Foreign Affairs
Human Rights

Remarks by Prof. Jerzy Buzek - President of the European Parliament Speech Addressing Turkey's Grand National Assembly

Ankara -
Thursday 24/11/2011

Mr Speaker,

Mr Prime Minister,

Distinguished Members of Parliament and guests,

It is a great honour to be able to address Turkey's Grand National Assembly. I would like to say from outset that I have several ties with your country. Some years ago I was awarded the title of Dr. honoris causa from the university of Isparta. But also, when I was the PM of Poland, I had the privilege to welcome and host in my country your former Prime Minister Mr. Mesut Yilmaz.

Before I start, I would like to offer my condolences and words of solidarity to the people of Turkey. Our thoughts are with those who have lost so much in the two earthquakes that struck Van province and who continue to suffer.

But the earthquake also gave me hope. I was deeply moved by the solidarity for the inhabitants of Van, by the aid packages sent by fellow citizens, but also the convoys of volunteers who drove hundreds of kilometres across the country to help the survivors. The EU also will continue to be there to help you where it can. We have activated our European Civil Protection Mechanism just hours after the earthquake. You are not alone!

As a representative of the EU, I arrived in Turkey at a difficult time in our bilateral negotiations. Turkey's accession negotiations have been in a stalemate for many months, I am sure we can make steps forward it would be preferable and profitable solution for both sides.

Dear Friends,

I am honoured to speak in this chamber, a monument to Turkey's strong democratic traditions, reformist and progressive politics and to the amazing achievements in recent decades.

Turkey has much to be proud of. Your economy has tripled in size over the past decade. You have introduced important social reforms, such as the expansion of healthcare to cover the whole population. Your secular democracy has become an inspiration for millions across Northern Africa and the Middle East seeking freedom from the authoritarian rule.

Distinguished guests,

Thanks to existing agreements and policies, Turkey and the EU have developed extraordinarily strong economic and political bonds of great strategic importance: we make up almost 50% of your trade, 80% of Foreign Direct Investment. And EU enterprises have created more than 13,000 businesses in Turkey.

You are our energy corridor for Caucasian and Caspian oil and gas resources. The signing of the Nabucco project was a great step towards closer energy cooperation between the EU, Turkey and other countries in the region. Nabucco remains one of our highest energy security priorities. And you can contribute to Europe's energy security. Together, we need to work on a more strategic plan for collaborating in energy.

But our co-operation is not limited to just politics or business. Our education and cultural contacts are at an impressive level. Close to 40,000 citizens of Turkey participate every year in EU-affiliated exchange programmes. We are bringing our peoples closer. And we can do more. It is my strong hope that the EU Commission's agenda will give new momentum to our partnership. From increasing integration to foreign policy issues, but also to issues such as counter-terrorism, trade and progress towards easing visa requirements.

Dear Friends,

I would like to say a few words about Turkey's growing regional and international position. Let me be clear: Turkey has a lot to offer the international community. But it is essential that Turkey and the EU work together to better co-ordinate our foreign policies. We have to talk more and think strategically in these troubled times. Together, we will be not only stronger, but safer.

In recent months your leadership has stressed Turkey's support for the struggle for freedom across the North Africa and the Middle East. Many in the Middle East regard you as a source of inspiration of a successfully modernising society. Prime Minister Erdogan was the first Muslim leader to tell Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to step down.

Your leaders have travelled to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to promote the adoption of a constitution that secures secularism. And, more recently, you opened your doors, and hearts, to the Syrian opposition.

As a Pole, I remember that it was Turkey who created a safe-haven in Adampol - or Polonezköy - for Polish soldiers after our November Uprising in the 19th century. Today you show a similar act of solidarity to the opponents of the Assad regime.

However, in light of the situation in Syria, I hope that we can harmonise our policies. I know from my own experiences that a falling dictatorship is both dangerous and unpredictable. Across the Eastern Mediterranean, not just in Syria, there are multiple flashpoints. And we look to Turkey to help stabilise the region.

In the EU as well, Turkey has an important role to play. Cyprus remains the last divided country in the European Union - and we also look to you to constructively help end this dispute.

The tensions we have witnessed in the recent months between Turkey and Cyprus concern me greatly. I would like to reiterate the European Parliament's call on your government to continue to actively support the on-going negotiations between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus under the auspices of the UN Secretary General. A fair and viable settlement of the Cyprus issue on the basis of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality, as set out in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, is now urgent.

In the current crucial phase of the process, all efforts and minds should focus on the comprehensive settlement, and should not be distracted from this priority. In this respect, it is indispensable that all parties do their utmost to ensure a positive climate that will facilitate a successful completion of the talks. I therefore don't want to speculate on anything else than a settlement before the Cypriot Presidency of the EU in July 2012 and I believe that this is possible given that good progress was achieved since 2008.I trust that Turkey, like the EU, will continue to give its total support in this final phase of the talks.

A solution to the Cyprus issue will bring a welcome boost to your accession negotiations. But it will also guarantee a bright future for all Cypriots. This is in everyone's interest.

Dear friends,

Let me now turn to something I feel is very important. You have before you a truly historic opportunity, an opportunity to change your Constitution, the first Turkish constitution not to be written at a time of conflict! An opportunity to provide a framework that will protect all the citizens of Turkey and guarantee their rights and freedoms, whatever their ethnicity and belief.

I strongly support Turkey's efforts to draft a civilian constitution through an inclusive process - with the government, the opposition and the civil society.

I have been impressed by the work done in this chamber to organise the debate on the new Constitution this past month. I applaud both the Speaker and the Chairpersons of all parties for this achievement. The drafting of the new constitution will not be easy but achieving it will cement your country's democratic structures. It will help transform Turkish society into a pluralistic democracy with human rights and fundamental freedoms at its core. All parties represented in this chamber should make the utmost efforts to find compromises. Once again, this is an historic opportunity, you cannot afford to fail.

The European Union, and especially the European Parliament, will help you in any way it can. Earlier this year, the European Parliament passed a resolution welcoming the progress you made with reform of the judiciary, increased civilian oversight of the military and property rights of minorities. These were important steps in the right direction, significant also for the accession process.

Of course, we in the EU want to see more. Friends of Turkey like myself have to urge you to speed up the pace of reform. The European Parliament has expressed concern regarding issues such as freedom of expression and of the media, freedom of religion and protection of minorities. These are issues that need to be addressed.

I have said this during my recent visits to Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I will say it again today: freedom of expression and media pluralism are at the heart of all our values - this applies to EU member states, candidate and potential candidate countries.

I know more than most that an independent press is crucial for a democratic society. And that freedom of expression is guaranteed in line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. A Court we are all members of.

Distinguished guests,

Before I finish, I would like to address the delicate issue of your citizens of Kurdish origin. I know that this is a difficult subject. I am doing so with great humility, knowing how much suffering your country has witnessed in the past decades. We too have witnessed a lot of suffering based on ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences.

The acts of terror in London, Madrid and other cities in Europe will forever haunt us. There is no room for terrorism and armed struggle in a democracy. The EU has unequivocally condemned terror and is acting against it. Contrary to perceptions and some public statements made, the EU has greatly improved its cooperation with your country in anti-terrorism matters. Because we have a joint interest in stopping violence.

But the Kurdish issue is not just an issue of terrorism, it is also a more profound challenge of cultural and linguistic diversity. And an issue of economic development. And an issue of human rights. The member states of the European Union have accommodated in different ways rights and specificities of groups from various cultural backgrounds, from federal structures to self-government, from devolution to decentralisation.

I myself am from a religious minority in my own country. I am a Protestant. (0.2% of the population, 80.000 out of 38 million). Yet I could be Prime Minister of Poland. I am not here to lecture or to preach. Nor am I here to propose a solution. We are all aware of the complexity of the problem. But we can share our experiences and perhaps an outcome that is a just for all can be found.

I know that the new Constitution you are drafting will be a first chance to provide a new framework for coexistence. Events this year in our neighbourhood have taught us an important lesson - people will always crave their rights for dignity, democracy and human rights, including freedom of expression.

Europe and the world need a united, democratic and dynamic Turkey. A Turkey where all ethnicities, beliefs and languages coexist peacefully. A Turkey where individual rights and cultural differences are recognised and guaranteed.

Let me summarise: European Union needs Turkey. And I believe Turkey needs EU. Lets us make our win-win strategy work even better.

Dear friends,

The story of our continent is a tale of sacrifice and brave decisions. But it is also a story of hope and optimism for the future.

For 123 years, once a year, your Sultan called for the Ambassador of my country to appear before him. And for the 123 years that my country did not exist, he was told that our Ambassador was "temporarily indisposed". You never gave up hope on us.

Today, I know that the EU and Turkey should also show hope and optimism. That together, we can provide a future that is safe, strong and based on solidarity. That together we can have a prosperous and democratic future for the generations to come.

TeĊŸekkür ederim!

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