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Interview with Turkey's European Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış

brussels bureau

Interview with Turkey's European Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış


Turkey’s drive for reform has won a vote of popular approval. The unofficial result of a referendum on constitutional change held over the weekend was 58 percent ‘yes’ and 42 percent ‘no’. The turnout was 77 percent. An electorate of nearly 50 million voted on the 30th anniversary of the 1980 coup. The government says the result will keep a secular Turkey firmly on the rails of reform.

Aydin Ali Ihsan, euronews:
Minister for European Affairs, Mr. Egemen Bağış, also the chief negotiator for Turkish membership in the EU, what is your interpretation of the referendum results? What’s going to change in Turkey?

Egemen Bağış:
This referendum has really shown the extent to which the Turkish people believe in a demanding kind of democracy, in human rights and the market economy. With this referendum, Turkey comes out a winner. It’s not the political parties that have won, but the people of the Republic of Turkey. Having taken this step, we are going to continue with reforms, and we will all take the necessary first steps so that Turkey becomes a country that answers to the European criteria, so that the people of Turkey benefits from a high standard of living.

Forty-two percent of voters were against the constitutional reform package your government presented. How do you intend to allay the reservations of this part of the population?

We are equally respectful towards the people who voted against, and those who abstained. We respect all the citizens. We are trying to understand the messages that the different camps have expressed. The reason that 42 percent of the people voted ‘no’ is, unfortunately, not because of the content of the reform, but is due to misinformation. Our citizens will see, once the package of reforms is applied, that their individual freedoms will increase, that Turkey’s democracy will have more solid foundations. Once certain steps have been achieved, such as the creation of a national ombudsman, they will realise how fast these reforms will take Turkey forward. We believe deeply that our people will make the reforms their own, and will support them even more.

To conclude, will this constitutional reform speed up the EU negotiation process, which has slowed down? For a while now there seem to have been problems with the reforms that were needed, according to repeated assertions from Brussels.

It doesn’t seem to me that there have been slowdowns in Turkey’s reforms. But no candidate country has experienced the difficulties that Turkey has come up against in these negotiations. No other country has had more than half the negotiating chapters blocked for political reasons which have nothing to do with their content. I think that, through the referendum, European circles, notably political figures who want to slow down the process, will clearly measure the Turkish people’s determination. September 12 will mark a historic turning point in the negotiation process. It will be the same as for Spain, Greece or Portugal, who, after adopting a civil constitution, saw their adhesion processes suddenly accelerate. I also believe that unless Europe applies a double standard, the loud and clear message of the Turkish people yesterday is a turning point in the EU adhesion process. According to surveys taken in Turkey, concerning the EU, the results show that 60 percent of Turkish public opinion supports joining, and that is also reflected in the support for this constitutional reform. This shows that a large majority of the population of Turkey supports and believes in the EU adhesion process and this reform package.

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