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Looking back at when Turkey had a European vision

Thursday 12 May 2011, by Kayhan Karaca

With enthusiasm fading in Turkey for its bid to join the European Union, it would not be a surprise to see “Europe Day,” marked Monday across the continent, go unnoticed by many Turkish politicians. But though Turkey may be losing interest in the future of the EU, the country was an integral part of the bloc’s past.

Half a century ago, when the initial seeds of European integration were being sown, Turkish politicians brought their contributions to the Schuman Declaration, a proposal by then-French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman to create a new community of European states. That declaration, made May 9, 1950, is what Europe Day marks.

While Schuman’s initiative is considered to be the start of what is now the European Union, European integration began with the creation of the Council of Europe on May 5, 1949. Turkey joined this first European institution in August that same year and participated in all the debates about the future of Europe from the very beginning.

Kasım Gülek, a leading figure of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, was a prominent member of the Turkish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE. In a PACE plenary debate held Aug. 17, 1949, in Strasbourg, he strongly defended a “United States of Europe.”

“The whole idea of absolute sovereignty is dying away, and the new idea of international sovereignty is being created,” Gülek said. “European sovereignty is the goal at which we must aim.”

The first European parliamentary debate on the Schuman Declaration also took place in PACE, where the foreign minister presented the details of his plan before the PACE plenary on Aug. 10, 1950. He described his proposed European Coal and Steel Community – an eventual precursor to the European Union – as “an organization just for economic purposes” but failed to convince British parliamentarians.

Turkish members of PACE were, at that time, much more enthusiastic about European integration.

“I am persuaded that European citizenship will become reality in the near future,” Osman Kapani, from the conservative Democrat Party, or DP, said during a debate on the Schuman Plan. “When traveling on other continents, we shall be proud to possess a European passport and we shall take pride in being called citizens of Europe.”

At the beginning of European integration, Turkey and Turkish members of PACE supported the idea of an economic union before a political one. During a debate Nov. 28, 1951, on “Objectives and Perspectives of European Policy,” Kapani described Turkey’s position on the issue.

“Some of you have defended the concept of a continental federation based on France, Germany and Italy. I am bound to say that it would not be possible for Turkey to join such a federation,” he said. “We are ready to give our support and our good wishes to any countries that desire to unite. We fully believe that by so doing they would be serving the cause of the free world, but we would ask them to understand that we cannot join them.”

Kapani went on to explain why such a formulation would not be desirable for Turkey. “A continental bloc consisting of France, Germany, Italy and perhaps the Benelux countries would, undoubtedly, form a coherent whole with its strategic interests centered on the defense of the Alps and the Rhine,” he said. “You will understand that Turkey’s preoccupations are quite different; they are governed by its geography and its history and relate to more general aspects.”

He added, however, “If a complete European federation were set up including Britain, Scandinavia and all members of the Council of Europe” or if “an Atlantic federation” were achieved, “I think that Turkey would be quite prepared to take part unreservedly.”

“Such a federation, by its very extent, and by the volume of its interests both in Europe and overseas, would have to draw up sufficiently comprehensive plans to take into account the special concerns of Turkey,” Kapani said.

Turkish parliamentarians’ speeches in PACE on the institutional construction of Europe showed Ankara’s desire for a “European solidarity” that could also contribute to its own economic development.

Since the beginning of PACE, Turkish parliamentarians had always supported the ideas of a customs union, a monetary union, the free movement of persons and even the creation of a European Central Bank. Gülek, for instance, expressed his willingness to put raw materials to common use in European industry and to eliminate the customs barriers within the Council of Europe’s member states. In exchange for this, he wanted Europe to provide technology, expertise and capital to underdeveloped countries such as Turkey.

Turkey took over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for the second time from April 15 to Nov. 20, 1958. Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu came to Strasbourg on April 29 as the chairman of the Committee of Ministers. In a speech before the PACE plenary, he outlined Turkey’s vision for European integration.

“We must rejoice at the birth of the European Economic Community, which must grow and ensure European economic integration by joining forces with other countries of the OEEC [Organisation for European Economic Co-operation] and of Europe in creating a free-trade area, without which Europe would be even more divided,” Zorlu said.

“How can Europe be expected to extend her influence throughout the world if she does not succeed in establishing complete fellowship within her own boundaries, and if she does not try to solve the problems responsible for the unequal standards of living prevailing among her countries? By trying to solve these problems Europe will set an example of equity and social progress to the whole world,” he added. “I, myself, think that economic integration should precede the coordination of the policies of European states because, in my opinion, one cannot discuss political coordination without discussing economic integration and solidarity; these should, if not precede, at least accompany any attempts to institute a coordinated or unified foreign policy.”

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Source : Hürriyet Daily News, Sunday, May 8, 2011

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