Egemen Bağış (höger) i samtal med Paul Levin.
Egemen Bağış (right) and Paul Levin. Photo: Eva Dalin
 

 

On January 16, Turkish Minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Bağış, spoke about the relations between Turkey and the EU in Aula Magna at Stockholm University. Astrid Söderbergh Widding, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Humanities and Social Sciences, welcomed the Minister to the University. She emphasized the long tradition of good relations between Sweden and Turkey and that Turkey is a dynamic country with a young population where Islam meets secular trends.

“Turkey has a unique potential as a bridge between East and West,” said Astrid Söderbergh Widding.

Clear ambition to become EU members

Also Egemen Bağış emphasized the historical links between Sweden and Turkey, and said that Turkey is a popular tourist destination among Swedes today. He also accentuated the important role Sweden plays politically as one of Turkey's most important friends in the EU.

Turkey has long had an ambition to join the EU, a membership application was submitted in 1987, and the minister stressed that the country is moving westward.

“We believe that the EU project is the grandest peace project in the history of mankind,” said Egemen Bağış.

If Turkey joins the EU, he believes that the union will get a new dimension, a bridge to Asia.

“Our determination to join the EU is stronger than in any other country seeking to join,” said Egemen Bağış.

Economic growth and democratic development

He identified Turkey as the fastest growing economy in Europe. For a country that was formerly called the “sick man of Europe” it is a big change, which also shows that it is possible to get out of economic crises. Today, Turkey is the sixth largest economy in Europe.

Egemen Bağış said that Turkey has changed in several important ways. Compared to before, it is a more democratic country with free elections and Kurdish television programmes. With the upheaval in the Arab world in the last couple of years, Turkey has also become a role model for many people in neighboring countries.

“Turkey needs Europe, but Europe needs Turkey more. Realistically, it will take time for us to become a member. But we look forward to the support we can expect from friendly countries like Sweden,” concluded Egemen Bağış.

Turkey ready to negotiate on Cyprus

The question and answer session that followed lasted for nearly an hour. Moderator Paul Levin, a researcher at Stockholm University, focusing on Turkey-EU relations, opened the session with a question about the conflict in Cyprus and if there was a solution in sight.

Bağış said that Turkey is ready to negotiate and expressed the hope that the elections in the southern, Greek, part of the island later this year may have positive consequences. Elections for the Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus will be held on the 17th of February this year.

The first question from the audience was about Egemen Bağış’s views on a union between the Balkan countries. He did not reject the idea but stressed that the most important thing is to form a union in which all European countries are included, also those in the Balkans.

Questions about minorities and human rights

Several people in the audience asked about the rights of minorities and the human rights situation in Turkey. Egemen Bağış emphasized the strengthened minority rights in recent years, that there are a lot of Kurdish MPs today, that discussions are ongoing with Kurdish organisations and that many political prisoners have been released. But at the same time he stressed that Turkey is located in a troubled region of constant terror threats.

“When the terrorist issue is resolved, we can take on many other important issues,” said Egemen Bağış.