HomeDOCUMENTSMission Reports20046 - 10 September 2004 Annual Study Visit: NATO Parliamentarians Impressed by Turkey’s Progress
6 - 10 September 2004 Annual Study Visit: NATO Parliamentarians Impressed by Turkey’s Progress
The scope and pace of reform in Turkey was described as “impressive and remarkable” by NATO Parliamentary Assembly Vice-President Pierre Lellouche (France) at the end of a weeklong visit to Turkey by leading Assembly members.
The visit by the NATO PA at the invitation of Vahit Erdem, leader of the Turkish delegation to the Assembly, occurred just as Turkey’s candidacy for the European Union is entering a critical phase. Its purpose was to enable the group of 22 Assembly members to learn at first hand about Turkey’s role in today’s strategic environment and to study the reforms being implemented and the economic progress being achieved as Turkey pursues its goal of European Union membership.
The programme included meetings with top government ministers and officials as well as senior military officials and representatives of the business community. In addition, the group visited the South Eastern Anatolia Project to see how Turkey is attempting to stimulate the economy in one of its least developed regions.
The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN, emphasized Turkey's strategic significance due to its proximity to the troubled and volatile Middle East. Turkey's goal was to promote stability through diplomacy and good relations with its neighbours, practical assistance and by representing a model or source of inspiration for Moslem countries in the region. He confirmed that early in 2005, Turkey would again take command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The visit left participants in no doubt about Turkey’s determination to become part of the European Union. Abdullah GÜL, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that EU membership was a clear priority, and he described the extensive reform packages introduced over the previous two years to “up-grade” democracy. He felt optimistic that the European Union’s decision on the commencement of Turkish accession negotiations – expected in December 2004 – would be favourable. He went on to highlight the substantial progress in the economic sphere with all key indicators such as economic growth, per capita income, inflation, interests rates, exports, and employment all looking very favourable compared with their levels just a few years previously. He also stressed Turkey’s efforts to establish and maintain good relations with its neighbours. This had included a series of meetings with all the nations neighbouring Iraq.
He also underlined the need for international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, a sentiment echoed by Minister of the Interior Abdulkadir AKSU who described Turkey’s efforts to deal with terrorism which is seen as being inextricably linked with organized crime, the drugs trade, and human trafficking. While noting Turkey’s successes in countering these problems, Mr Aksu explained that without international cooperation and a united approach, these problems would simply move elsewhere.
While in Ankara, the delegation discussed Turkish defence policy and reforms with Vecdi GÖNUL, Minister of National Defence, and parliamentary reforms with H.E. Bülent ARINÇ, Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT). Meetings also took place with senior officials in the ministries of foreign affairs, defence and the interior.
Following the meetings in Ankara, members visited the South Eastern Anatolia Project (GAP) to see how Turkey is seeking to develop one of its poorest regions. This region represents about 10 per cent of Turkey’s land area and a similar percentage of the population, but only contributes approximately five per cent of Turkey’s GDP. The GAP’s purpose is to enhance the region’s productivity through large scale hydroelectric and irrigation projects, coupled with the development of industry, infrastructure, education and social services. Members visited the Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates and saw how the GAP has transformed once barren areas into a fertile and highly productive region.
“A memorable achievement, the scope of which is truly breathtaking: a model of sustainable development in providing irrigation, energy and employment” commented Pierre Lellouche. “This is an answer to those who doubt that Turkey can be part of Europe. Those people should come to see for themselves what this country is achieving. It was difficult to believe that this region is so close to an area of crisis and conflict”, he added.
The study visit concluded in Istanbul where the delegation had briefings at the Academy of War Studies and at the IIIrd Corps’ (TU) Command (High Readiness Force). The final formal meeting was with the Turkish Association of Industrialists and Businessmen. At this meeting, leading representatives of the private sector echoed the optimistic view of the economy presented by Mr Gul. While feeling that there was still further scope for reform, there was a conviction that profound and irreversible changes for the better had taken place within the economy.
During this meeting, Assembly Vice President Longin Pastusiak (POLAND) said that the group had been extremely impressed by all that it had learned during the visit and that Turkey, “already an important security ally would become and important economic partner that deserved full EU membership.”
In his concluding remarks to participants, Mr Lellouche observed that Turkey’s progress in political, defence and economic reform had been remarkable, and that he too hoped for a positive decision from Europe. He cautioned however, that in some parts of Europe, an outdated image of Turkey persisted, and Turkey should make itself better known and understood. In that regard, he was concerned that the discussion about making adultery a crime in Turkey would provide ammunition to those opposed to Turkish EU membership. This was a distraction from the enormous changes that had taken place in virtually all areas: civil-military relations, constitutional reform, foreign policy, human rights, and economic liberalization to name just a few.