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World Economic Forum, 24.01.2003

Stumbling Blocks on the Road to Europe

Annual Meeting 2003

Europe is not just a geographical concept, "but an economic, political and civilizational unit," argued Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Chairman of the AK Parti, Turkey. This view had some powerful support: not only from Grigory A. Yavlinsky, Member of the State Duma; Leader, Russian Democratic Party Yabloko, Russian Federation, but also from Aleksander Kwasniewski, President of Poland, which expects to join the European Union in 2004.

Patrick Cox, President of the European Parliament, Brussels, saw the present stage of the EU enlargement process as "a win-win situation" for all 10 new countries expected to enter next year. "What we are engaged on is building blocs rather than stumbling blocs." A new energy had been injected into the expansion process, "because there is now a recognition that we need to change to build the new Europe." But the boundaries question is also a values question. As an applicant member, can Turkey match up to those values?

Over 60% of Russians are eager to join the new Europe, said Yavlinsky. Europe’s real boundaries are on Russia’s southern frontiers with one of the world’s least stable region, so EU security cooperation with Russia would be in its own interest. "Russia inevitably will be part of the political, economic and security systems of Europe within 10-15 years from now." But the door to Europe is in Washington, he said. "In order to have a dialogue on integration with Europe, Russia has to have good relations with the United States." Russian politicians who try to play on differences between the Americans and the Europeans over Iraq are making a mistake because, in the end, the EU’s prime concern is its relationship with the US.

Kwasniewski noted that EU expansion will create the largest integrated group of countries in the world, "Ten new countries offer a huge chance for Europe. We can use the energy of this new community to make the EU stronger in the world both politically and economically." However, the integration process is not finished. The EU must next look about Ukraine, Russia and Turkey. European countries are increasingly multinational, and with immigration Poland will also move in that direction. But there are not enough European visionaries today - "a lack of politicians with a positive approach and a willingness to engage."

Louis Schweitzer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Renault, France, agreed that Turkey should join. "It has long been a part of European culture and civilization." Expansion will lead to a strengthening of European institutions, but some members may want to limit participation to sharing growth and prosperity.

Erdogan said Turkey "will prove to be a model of how Islam and democracy can be together" and its admission "will change the view of Islamic countries of the EU." By accepting Cyprus, the EU had admitted that it is not a geographic union. There should be no concern for the role of the military now that political stability has been established with one party holding a strong majority in the Turkish parliament. But the EU still has to establish its cultural identity.

Asked by a participant for his views on Iraq and the possibility of war, Erdogan said Turkey paid a huge price - in economic devastation and an upsurge of terrorism - for its support of the international coalition in the 1991 Gulf War. "Our approach to Iraq is not religious. We approach it from the viewpoint of international law. We want peace to be globalized." But Turkey is against authoritarian regimes anywhere. "We are in favour of democracy and a secular state where there is an equal law for everyone." Turkey hopes the Iraq issue "will be solved with peace because we don’t want to see killing and blood in the world anymore."

Summing up the discussion, session Chair Theo Sommer, Editor-at-Large, Die Zeit, Germany, said the message from all panellists is that the process of building Europe "is a glass half full rather than half empty". It is a "work in progress".


See also:

Russia-EU relations

World Economic Forum, 24.01.2003

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