The relations between Turkey, Portugal and the EU in the last decade

Ebru Barutçu Gökdenizler 18.05.2013
Address by H.E. Madame Ambassador at the Conference “The relations between Turkey, Portugal and the EU in the last decade”

(University of Lisbon, 18 May 2013)

Dear Professors and Students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the University of Lisbon for the facilities provided and the Turkish-Portuguese Friendship Association for organizing this conference and the subsequent cultural festival on the occasion of the 19th of May. I also highly appreciate the opportunity to share with you my views on Turkey’s relations with the EU and with Portugal in particular, on this occasion.

Tomorrow, 19th of May, is a national holiday in Turkey. It commemorates the beginning of the Turkish national liberation movement. May 19, 1919 was a turning point in Turkey's history. On this day, a young Ottoman general, Mustafa Kemal, set foot on Samsun. The visionary leader, who would later be known to the world as Atatürk, stepped ashore on this small Black Sea coast town to embark on a journey, which would ultimately create the modern Republic of Turkey today.

This day, 19th of May, was later dedicated by Atatürk to the youth. It has been celebrated as the “Festival of Youth and Sports” ever since. Thus, a university is without a doubt the most meaningful venue to celebrate 19th of May. This is why it is a real pleasure for me to celebrate the 94th anniversary of this day with you here today.

Nevertheless, today we mark this day in a somewhat more somber mood due to the loss of lives in the heinous terror attack in the town of Reyhanlı a few days ago, close to the Turkish-Syrian border. We wish a speedy recovery to the dozens of injured citizens. Our thoughts and prayers are with families and friends of the victims who lost their lives in this heinous act of terror.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Having briefly touched upon the past, now I would like to move to Turkey’s future, namely in the European Union.

These days I am frequently confronted with the question “why Turkey still wants to join the EU, given its outstanding economic performance and rising global political profile vis-a-vis the economic crisis that has hit hard the EU?” While trying to answer that question, I will resort to Atatürk’s legacy once again:

From the war-torn nation, Atatürk established a modern country adopting universal values, as the only democratic and secular nation in the Moslem world. He carried out many widespread reforms in such a short span of time that has never been seen in history. As a matter of fact, reformism (inkılapçılık) was one of his principles, later enshrined in the Turkish Constitution.

Reformism, by definition, is not a static principle. It is progressive. It goes beyond the recognition of the reforms made during Atatürk's lifetime. It means that there should be no pause in attaining and sustaining the best modern standards.

Turkey today is continuing to develop with this goal. Our country is changing and going through a great transformation period. And our process of accession to the EU is a mere reflection of that.

It was in 1959, only two years after the Treaty of Rome, that Turkey applied for associate membership in the then European Economic Community. This resulted in the signing of the Ankara Agreement in 1963 with the ultimate aim of membership. In 1987, Turkey applied for full membership. The Customs Union between Turkey and the EU took effect in 1996. In 1999, at the Helsinki Summit, the European Council gave Turkey the status of candidate country for EU membership. In December 2004, the European Council decided to open membership talks with Turkey. Consequently, accession negotiations were launched on 3 October 2005. And here we are 8 years later.

For some fifty years, Turkey has continued its journey to become an EU member and strives to achieve the highest standards in every field, in other words to align with the EU acquis. Despite the stalling of the negotiations and the politically motivated blockages, a comprehensive reform process continues in every area from human rights to environment, from consumer rights to the judiciary. We are determined to continue these reforms regardless of the stalemate in the accession negotiations, because they aim at providing Turkish citizens with the best standards of living. Therefore, I believe that this determination of ours and our efforts for accession are very much in line with Atatürk’s principle of reformism.

Turkey’s accession to the EU is also compatible with the foreign policy vision of Atatürk, which is best summarised in his own words as “Peace at home, peace in the world.” This has been the guiding motto of the Turkish Republic in its relations with the external world since its inception and continues to be so more than ever today.

As you all know, the EU is a peace project that was granted the Nobel Peace Prize last year. As a matter of fact, the EU has been the most significant example of creating a long-lasting era of peace, stability and prosperity by overcoming disagreements and deep historical hostilities through dialogue and compromise. Thus, it is fair to say it has become the most successful project in European history.

The greatest achievement of the EU has been to help secure an absence of war amongst its member states and reinforce the values that are fundamental to security and peace across the continent and beyond. This is why we see European integration priorly as a political project, not an economic one.

The modern Turkish Republic has been united with her partners in the EU, around the basic values and principles based upon the rule of law, human rights, social rights, equality between men and women, free market economy and cultural diversity. Therefore, our country's objective to be an EU member does not arise out of the desire to merely consolidate a geographical belonging or some economic expectations, at all. Our aim to be a member of the EU is the most natural demonstration of the spirit and philosophy of the founder of our Republic.

This is why our perspective for full membership to the EU as established in 1963 with the Ankara Agreement setting us as an associate member remains to be our strategic choice. The deadlock in our EU accession process resulting from the politically motivated blockages by some EU members is a source of disappointment. However, despite the ups and downs, the prevailing direction in Turkey-EU relations has always been towards progress and further deepening.

We share the main concerns and uphold common values with the EU. Turkey seeks to establish peace, stability and security in the Middle East; to further integrate the Balkans with the Euro-Atlantic community; to bolster democracy and peaceful resolution of conflicts in the Caucasus; to contribute to enhanced energy supply and security of Europe; to strengthen security and stability in Afghanistan, etc… (This list goes on)…and so does the EU.

Therefore, the proactive diplomacy pursued by Turkey to attain these objectives in fact complements the EU’s policies to the same ends. Our efforts to expand the area of peace, stability and prosperity can only affect positively Europe’s broader neighbourhood and the international community.

As we share a common geography and history as well as common values and goals, I firmly believe that Turkey and the EU also share a common future.
That is why Turkey cannot remain indifferent to the challenges facing the EU. We closely follow these challenges and we are ready to be part of their solution, since we see our future in the EU.

Due to the Customs Union established in 1996, we have strong economic ties with the EU. We have become the first country to become part of the Customs Union before actually becoming a full member. Therefore, Turkey is inevitably affected by the economic crisis in the EU. The EU is our leading trade partner (153 bn USD). Our exports to the EU had constituted almost half of our overall exports until recently. This share of the EU has decreased to almost 1/3rd. This decrease is not only due to the diversification of markets in Turkey’s external commercial relations but also due to the crisis in Europe.

We believe that the EU will emerge eventually from this crisis ever stronger than before. The history of European integration shows that the Union evolved and deepened more with each crisis it came across. The current crisis is also an opportunity in that respect. It has already triggered a debate on the future of Europe. Turkey, as a future member state, desires to contribute to that debate.

Turkey`s EU membership will provide the fresh energy and dynamism that the Union will need in the future. Our membership will present the opportunity for the EU to enhance its global status. Turkey and the EU share the same outlook for the future of our continent: a Europe that strengthens its soft power and advances its universal values; that promotes diversity; that is a confident global actor. Turkey`s membership will help Europe translate this vision into reality.

An EU which does not embrace Turkey will remain as a non-accomplished political project that never achieved its true potential. As a matter of fact, the sustainability of this project could be ensured by Turkey’s accession to the EU. The rapid change and transformation in today’s international political and economic relations reveal the extent of the positive repercussions which this historic project will have with the strength and effectiveness that Turkey’s accession will bring on global scale.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Portugal has always been well aware of the added value that Turkey can bring to the EU by contributing to the strategic depth and global role of the EU in the newly emerging global order in political, economic and sociocultural terms. This is why it has always supported Turkey’s accession. Foreign Minister Portas reconfirmed this in his speech at the Turkish-Portuguese Business Forum held in Lisbon on 7th of May, saying that “It would be a visionary decision that would extend the European market and would give more ambition in terms of foreign policy and a safe ally in relations with the Islamic world.”

As a matter of fact, there seems to be a consensus across the political spectrum in Portugal on that matter and the question of Turkey’s accession has not been manipulated for domestic political gains as has been the case in some other member states. We appreciate this consistent support of Portugal, which was reaffirmed across the board at the highest level most recently during the visit of our President just last week. We count on this continued support.

The EU is only one of the issues on which Turkey and Portugal share the same vision.

Our countries have been two gateways of Europe on two opposite ends, connecting it to different continents: to the Americas, to Africa and to Asia. Both have served throughout history as windows opening to new landscapes. The Speaker of the Parliament Ms. Esteves, during her meeting with our President on 6th of May, made a very pertinent analogy describing Turkey and Portugal as two countries sharing the feature of being “geographies of transition”, with Portugal linking the Old World with the New World and Turkey linking the East and the West. In other words, both our countries enjoy a substantial level of outreach and depth in political, economic and cultural domains that goes well beyond their immediate neighbourhoods.

For several centuries, both countries were great empires at the two ends of the Continent and have in many ways affected the tide of history. We are two nations with a glorious history and a rich cultural heritage. We share a common approach to international relations guided by tolerance and respect for diversity. These shared features have greatly contributed to our respective cultural heritages. Since then, our diplomatic relations dating back to 1843 have been strengthened continuously in a steady manner, fueled by mutual respect and sympathy between our peoples.

Today, Turkey and Portugal are allies sharing the values of democracy, pluralism and freedom and partners joining their forces for peace and prosperity in Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond. We have similar views on many current regional and international issues. Therefore, our countries support one another, whenever possible, in international fora. They also demonstrate an exemplary cooperation and solidarity within NATO, which constitutes an important foreign and defence policy pillar for both countries.

Thanks to our common European and Mediterranean identities, we enjoy excellent bilateral relations covering political, economic, military and cultural fields. We are currently witnessing a momentum in Turkish-Portuguese relations at all levels. What more can an Ambassador ask for?

Since last year, there has been an increase in the frequent high level contacts and visits which have served as instrumental in enhancing these relations in all fields.

The visit of Minister of State and Foreign Affairs, Portas to Turkey in April 2012, provided the opportunity to review our bilateral relations in all aspects and to explore new avenues of cooperation. This was followed by the visit of the Minister of Economy Pereira, to Turkey in July 2012 and the visit of our Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış to Lisbon in September 2012.

However, the most important visit of 2012 was undeniably the visit of Prime Minister Passos Coelho to Turkey in December 2012. The first in a very long time. (Portuguese Prime Ministers visited Turkey for the OSCE and NATO Summits in 1999 and 2004 respectively.) This visit concluded the year 2012 with the explicit joint political will to carry our bilateral relations further to the next level. The Strategic Document for Enhancing Bilateral Relations, signed during the visit, foresees the establishment of an Intergovernmental Summit mechanism between our two countries and sets an enhanced new bilateral framework for our partnership in the 21st century. We hope to hold the first Turkish-Portuguese Intergovernmental Summit no later than early next year.

The most recent and important development has been the State Visit paid last week by President Abdullah Gül to Portugal upon the invitation of President Cavaco Silva. As part of his programme in Portugal, President Gül met with the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament. On the occasion of the visit, bilateral cooperation agreements in the fields of economy, military, diplomacy and culture were signed between Turkey and Portugal, enhancing the legal foundation of our cooperation.

In addition to our excellent bilateral relations, our President also underlined the ongoing strengthening of economic relations during his talks in Portugal. Turkish-Portuguese economic and commercial relations are developing swiftly. Our trade volume has tripled in the last decade and is currently a little over 1 billion Dollars. However, this does not reflect the true potential of our countries.

Therefore, boosting economic and commercial ties was one of the main goals and messages of the Presidential visit. This is why a big business delegation accompanied the President in Portugal. President Gül, together with President Cavaco Silva, attended the closing session of the Turkey-Portugal Business Forum and addressed Turkish and Portuguese businessmen. He called on the “Turkish and Portuguese business worlds to better discover one another”. After the forum, Turkish and Portuguese businessmen had bilateral meetings to explore cooperation possibilities.

All in all, President Gül’s visit to Portugal has crowned our bilateral relations. Based on this current momentum, there are ample opportunities to further expand our ties in the commercial, economic, scientific and cultural areas and this is what we will work on in the period ahead.

In this respect, an important area that we should also work on is the promotion of people-to-people contacts. This would enhance the interaction between our societies and thus lead to a better understanding of one another. In this context, programmes such as ERASMUS, allowing academic, social and cultural interaction, are investments in a common future. For instance, between 2004-2010, a total of 1569 Turkish students were enrolled in universities in Portugal; whereas 226 Portuguese students studied at Turkish universities under the ERASMUS Programme. I hope these figures will increase in the period ahead, because such interaction also provides a useful tool for better communicating Turkey to the citizens of the EU, which I hope was also what I was able to do today with you.

Thank you.


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