Ahmet Davutoglu is seen as the architect of the new Turkish foreign policy over the last decade. Political scientist and historian, he is often dubbed “the Turkish Kissinger”. Turkey has become an important regional political and diplomatic state, overcoming years of neighbourhood tensions. He has been talking to Euronews on Syria and the impasse in Turkey-EU membership talks.
Bora Bayraktar: “Minister thank you for joining us. Syria remains a hot topic these days and the crisis continues. The Annan plan has given more time to the regime. There are efforts to unify the Syrian opposition and a buffer zone option is also on the table. All this will take more time. Does the continuation of the crisis spell trouble for Turkey?”
Ahmet Davutoğlu: “Off course. Continuation of the crisis does not only spell trouble for Turkey but for the whole region, because the geopolitical location of Syria is critical. It’s in close interactivity with all its neighbouring countries. It’s a very important neighbour of Turkey. Any tension arising from Syria has the potential to affect all the neighbouring countries. Therefore leaving this issue to time and observing the situation by standing back and waiting is not the right option. The international community must step in to prevent the crisis becoming a major cause of instability.”
Euronews: “Do you see any risk of armed conflict?”
Ahmet Davutoğlu: “There are already heavy clashes in Syria.”
Euronews: “Could it spread beyond Syria?”
Ahmet Davutoglu: “It depends on the course of the developments within the country, but the risk of the clashes spreading beyond Syria’s borders is always there. All internal conflicts in the end affect neighbouring countries and other regional nations. That is obvious. Therefore, we have humanitarian and historical responsibilities to the Syrian people and we are determined to implement them.
‘We are also determined to do this with the international community. If this conflict starts threatening Turkey’s interests and national security then Turkey has the right to take the necessary precautions for its national security.”
Euronews: “You have just returned from Iran. Syria has become an important issue between Turkey and Iran with the two countries split over their approach to the country’s leader. How has this issue impacted on your relations, has it put a strain on the relationship between Turkey and Iran?”
Ahmet Davutoğlu: “Well, no. Relations between Turkey and Iran are deep rooted, built on the fact we are neighbours. When we have disagreements on certain issues we share our thoughts with them as we have done in the past. Our Prime Minister explained very clearly our worries to his Iranian counterpart when we were there. Of course we have some disagreements over the stance of Syrian government and its future. We remain in constant contact with Iran to overcome these problems. Syria shares a border with Turkey and we are very concerned by the developments in Syria. It’s important for the international community to acknowledge our position.”
Euronews: “It seems the European Union issue has dropped down the Turkish agenda. Of course that is also because of some outside factors. It seems relations between the EU and Turkey will freeze when Cyprus takes up the EU presidency. What is your take on Turkish-EU relations and how they will develop?”
Ahmet Davutoğlu: “I don’t think it is right to say that our relations with the EU are not moving forward. Last week for the first time in the history of Turkish-EU relations I was invited to a Foreign Affairs Council Meeting in Brussels. I gave a speech there. The relations themselves are developing, but we have problems with the negotiations for membership.
‘With the integration of South Cyprus in the EU, an irregularity has appeared and it has reached a second stage. In fact, according to the EU Acquis Communautaire all the Island became a member of the EU. Now the Greek Cypriots – a country which does not represent all of Cyprus – are taking over the presidency of the European Union. So the irregularity is opening up. This is the weakness of the European Union. If the EU does not show the ability to overcome this weakness, the negotiations won’t be able to progress easily no matter how successfully Turkey does its homework and prepares.
‘First of all the European Union has to question itself and has to take a decision. The EU has to show it wants to remove all the obstacles that are blocking Turkey’s full membership. If the EU wants to become a global power, geographically and culturally, having a geopolitical basis, and being economically dynamic and culturally inclusive then Turkey’s membership is mandatory.
‘Turkey’s economy has become very strong and dynamic. All this shows that Turkey has a strategic value for the European Union. But we need European leaders who are capable of understanding that. There is a need for visionary leadership in the bloc. Unfortunately, without such a visionary, it is hard for Turkey and the EU to find a new dimension in their relations.”
Euronews: “A last question on the visa issue between Turkey and the EU. Turkey demands the freedom of movement within the EU. For some reason these demands have not been met. For you, who is blocking Turks’ free movement within the EU?”
Ahmet Davutoğlu: “Well, this issue is vital for us. It is an important subject and it shouldn’t be seen as a favour. Let me make it clear, it is a right for Turkish citizens. It was imperative to have visa liberalisation over time starting from 1996 after the Customs Union Agreement.
“There are several decisions taken by European Courts which refer to the visa implementation being against European laws. The logic of the Customs Union Agreement and the decisions of the European courts demonstrate that the visa implementation is illegal. Moreover, it is hard to understand politically the visa restrictions while some Latin America countries that are not even candidates are exempt from visa regulations. It is not a legitimate attitude.
‘Despite promises to soften visa regulations, some European countries are said to have objected to it. But when we have bilateral talks with those countries opposed to lifting the visa restrictions, they deny they are against Turkey’s free movement within the EU. A new meeting will be held by the EU Internal Affairs Commission on April 26. We hope we will make progress on this issue in that meeting. In conclusion, European Union members must understand that free movement is a right for Turkish citizens and we will do everything we can to have this right recognised.”
Euronews: “Thank you very much.”