International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIV No. 1 (January-March 1999)


Italy, Turkey and the European Union
By Lamberto Din


Relations between Italy and Turkey, which are solid and fruitful, are rooted in their traditional friendship and shared interests and objectives. It is these considerations that underlie Italy’s desire to strengthen and enhance them, independently of any individual or contingent events - such as the questions surrounding the Öcalan affair - that might have touched on particular sensitivities and provoked a certain resentment, without - at least as far as Italy is concerned - leaving any lasting or long-term consequences.

Now that Öcalan is in Turkey, where he will presumably be prosecuted, we expect the trial to be carried out with all the guarantees of a constitutional state, in particular in compliance with European standards in matters of fundamental rights which are sanctioned by the Conventions of the Council of Europe to which Turkey too is party. We also express the hope that whatever the outcome of the trial, it will not envisage the death sentence.

Italy has requested the European Union, whose policies are inspired by the same principles, to adopt a similar approach. Italy, as well as the European Union, condemns any kind of terrorism and believes that the Kurdish people must refrain from using violent methods, which do not help the action in favour of the recognition of the Kurdish ethnic and cultural identity.

It the Turkish government complies with European standards, this will bring Turkey closer to the Union, an approach which Italy has always supported. On our behalf, we will continue to uphold the rule of law and justice, trying to contribute to the improvement of judicial cooperation both within the European Union and the Council of Europe.

In Turkey, which has the largest number of ethnic Kurds, the problem of ending the conflict and recognising their ethnic and cultural identity is becoming more urgent today. Italy therefore hopes that a solution can be found in the southeastern regions of Turkey, according to Europe’s standards of dialogue, understanding and tolerance.

For a long time now, Italy has been seeking a dialogue with Turkey on this and, in general, all the other issues concerning Turkey’s relations with the European Union, and in this we have not been alone. The justification and rationale for this dialogue stem from Turkey’s request to accede to the Union, and the difficulties that have arisen along the way.

But no divergence must cause us to lose sight of Turkey’s geostrategic relevance to the stability of our continent, which ranges far beyond its own border, the value of which is by no means weakened as a result of the end of the bipolar world and the East-West stand-off. Likewise, no consideration of the European Union’s economic or strategic interests has rendered it more indulgent in terms of respect for fundamental freedoms.

Italy is one of the countries that have done the most to encourage the Turkish government to draw closer to Europe. In August 1997, we were the first to launch the idea of a European Conference for candidate countries, with Turkey attending, in order to emphasise the inclusive, comprehensive and global character of enlargement. Italy has made every effort to give Turkey new instruments to prevent it from feeling “rejected” and to emphasise its European vocation. At the June 1998 Cardiff European Council, Italy submitted a number of innovative proposals to develop the customs union, to release financial measures, to discuss foreign policy, justice and home affairs, and consequently democracy and human rights.

We have recently spoken in the same terms, working towards full democracy, at discussions within the European Union in Brussels. Not to interfere in the internal affairs of a friendly country, but to recall the fact that joining Europe means also sharing certain rules, principles and values with Europe. Prime Minister D’Alema, in his speech last December before the Italian Chamber of Deputies, recalled the criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council in June 1993 for appraising applications for accession to the Union. The criteria must not only be economic and social, but also political, as an integral part of what we might conveniently call the Constitution of the Union, and the rights and privileges of what we rightly call the European citizen.

Relations between Italy and Turkey cannot be separated from Turkey’s relations with the European Union. The misunderstandings in recent weeks can and must be resolved by strengthening, not weakening, cooperation between Turkey, Italy and the European Union, by encouraging conduct that is more in harmony with our standards, recalling in a spirit of friendship that the demands of the Kurdish population should not only be dealt with in terms of economic incentives, however essential, but also through confidence-building measures, and by respecting their historical and cultural identity. Belonging to a "common European home" implies duties and solidarity. Duty to benefit from the criticisms of others, and from the solidarity of others to deal with and jointly settle as yet unresolved issues. This applies both to the countries already in Europe and those wishing to enter. This is the conviction of all governments of the Union, and it is enshrined in the Treaties.

But this is not the only aspect of relations with Turkey affecting Europe as a whole. Thousands of people, including ethnic Kurds, are continually landing on Italy’s coasts in search of better living conditions. Europe is therefore anxious to put an end to this illegal migration and trafficking of every kind, by tackling its root cause. But in order to put a stop to it, there must be adequate economic growth and greater security in regions where the Kurdish populations live.

Ankara has demonstrated the will to strengthen its cooperation with Italy, which it recognises is its partner on the Mediterranean and European stage which is perhaps better able than any other to link Turkey to Europe.

Turkey’s participation in the Multinational Protection Force for Albania, its endorsement of the soundness of Italy’s proposal for Ankara’s participation in the ’enlargement process“ of the European Union, and support for Italy’s project for reform of the United Nations Security Council and Italy’s candidates for it, are evidence of a bilateral relationship which has great growth potential, and is able to bring about positive developments in the mutual interest of both countries.

Economic relations between Italy and Turkey have always flourished, and we intend them to continue and to develop still further. Italy is Turkey’s second European trading partner as a supplier after Germany with a 9.3 percent market share and its fifth largest customer (following Germany, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom) accounting for 5.3 percent of Turkey’s exports.

In 1997, Italian investments in Turkey were in excess of 300 billion lire. Over the past ten years, the number of Italian companies investing in Turkey has increased almost threefold.

Italian business has made a considerable contribution to the economic development of Turkey over the past few decades, thanks to joint ventures between Italy’s leading companies, and to major infrastructure projects which have been or are currently being implemented by Italian companies. These few figures provide some idea of the volume of trade and the strength of the links between the two economies. Such capital must not be wasted, but used as the basis for further enhancing our economic relations.

This, then, is the political, economic and strategic context against which our relations have to be viewed. It must not be overshadowed by the Öcalan case. When I spoke to the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, on 13 December in Brussels, on the margins of the Atlantic Council, we agreed that bilateral relations must remain unaffected by this affair.

I am sure that this still remains our common intent, to which we are wholeheartedly committed, and that with the forthcoming high level political contacts, we shall be able to embark upon new projects for cooperation in every area of mutual interest and concern.

Lamberto Dini is the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs