STATEMENT ON OPENING OF THE CHAPTER 22
BY EGEMEN BAGIS
MINISTER FOR EU AFFAIRS AND CHIEF NEGOTIATOR
We have achieved a very important turning point in Turkey-EU negotiations and on 5th November 2013, Tuesday, we have opened Chapter 22 on Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments to negotiations at the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which we have participated in along with our Minister of Development, Mr. Cevdet Yılmaz.
As you know, the determination of our Government for reforms has been emphasized in the recent 2013 Progress Report on Turkey; this determination has been praised in the Report, in particular with reference to the Democratization Package.
Now, a very important step has been taken as a follow-up of this positive atmosphere: Chapter 22 has been opened to negotiations in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on Tuesday. In the opening of this Chapter, we would like to thank the former Irish Presidency; and the current Lithuanian Presidency, along with my dear friend Mr. Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian Minister for Foreign Affairs; as well as my dear friend Mr. Carl Bildt, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs who has been with us in the IGC; my dear friend Mr. Stephan Füle, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy for their support; and all others who have contributed to this process.
As known, this Chapter was one of the five Chapters which had been blocked by the former Sarkozy Government in France. However, when he took the office, Mr. François Hollande lifted the blockage on Chapter 22, among these five chapters, and we have swiftly completed the preparations that would enable us to start the negotiations.
Together with Chapter 22, we have hitherto opened fourteen chapters to negotiations. Is this number enough? Certainly not... We had previously stated that the opening of Chapter 22 is a positive yet overdue step. Because, one single step is not sufficient in itself. We emphasize on every occasion that Turkey-EU negotiations can progress with opened and closed Chapters, not with blocked and delayed Chapters or breaks.
We hope that this positive step will be followed by others and thereby contribute to keeping the Turkey-EU relations on track.
Therefore, lifting the blockages is not just vital for opening Chapters to negotiations but also for illumination of minds.
Today, as EU and Turkey, we should clearly define the difference between “opening chapters” and “open-ended chapters or breaks”.
Turkey’s EU process does not proceed with such pauses, but through opening of the chapters.
However, we can say that a new era in Turkey’s EU process has officially started today after a stagnation of three and a half years.
The fact that no chapters have been opened during these three and a half years does not mean that Turkey has also suspended the reform process. On the contrary, our Government has demonstrated speed and determination for the reforms which would be envied even by the Member States and serve as a model for the EU.
We insist that Turkey, with a strong commitment to solve its own problems today, will offer big opportunities to the EU.
We are not coming to be a burden; we are going to share it.
We are coming to transform the EU from a continental peace project into a global one.
Turkey offers the key for this transition to the EU.
We believe that now is the time to speak about entirely new and promising issues for the prospects of Turkey’s EU membership.
Opening of Chapter 22 is only a beginning; we believe and rightfully expect this to be followed by other positive steps.
We have already indicated that one single step is not sufficient in itself; however, we also believe that opening of Chapter 22 will pave the way for future steps.
As time is more and more wasted in the context of Turkey-EU relations, the foundations of confidence in our common future is further eroded.
It is now high time to build new bridges between Turkey and the EU.
As I always say, the illumination of minds is even more important than opening chapters to negotiations. Turkey-EU relations will proceed without any hindrances as long as this illumination is maintained.
Turkey is not a country to be stalled or made to wait at the door.
Turkey-EU relations are much too valuable and important to be delayed or deferred.
Turkey’s full membership to EU offers hope, enthusiasm and a way out for those who fall into despair in face of current challenges.
For this reason, the political blockages should be lifted without further delay.
It should be noted that every blockage the EU places on the way of Turkey is in fact a barrier to its own future, prosperity and peace.
WHAT DOES CHAPTER 22 BRING?
To the extent that Chapter 22 will eliminate regional economic disparities, it will also generate the motivation that will support intra-regional cohesion.
In this sense, this Chapter will contribute significantly to the solution process which we initiated to end bloodshed and the grief of mothers.
Even though the title of Chapter 22 begins with the word “regional”, there is no doubt that it will have positive effects at both national and global scales.
We believe that this Chapter - which aims to reduce regional economic disparities, support employment of disadvantaged groups and attain certain standards in similarly vital issues - will contribute significantly to our Government’s determined efforts in these areas.
As known, Chapter 22 aims to eliminate social and economic disparities both in and among Member States.
Through efforts in this chapter, socio-economic development levels of our regions will increase to match those of their counterparts in the EU.
We should see the opening of Chapter 22 to negotiations and the upcoming efforts in this context as significant steps taken to raise the living standards of our people.
Capacity will be increased at the local level for the institution building needed to implement the EU Cohesion Policy.
Training strategies and action plans will be prepared in order to reinforce the administrative capacity for utilizing the EU funds at the regional level in particular.
We will lead developments in a vast area, ranging from the construction of SME support centers and establishment of high-tech regions to business development and tourism infrastructure.
The coordination of structural instruments refers to works for setting up a mechanism to manage three major funds available for priorities in the context of EU cohesion goals, namely European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund and Cohesion Fund.
Work is currently underway to ensure that the necessary steps are taken, in terms of legal and administrative arrangements to ensure the effective use of structural instruments.
These funds will help us get much closer to attaining our vision of a Turkey with stronger local administrations, gender equality in European standards and higher sensitivity towards environmental issues.
We will continue efforts to build capacities to ensure that public institutions, development agencies, NGOs, universities and the private sector utilize more EU funds and all other kinds of support.