ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
The joint declaration of the Union for the Mediterranean, which is to be approved Sunday by regional leaders at the Paris Summit, includes wording that assures Turkey will continue to be a candidate for European Union membership.
The final wording in the joint declaration states that the Union will be independent from EU enlargement policies and accession negotiations. Further, Turkey was identified as a negotiating candidate country to the EU, dispelling Turkey's concerns and setting the ground for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's decision to attend the summit.
The draft declaration, obtained by the Turkish Daily News, identified the initiative as “a strategic ambition for the Mediterranean” and said the Union for the Mediterranean will seek to complement EU bilateral relations with non-member countries. It is clearly stated that relations with non-EU countries will continue under existing policy frameworks, such as the Association Agreements, the current arrangement between Ankara and Brussels.
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan confirmed the draft no longer poses a threat, and said, “On very critical questions, the draft declaration is now in line with Turkey's expectations.” Before departing for Brussels Friday, Babacan told reporters, “What was our concern at first? They were saying this union would be enough and there would be no further need for the EU process with Turkey. But then, the French president sent three special envoys to Ankara to provide guarantees. Then he called the prime minister himself and assured him there is no such thing. If a European leader says this, we have to believe him.”
After talks in Brussels, Babacan will travel to Paris Saturday to attend the preparatory meetings for Sunday's summit, where the draft declaration will be signed. Babacan will hold a meeting today with French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, as Erdoğan departs for the French capital, as well. Erdoğan is expected to meet with Sarkozy Sunday.
Although Turkey has not officially declared its final decision on whether to join the Union, Babacan stressed the importance of having a say in the decision-making process. “We will be taking part in the works now. We will pursue the interests of both Turkey and the Mediterranean in all projects regarding the Mediterranean region,” he added.
Ankara cautious about possible Greek Cypriot moves
What Babacan hinted at, is the difficulty in negotiations on implementing projects undertaken by the Union for the Mediterranean. For a project to take effect, France favors a compromise among those countries taking part in any particular project, while Turkey demands a broader compromise among all participating countries in the Union. Ankara's insistence on an overall consensus comes from concerns about possible involvement by Greek Cyprus, which has already created obstacles for Turkey within the EU.
However, the Turkish stance may be opposed by Arab states, which argue a broad consensus would make each project vulnerable to Israeli vetoes. This is not the only tricky issue triggered by the Arab-Israeli conflict, as the wording for the Middle East and condemnation of terrorism in the draft declaration are still to be finalized.
Turkey's Mideast initiative welcomed
Leaders will encourage the parties in the Middle East to continue on the path of direct dialogue and negotiation for the attainment of two states; a safe and secure Israel and a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Turkey's recent initiative to host talks between Israel and Syria will be mentioned as an important step by the leaders. The paragraph in the draft declaration read, “Heads of State and Government recall that peace in the Middle East requires a comprehensive solution and welcome the announcement that Syria and Israel have initiated indirect peace talks under the auspices of Turkey.”
Union's target to translate into viable projects
Decreasing pollution in the Mediterranean: The Mediterranean's environmental quality has suffered serious degradation in recent years. Decreasing pollution, including in coastal and protected marine areas, and particularly in the water and waste sector, is set as a target.
Maritime and Land Highways: The development of motorways on the sea, including the connection of ports, throughout the entire Mediterranean basin as well as the creation of coastal motorways, and the modernization of the trans-Maghreb train, will increase the flow and freedom of the movement of people and goods.
Civil Protection: A joint civil protection program on prevention, preparation and response to disasters, and to the effects of climate change, is one of the main priorities.
Mediterranean Solar Plan: The Secretariat is tasked to explore the feasibility, the development and creation of a Mediterranean Solar Plan.
Euro-Mediterranean University: Through a cooperative network of partner institutions and existing universities from the Euro-Med region, The Euro-Mediterranean University will develop postgraduate and research programmes and contribute to the establishment of the Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education, Science and Research Area.