international analysis and commentary

Turkey: the new asset of the Mediterranean. Interview with Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu

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Taking stock on recent regional developments from a Turkish perspective, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a founding member of the AKP and representative of the Antalya Province in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, speaks with Valeria Giannotta after the success of the June 12th general elections. 

How does the post-election Turkish government consider its role in internal and foreign affairs?

First of all, the election results clearly represent that there is going to be continued political and economic stability. And, it is not only important for Turkey, but also for our neighbors, our region and beyond. It is important especially at a time when so many changes are happening in this region, and so many factors of risks and opportunities exist. 

Turkey is growing fast. Our economy is the 16th largest in the world and 6th largest in Europe. We aim to be among the ten largest in the world by the year 2023, when we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. Add to this that with its social dynamism; improved democratic standards emanating from a well-established set of values and a clear vocation; unique historical ties with a large number of countries in all four directions; and rich cultural diversity, its soft power is more relevant and effective than ever in a wide geography. And in fact, it is in this particular context that Turkey feels well-poised to continue to play a pivotal role both in its region and beyond towards the attainment of peace and stability.

So, dynamism and vigor, both internally and in foreign affairs, soft-power and the ability to play an assertive role in this volatile, yet promising part of the world are the main factors which represent a dynamic continuum where our ultimate objectives and the values that drive them remain the same. The means available to us in achieving these goals are more multifaceted and numerous than ever.

Considering itself the new asset of the Mediterranean area, what is Turkey’s role in the Arab revolts, especially in Libya? How do you view the European management of the situation in Libya?

The events in the Arab world are of major importance – not only because they affect peace and security in the region and beyond, but also because of our deep historic and cultural links and our close interdependence.

The current revolutions in the Arab world show that people in these countries, especially the young generation, want more dignity, more prosperity, more rights and more democracy, and that these universal values can empower even the weakest and most oppressed people and defeat even the strongest dictatorships.

As for Turkey, our approach to the developments has been from the very outset a principled one emphasizing the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law and overall the accountability of the regimes. In all these pictures, Turkey stands as a factor of stability both inside and regionally and beyond. We support the reform dynamic in countries and remain ready and willing to share our own democratization experience with those wishing to benefit from it.

If the reforms that countries such as Tunisia and Egypt have now undertaken are to be successful, the universal values that led to the revolutions must continue to be present in everything that follows – the adoption of new constitutions, the organization of free and fair elections, the building of genuinely democratic institutions, the enhancing of the role of the media and civil society with more gender balance.

In all these areas the Council of Europe, whose Parliamentary Assembly I have the honor to chair, has valuable expertise and the Council has already offered its assistance, for instance, to Tunisia. The Parliamentary Assembly is also actively involved in bringing non-member states of the Council of Europe closer to its standards. The Assembly’s main objective is to promote democratic change through increased contacts and dialogue. For this reason, it has created a new status called a “Partner for democracy”. We intend to grant this status to parliaments of neighboring countries which demonstrate their will to fully embrace the values of the Council of Europe: pluralist and gender parity-based democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

As for the people fleeing from conflicts and coming to Europe’s southern shores, I should say that European states have a clear moral and legal obligation to save persons in distress, and should rigorously apply international law. Europe should stop exaggerating the impact of these arrivals. In a spirit of solidarity and of burden-sharing, the European countries should be able to deal, in a humane way and in compliance with their international obligations, with the arrival by boat of several thousands of people. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has produced a string of critical reports on these matters, and will continue to urgently insist on the humane and lawful treatment of asylum-seekers, refugees and irregular migrants coming to Europe.

In regards to the new regional crisis affecting Syria and Lebanon, what is the future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? Is Turkey going to play a mediator role in this?

The establishment of lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, as well as the evolution of this area into a stable and prosperous region, is the shared desire and goal of the international community. Dialogue and cooperation must be the major tools to this end. Turkey is always ready to extend its assistance whenever is needed.

What is the status of European-Turkish relations right now?

EU membership remains a strategic goal for Turkey. Turkey continues to stay the course and take the necessary steps to fulfill the membership criteria. One should also note that the most significant strides in Turkey’s quest for full membership to the EU have also been made within the last decade thanks to the bold and sweeping reforms undertaken by our government.

Yet, it is true that despite the many achievements so far, our EU accession process is not moving forward with the pace it could and should.

However, Turkey’s commitment to the EU accession process continues unabated. We carry on with the reforms needed for the EU membership irrespective of the political obstacles created by some member states.

Today, what is clear is that Turkey is becoming more and more European, more and more democratic, more and more stable and stronger in terms of economy, politics and foreign policy.

Full membership of such a Turkey to the EU contributes not only to the maintenance of stability and peace in Europe, but also to the spread of European values to the region and beyond. It is all the more important especially today at a time when there are important changes around us. And, it is clear that such a member as Turkey can definitely help increase the Union’s strategic attractiveness and weight.