If the European Union is becoming more of a global actor, and if the world is more of a global playground, then enlargement is very critical. But at the same time, you mention in your speeches, and we see it in the public opinion polls,  support for the European project among the publics are dwindling. We saw it in the constitution, and we see it in the issue of enlargement. You are calling, always, for more communication, more transparency. How can we move forward in a situation – not just with Turkey, but with the other members that are entering, and prospective members, I am looking at the map and there are many hopefuls out there which are not already part of the EU map. What are some of the concrete steps that could be taken to make this project more loved?


Olli Rehn: First of all, it is true that there is a certain enlargement fatigue, enlargement blues among the European public, European citizens. It has been there for some years already, in fact. But it is not only an enlargement blues, it is blues about a host of other issues as well. We could call it the "globalisation blues", or the "welfare state blues", or the "unemployment blues". In other words, the origins of this blues is much deeper in our social fabric than simply enlargement. We shouldn't make enlargement a scape-goat of our domestic economic problems, or domestic politic failures otherwise.  Therefore it is important to get the European economy moving again. It is important to regain the support of the citizens for the whole European project including enlargement. In that regard, the European Council last week was an important milestone of stocktaking and way forward. There were some headlines which were not actually quite right, they were not quite correct. Some headlines in some of the European media it had that the EU is closing its doors to the East. That is not correct. The correct headline in fact is: "The EU keeps its doors open for south-eastern Europe". That is for Turkey, and therefore the western Balkans. And so these countries over south-eastern Europe can walk through the door once they have met all the conditions of access


Ipek Cem: You are going to have a new book out on this matter, "Europe's new borders", am I correct?


Olli Rehn: You are correct. It's just come out some time ago, it's called "Europe's Next Frontiers" and in fact it is an important distinction between the word "border" and "frontier" in the English language, because borders are quite restrictive, defensive, it is a very defensive attitude towards change, while frontiers imply new openings, new chances, and in my view, Europe has always succeeded best when it has maintained the economic and intellectual openness of the enlightenment. And that is why we also have to be able to maintain a sound and solid and carefully managed accession process, because Europe needs both deepening and widening. We have to deepen our political integration, to make our decision making more effective, reinforce our common foreign and security policy, reinforce democracy in the European Union, while at the same time we need to extend the zone of the peace and stability, liberty and democracy, increasing prosperity in our immediate neighbourhood, especially in south-eastern Europe.


Ipek Cem: And the western Balkans are also on the sidelines.


Olli Rehn: They are part of this consolidated enlargement agenda. One of the decisions of last week in the European Council was indeed to consolidate our enlargement agenda to cover southeastern Europe. In 2004 we reunified Eastern Europe with western Europe by bringing Central and Eastern Europe to the European Union. That was a historic achievement, a historic milestone. Now our next task is to unify southeastern Europe with the European Union by integrating it to the EU. This work is now, it is a work in progress and this consolidated enlargement agenda covers Turkey and the countries of the western Balkans.


Ipek Cem: Now the Finnish presidency is ending and we have Germany taking the helm of the Presidency, and next year is also the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, so it is also an important year for Europe. But Angela Merkel has said something like, "Don't expect us to resolve all these problems during our presidency. Meaning, the constitution and other issues. Do you expect some breakthroughs in 2007. Both vis-à-vis Europe and vis-à-vis the enlargement countries?


Olli Rehn: We have three main chances and all have to move forward competitiveness. First of all we need an economic revival. We have to focus on economic and job creation in Europe. Fortunately the economy is picking up now, and we should reinforce this positive economic cycle. Secondly, we need to make progress in order to achieve a political revival of  Europe, which means we need to get serious about taking decisions on a new institutional settlement, to make Europe more effective and more democratic. And thirdly, while working for economic and political revival we have to maintain the enlargement process. Revive and moving forward, and we do it best by consolidating our work and focusing indeed on south-eastern Europe, but keeping our commitments while at the same time avoiding any overstretch of commitments and by being very cautious as regards any new commitments.


Ipek Cem:  Prime Minister Blair was recently in Turkey, and this was a visit that got a lot of coverage in the Turkish press, and one of the things he mentioned, though he said he was still investigating the legality of it, was the possibility of flying planes in to  the northern part of Cyprus. And this was of course a big proposal, and it was then answered by the Greek Cypriots. I don't want to get into those answer back and forth, but let's say if a member state were to actually go ahead and do such a thing, how would that impact the process that we are in as Turkey?


Olli Rehn: I think the most important thing is now to really focus our energies in order to achieve a comprehensive settlement, to reunify. Do it under the auspices of the United Nations. In the mean time, in parallel we should, in the short term, end the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community. And the first step towards that, the next substantial step should be indeed should be creating conditions for trade between the Turkish Cypriot community and the rest of the European Union.


Ipek Cem: There is a feeling, because of the election timings, because of elections in Turkey, and then elections in Greek, and the Greek Cypriot side, this whole issue of Cyprus, even if the intention is there, it will take one, two, three years until 2009 to actually come to some sort of resolution. Is there such a view held in the Commission?


Olli Rehn: I am fully aware of the electoral timetable of Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. However I don't think that we should consider elections anything exceptional in a democracy. Therefore work can be continued even if there are elections in one or two years. It's not really an excuse , excuse for me or for the European Union, or for anybody. But OK, let's work as well as we can, even if there are elections with some part of our democracies. And then continue work after the elections on the basis we have achieved, even during the electoral period.


Ipek Cem: I know that in your position you have visited Turkey many times, and people often remember you for your friendship with Orhan Pamuk who recently won the Nobel Prize. And some of our viewers were asking us, "Please ask him, does he have some Turkish friends, some Turkish colleagues? Is he in touch with some Europeans of Turkish descent?" This was one of the questions we got, so I thought I would ask you about your interaction with Turkey on a personal and a professional manner.


Olli Rehn: I have a number of Turkish friends, but I don't want to...


Ipek Cem: You don't have to disclose them...


Olli Rehn: I don't want to rank them in order of priority. I have got friends both due to my job as the Enlargement Commissioner, and also friends who date from earlier period. And I enjoy being in Turkey. It's a great, fascinating country with various civilisational traditions. And for me, Istanbul, Ankara, Kayseri, they are, or any other city, they are very rich and fascinating places to visit, and I am glad that I can continue with this job still for some years, and after the decision last week in the European Council, and before in the Foreign Ministers' Council, in fact we now have the ticket to work and pursue the negotiations in the coming years.


Ipek Cem: In terms of a timetable for opening another chapter, it is being mentioned that the Industrial Policy Chapter is a likely candidate. When will this decision be taken? Which chapter and what time?


Olli Rehn: It is true that enterprise and industry policy is likely the next possible chapter to be opened. It will probably take place if not still during the Finnish presidency, then in the beginning of the German presidency. That is something you should really ask from the Presidency, and from the Council side, because... the Commission has in a way completed its work. Now the decisions on opening Chapters are in the hands of the Council respecting the political agreement of last week, that we should now complete the screening process and open such chapters which merit on the technical basis to be opened.


Ipek Cem: On this note, I want to thank you very much for your time.


Olli Rehn: Thank you very much.


This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.