Newsletter 4/2010 - Our South East Europe

PARALLEL INTERVIEW: Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey

RCC has demonstrated its capability to transform our vision of regional cooperation into concrete projects

Mr Minister, what is the added value the regional cooperation brings to a South East European country and the region as a whole, in particular in the context of EU enlargement?

Regional cooperation is a key part of EU policy towards the region. It is also the quintessence of European integration in the sense that the European project is itself based on cooperation, as a tool for fostering reconciliation, economic development and progress. Therefore, engagement in regional cooperation schemes is both a necessity and an effective instrument for EU integration. This has most recently been confirmed by Commissioner Füle at the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) Meetings on 21-23 June 2010 in Istanbul.

What are the priorities of your country in regional cooperation? Could you sum up the main achievements of the Turkish 2009-2010 SEECP Chairmanship-in-Office?

Turkey seeks to forge a new common vision in the light of the European and Euro-Atlantic integration perspective that is shared by all the countries in the region. This vision prioritizes the principles of “security for all”, “high level political dialogue”, “economic interdependence” and “preservation of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic social structure of the region. So, the main theme of the Turkish Chairmanship-in-Office of the SEECP has been the advancement of the European integration cause and the development of a common vision as outlined.

We offered a qualitatively and quantitatively rich programme of events during our Chairmanship-in-Office. We organized more than twenty events, five of which were sectorial meetings at ministerial level. During our Chairmanship, frequency of high level visits among the countries in the region intensified significantly. We believe all these efforts helped increase the Balkans’ profile on the international arena. The SEECP Foreign Ministerial and SEECP Summit held on 22-23 June 2010 saw the highest possible participation ever from the SEECP participating states; moreover we won over Slovenia as the 12th member of the SEECP. This, as such, manifests that “regional ownership” is now being embraced and upheld in our region.

In your view, what are the ‘lessons learned’ and avenues of regional cooperation to be explored in South East Europe?

It has been 14 years since the SEECP was created. Much has happened since then. The region went through a transition and adaptation period. Political climate in the Balkans has substantially altered. Even though we are still talking about the conditions of lasting peace and stability in the region, we are far from the dark days of 90s. Our priorities have also changed. The countries in the region have come to realize the merits of cooperation and reconciliation. Integration with the European and Euro-Atlantic structures has become the primary objective of our nations. We all now take democracy, rule of law, human rights and cultural pluralism as points of reference. We learned how to draw lessons from globalization and continue to do so.

This presents us with a sound basis to enhance our cooperation in every possible field. First and foremost, we need to focus on development of a perception and conduct of economic interdependence, or in plain words, regional economic integration. This would pave the way for an efficient, target-oriented collaboration in such vital areas as energy, infrastructure, transportation, trade liberalization and promotion of investments.

How is Turkey coping with the effects of the current global economic crisis and do you see benefits of large-scale regional development projects in this context?

We have gone through a very rigorous banking sector reform in 2001. We introduced the concept of personal liability for bank owners and the manager. By the end of 2006, we had a new mortgage law with 25 percent down-payment requirement and a very strict credit card law. So when this recent crisis hit, our banks stood very strong. Turkey is the only Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country which did not bailout any bank or put any government money to any bank. We did not even have to change our guarantee scheme.

In September 2009, we put forward a three-year perspective by announcing a Medium Term Program which is based on prudent estimates. The Medium Term Program aims to stabilize our public debt to the GDP ratio in 2010 and to decrease it starting from 2011. The realizations for 2009 and the data for 2010 demonstrate that our debt burden is diminishing faster than estimated. This significantly helps markets to have a clear perspective and to restore confidence. With the rising confidence, the contribution of the private sector demand to the growth is increasing significantly. Turkish economy grew by 6% in the last quarter of 2009. We expect the growth rate to end up close to 6% for the whole year.

Regarding unemployment, we have recently implemented many reforms to increase the efficiency of our labor market. We have reduced financial and non-financial burden on employers, introduced incentives for youth and female employment and developed an active labor market programme to increase the skill of the labor force. As a result of these measures, we initially limited the increase in unemployment. In addition to these, we are also continuing to work on a new employment strategy. Within the context of this strategy, we aim to increase the flexibility of the labor market, facilitate the employment of disadvantaged groups and strengthen the social security nets.

What is your vision of South East Europe in ten years?

Turkey sees the future of the region in an integrated Europe, thus hopes to see all the countries of South East Europe, without exception, as NATO and EU members. We are pleased to see that the phrase “Balkans” no longer has the connotation it used to have and we wish to see the Balkans as a region generating peace, stability and prosperity at the heart of Europe, and not at its periphery. We sincerely believe that the Balkans has the necessary potential to emerge as the young, dynamic and energetic driving force of Europe and become a hub for infrastructure, transportation and energy projects.

How do you see the role of the Regional Cooperation Council in the years to come?

The RCC Secretariat, under the able leadership of Secretary General Hido Biscevic, has demonstrated, within a relatively short period of time, its capability to transform our vision of regional cooperation into concrete projects, as the operational arm of the SEECP. 

We are of the opinion that RCC should act as an umbrella organization for all regional and international initiatives in our region. And we are happy to see that in the second year of its full operation, the RCC developed intensive communication and cooperation with different branches of national administrations of its members from South East Europe, about 48 regional taskforces and initiatives, EU institutions, international financial institutions and other donors as well as representatives of business community, academia and civil society in the region.

The RCC has already become the main interlocutor for international organizations engaged in South East Europe. We are convinced that the RCC’s posture as such will be reinforced in the period ahead.

Prof. Dr. Ahmet Davutoglu was appointed to the position of Foreign Minister of the Republic of Turkey in May 2009. He previously pursued an academic career in different universities in Turkey and abroad and served as Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister and Ambassador at large.


Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey (Photo:

Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey (Photo: