Opening speech at Turkish-Dutch conference

Speech by foreign minister Verhagen in Ankara, Turkey

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to open the second Turkish-Dutch bilateral conference together with my colleague Mr Babacan. [Ali, thank you for your kind words.] It’s good to be able to get together again so soon after our first successful bilateral conference, earlier this year at Wittenburg Castle in The Hague.

At the outset, I would like to express my outrage at the recent terrorist attack in southeastern Turkey, and offer my condolences to the families of the seventeen soldiers who lost their lives. The Netherlands condemns such acts in the strongest possible terms. This tragedy once again confirms that we must all continue to work together to combat terror. Determined, but without making concessions to the human rights standards we adhere to. In that sense, I fully agree with Prime Minister Erdogan who said that “hard-line reactions cannot help solve problems”.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our two countries have a long history together. In fact, in 2012, Turkey and the Netherlands will celebrate four hundred years of diplomatic relations. We look forward to turning that special year into an unforgettable event.

In 1924, the Netherlands was one of the first countries to sign a treaty of friendship with Atatürk’s new Turkish Republic. Two years later, the SS Karadeniz set sail from Istanbul to call at various European ports, ‘to exhibit the achievements of the Republic’ – as its captain wrote in a telegram. When the Karadeniz docked at the Westerdoksdijk in Amsterdam, the townspeople were treated to an open-air concert in the Vondelpark. An audience of thousands listened to the enchanting music of the Turkish orchestra in rapt silence.

Today, Turkish music is still very popular in Europe, especially in the Netherlands. According to Selen Zorlu and Bengi Ünsal from Doublemoon, a promising Turkish record label, the popularity of Turkish pop music stems from the way it blends East and West. Indeed, one of the defining features of the cross-over genre is its ability to attract a diverse audience.

Cross-over: I think this expression neatly captures cultural relations between our two countries. The many cultural activities and exchanges have had a noticeable impact, both in the Netherlands and Turkey. In June of next year Dutch Design, Fashion and Architecture will be represented at the Istanbul Design Week, which is a true platform for creativity. And this week, the second edition of the Turkey Now! Festival was launched in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, featuring a mix of music, dance, theatre, film and photo exhibitions. The festival also has a culinary side to it, with dishes from Istanbul meyhanes [taverns].

We also enjoy strong economic links. Turkey is the Netherlands’ fourth-largest trading partner outside the EU. We rank among the biggest direct investors in Turkey: between 1980 and 2002, 16% of foreign direct investments in Turkey came from the Netherlands. Next month, a large trade mission will visit Turkey, led by Minister for Foreign Trade Frank Heemskerk. At the same time, two other missions will take place, in the areas of education and agriculture. And next April, our Minister of Transport Camiel Eurlings will lead another trade mission that will cover issues such as transport, infrastructure and maritime issues. From these missions it is clear that the Netherlands attaches great importance to Turkey as a trading partner with many investment opportunities.

The Netherlands stands ready to assist Turkey in implementing its reform agenda. We have committed 25 million euros to various pre-accession projects as part of our MATRA programme. Many of these projects aim to strengthen the Turkish judicial sector and help Turkey in preparing for the adoption of the acquis. Human rights, gender equality and freedom of the press are some other important issues addressed by our joint projects. Over the past five years, some 250 Turkish civil servants participated in courses in the Netherlands, such as the highly popular course on “how to operate in Brussels”.

I have always been very clear about Turkey’s accession prospects: the Netherlands will uphold its promise to welcome Turkey as a member of the EU, if Turkey satisfies all the accession criteria. There is no misunderstanding about our commitment, nor about what needs to be done: the requirements are clear. Turkey holds the key to its own accession, and we will be most happy to assist along the way.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Tonight, I will deliver a speech at the fifth Bosphorus Conference in Istanbul, on relations between Turkey and the EU. On that occasion, I will also address the important role Turkey plays in the region, and its geopolitical strength. As Napoleon once said, ‘If the whole world were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.’ His words still ring true today. And again, the notion of cross-over springs to mind: Turkey as a bridge between East and West. In terms of quelling regional conflicts, acting as a mediator and guaranteeing a safe supply of energy, Turkey’s importance can hardly be overstated.

All these issues feature prominently on your agenda. You will try to find ways for practical cooperation, on foreign policy, on energy. Your work today is a perfect illustration of how important cooperation is - and how much value we attach to it. In today’s world, we both stand to benefit from close relations. The Netherlands cherishes its friendship with Turkey. Most definitely, it is a relationship we intend to continue investing in.

I wish you all a very productive conference.

Thank you.