Balkanalysis on Twitter Briefing with Egemen Bağış, Turkish Minister for EU Affairs, September 2011

Strasbourg, France (European Parliament)– On September 27, 2011, contributor Maria-Antoaneta Neag conducted a briefing with the Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and Chief EU Negotiator, Egemen Bağış. The briefing covered major policy areas for Turkey’s relations with the EU and relevant issues such as visa liberalization and the future of Cyprus.

Turkey originally applied for associate membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959, but only received EU candidate status following the Helsinki European Council of December 1999. In the briefing, Mr Bağış noted that unlike other candidate countries or potential candidate countries, Turkey has not won similar visa liberalization benefits for its citizens travelling to the EU.

However, the European Commission has now decided that Turkey’s reform successes here should be rewarded; during a 27 September 2011 meeting organized by the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee of the European Parliament, the European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström announced that a roadmap for Turkish visa exemption will soon be set.

Asked if Turkey is pressing EU Member States for some actions towards Turkey, Mr Bağış replied that as chief negotiator it is his duty to negotiate. Mentioning the visa regime of the other non-EU countries, he emphasized the need to apply the same standards to all candidate countries and to avoid the double standards that Turkey believes some Member States and EU institutions used when negotiating with the country. Eventually, the day has come when Commissioner Malmström promised to start a dialogue on eliminating visas for Turkish citizens. In the briefing, Mr Bağış noted that a more flexible visa regime will also benefit the EU economically, as many Turkish businessmen are interested in investing within the EU.

Turkey’s relationship with Cyprus and Greece was another subject discussed in the briefing. Mr Bağış noted that a political solution benefitting all sides should be found. He praised the idea of a United States of Cyprus. Towards a normalization of relations with Greece, Mr Bağış also mentioned having advised that both Turkey and Greece should reduce their defense expenditures to the size of other regular NATO members. Such an action would lead to positive economic developments for both countries, he maintained. More investments in other areas such as infrastructure, education and healthcare should be addresseded, he added.

Further, Mr Bağış relayed Turkey’s position that Greece’s decision to build a 12-kilometer fence along its border with Turkey raises some concerns. However, he believes that this decision was not made against Turkish citizens, but against illegal immigrants who try to enter Greece through Turkey.

Further, Mr Bağış expressed optimism, as Greek Prime Minister Papandreou as well as Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan have expressed their wish to improve relations. Opportunities could appear as a result of the upcoming meeting of the two leaders in November. Some of the issues that hindered the Turkish-Greek relationship have already been dealt with, Mr. Bağış contended, citing an example from 27 August 2011, when the Turkish prime minister signed a decision to return the properties of some religious groups to their owners (such as the Orthodox Church). This had been an outstanding issue since 1936. Turkey took this decision because “it was the right thing to do,” stated the EU negotiator.

Concluding the briefing, Mr Bağış underlined that Turkey does not seek visa-free travel in the EU for everyone who passes through the country (such as immigrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Algeria or Egypt), but only for lawful Turkish citizens. Stating that the latter should not be forced to wait in lines and suffer humiliation when asking for a Schengen visa.

Both Turkish and EU authorities should share the responsibility to check documents and ensure that the proper requirements are met when Turkish citizens travel within the EU, stated Mr Bağış, explaining that the EU should not be concerned about any feared wave of migration from Turkey to the EU that may follow after the visa liberalisation, as some forms of reverse migration are already underway. Also, he stated that Turkey is committed to improving its border management and to have stricter control of biometric passports that have already been introduced.

Egemen Bağış is the Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator with the EU, appointed by the Turkish government on July 6, 2011. A former Member of the Turkish Parliament, Mr Bağış previously served as the ruling AK Party’s Vice Chairman for Foreign Affairs. Holding this office, he had been member of AK Party’s Central Executive Committee, the highest executive body of the party. Mr Bağış directed the national and international relations of the party, especially concerning diplomacy and international relations.

Among other positions, from 2002-2011 Mr. Bağış served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan; Chairman of the Turkey-USA Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Caucus; Chairman of the NATO-PA Subcommittee on Transatlantic Relations, and Deputy Chairman of the Turkish Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. He also contributed to two major projects, “İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture” and “İstanbul 2012 European Capital of Sports,” and served as the founding Chairman of the Advisory Board of these projects. Mr. Bağış was also the founder of the Global Affairs Platform at Istanbul Bilgi University, and is the chairman of the advisory committee of the platform. He is also a founding member of the İstanbul Center in Brussels, and currently a member of the Administrative Board of the Center. His educational background is related to Human Resources Management (BA) and Public Administration (MA), both degrees being received from Bernard M. Baruch College of The City University of New York. is an American research and analysis firm that provides dedicated coverage of the Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean regions, in areas ranging from politics and security to economics and culture. It draws on the expertise of its broad network of field analysts and reporters representing a number of various countries and professional backgrounds.

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