Thank you very much for inviting me to give the opening statement for this seminar on European Union; Challenges and Prospects. I would like to thank the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute of the Bilkent University and its director Seyfi Tashan of taking the initiative to organize this seminar . The timing and topic of this seminar could not have been better. I am especially happy to see that some the participants are coming from our neighbouring countries
Finland has the EU presidency for the ongoing six months. Ensuring the continuation of the Turkish EU accession process is high on our agenda. We are working hard to avoid the famous train crash and to promote an active and dynamic EU accession process of Turkey.
Great change has taken place in Turkey during the last few years. After decades of political and economic problems and uneven development it must be acknowledged that huge progress has been made in the last few years.
EU-process has contributed significantly to this change in Turkey. Turkey is little by little transforming itself to become more modern and European country. The process will however take a long time and there will ups and downs in the process.
We have ahead of us critical weeks and month. The European Commission will issue its progress report on Turkey on 8 November, present stage of reforms and the Cyprus issue will be the focus of this report. The Council of Europe will discuss of this report and its recommendations in December 14-15.12. The issue will be Turkey's accession negotiations. In the same meeting on the agenda will also be enlargement and absorption capacity of the Union
Regarding the reform process, it is of vital importance that the process would not not slowing down. The adoption of the ninth reform package is important.
Biggest problem is notorious article 301 of the Penal Code. Almost 100 journalists and authors are at the moment being prosecuted with reference to this law.
Freedom of expression in the sense of expressing freely even a critical but clearly non-violent opinion, is part of EU:s political criteria. It is the cornerstone of our common democratic values. Therefore modifying or scrapping the article 301 of the penal code is essential. This should be done first and foremost to benefit the Turkish citizens.
Turkey signed the The Additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement in July 2005. By doing that Turkey made a commitment to the EU and all its member states. Signing the Protocol was a prerequisite for the opening of Turkey's EU accession negotiations. The EU now expects Turkey to honour this commitment by ratifying and implementing the Protocol.
The Finnish Presidency is actively working to reach a solution which would enable direct trade between EU and Northern part of Cyprus. This is an important step towards ending the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriot Community. Our aim is a solution that would also ensure that Turkey proceeds with the opening of ports to Cypriot vessels.
We are trying to find a short-term solution to settle the immediate problems, and are not trying to resolve the division of Cyprus as this is an issue that needs to be settled under the auspices of the UN.
Negative political rhetoric in Europe and in Turkey about the EU has contributed to the fall in the public support for EU membership in Turkey from the high 75 % to the present low of 45 %. There seems to be deep resentment and distrust in the EU at the moment.
Current opinion polls in Europe are quite discouraging for Turkey. Less than half of the people in the EU 25 support any further enlargement and 48 % are against Turkish accession.
Ankara University made recently a study about the attitudes on religion and democracy in Turkey. On the basis of this study it can be concluded that there is strong indication that the direction of Turkey is Europe.
Questions regarding Turkey's place in the world show that respondents in both the East and West of Turkey, unequivocally see Turkey's place in Europe. When asked whether Turkey's interests lay in Europe or Asia, a higher percentage of those in the East (83%) responded "Europe", compared to 72 % in the West.
I am convinced that Turkey's EU policy is not only the policy of one government, some elites or some interest groups, but that the European orientation of Turkey is deep-rooted and wide spread among the people of Turkey. However difficult things might be at the moment the basic vocation of Turkey is clear it is Europe.