German diplomat: Turkey has no illusions about its EU bid

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Turkey is not moving away from Europe but it is diversifying its international relations, Wolf-Ruthart Born, a former German ambassador to Turkey, tells EurActiv in an exclusive interview. 

Wolf-Ruthart Born is a diplomat who was State Secretary for European Affairs in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2009 to 2011. Born will be one of the speakers at the Krynica Economic Forum to be held from 4 to 6 September. He spoke to EurActiv’s founder and publisher Christophe Leclercq.

Given the slow progress of negotiations with the EU, Turks don't believe in joining the EU, and the country shifted its foreign policy focus towards the Middle East and more widely Central Asia, Africa, Asia. The process had already begun when you served as German ambassador in Ankara from 2003 to 2006. Is this process accelerating now, as the EU and the eurozone are in crisis, while Turkey keeps on having strong economic indicators?

Full EU membership still is a political priority for Turkey. However Turkey has no illusions about the outcome.

The negotiations and the reform process and pre-accession aid are helping the transformation and modernisation process in Turkey.

The foreign policy shift from a fundamentally ‘West-only’ policy towards a policy with a larger regional and even global approach is a natural development after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It reflects Turkey's geographic-strategic position, neighbourhood, history, culture, religion, internal economic and political development under the AK Party and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as political and economic interests and ambitions in a globalised world.

But isn’t it making Turkey an even more attractive partner for the EU? Could one say that EU-Turkey relations have now shifted from bilateral wheeling-dealing to global powerplay?

Turkey is not moving away from Europe. But she is diversifying her relations, as we all do, as new powers emerge. Europe and the EU still are the most important trading and investment partners of Turkey. And with her economic growth, Turkey's attractiveness certainly has increased. Let me give you the example of Turkish-German economic relations: When I left Turkey in 2006 there were around 1,500 companies with German capital. Today there are more than 5,000. These numbers speak for themselves.

During the Arab Spring, Turkey became a model of a Muslim country with a non-religious state, even with an Islamic party in power. Now there are concerns about Syria's future course, including fights on the Turkish-Syrian border. This adds to security concerns in Iraq, also on the Turkish border. Does Turkey try to be a model for the future of these countries?

Turkey is very careful not to call herself a model country. Turkey is an important regional power with considerable influence in the area. As an Islamic country, member of the OIC [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation], with a stable democracy and a successful economy, Turkey serves as an inspiration to her Islamic neighbours. Her position in the Near Eastern Peace Process finds wide acclaim among the Arab countries.

But could the EU one day share border with Syria ant Iraq?

I do not know whether all EU member states could envisage common borders with Syria and Iraq. I could, and so does the chaiman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, Mr. [Ruprecht] Polenz.

What is the impact of Nicolas Sarkozy's departure from power? What would be the impact of a majority or coalition change in Berlin? Germany is healthier and more self-confident than other countries, it also has a large Turkish immigrant population. Could it 're-connect' the EU with Turkey? Could practical steps include visa-free travel?

Let me rather give you a Turkish view: Turkey hopes that with the new French government relations with the EU might improve and the negotiation process move forward.

As to the elections in Germany in the autumn of 2013, I do not foresee changes in substance in German EU policy towards Turkey, but may be in ways and means. This includes practical steps facilitating the negotiation process and improving the visa issue. The German government has pledged that 'pacta sunt servanda' [what has been agreed has to be implemented]. And this pledge should be fully honoured.

In substance the wording of the coalition agreement of the actual government of October 2009 on enlargement and neighbourhood policy will still be valid under a future government since it reflects the conclusions adopted by all heads of state and government during European Council meetings. But as long as we are kept busy to solve the state deficit and banking crisis, I don’t see much margin for enlargement. However, the day will come where we have to and will take up this issue again.

The EU relations with Russia also need to change, to support the country's modernisation in a global context, as well as with Ukraine. In the long term, how about a pan-European market, i.e.,  the economic freedoms without political and monetary integration? Could this include all four: EU including its 'big 6' (notably Germany), Turkey, Russia, Ukraine?

Indeed, we should work for more free trade and movement with all our neighbours. Russia and the EU and her member states should intensify their cooperation. The EU should gradually lift visa restrictions vis-à-vis Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, on a case-by-case and reciprocity basis (which means that Russia would have to lift visa restrictions also - Turkey and Ukraine have done so already), taking at the same time the necessary compensatory security measures.

The Common Market within the EU does already exist. Turkey is linked to the EU through the Customs Agreement and the negotiation process which will go on. With Ukraine the EU is finalising the Deep Free Trade Agreement and cooperating within the EU neighbourhood policy. Personally I see Ukraine as a candidate country for future EU membership.

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