TALLINN - President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who arrived in Ankara, Turkey, for an official visit on April 15-16, assured Estonia’s steady support for Turkey’s convergence with the European Union and the reforms to be implemented for that purpose. “The European Union will not be complete without Turkey,” emphasized President Ilves.
“Turkey, as a large country between Europe and Asia, is an exceptionally important balancing factor, not solely for the problems of its own region, but in a much wider context,” said Ilves at his meeting with the Turkish Head of State, Abdullah Gul.
Ilves claimed that “The European Union will not be complete without Turkey.” He went on to say that “All the friends of Turkey have two huge tasks - to prove to those who look upon enlargement with skepticism in the European Union that Turkey is committed to democratic reforms, and to help the Turkish government show their people that these reforms are necessary, especially to improve the living standards of Turkish people.”
President Ilves noted that Turkey is a good friend of Estonia and a strong ally in NATO. Turkey was the first member of the alliance in Southeastern Europe and Mediterranean region to secure the airspace of the Baltic states. Now, Turkey is ready to send its representative to the NATO Co-operative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn.
The Estonian head of state and the head of the Turkish government described the current economic and trade relations between the two countries as modest, but they admitted that entrepreneurs of both countries have a reason to show interest in each other’s markets and possible investments.
“I do hope that the Turkish confectioner Gulluoglu, which entered the Estonian market, will encourage many other Turkish investors and will give impetus to bilateral economic relations, in turn inspiring Estonian entrepreneurs,” said Ilves.
He said that he sees the launching of direct flights as an important aspect for the development of relations between the two countries; Turkey has repeatedly shown its interest in this aspect on a high political level. Such a regular connection would most definitely increase the mutual number of visitors, as last year only 2,745 Turkish tourists stayed overnight in Estonian accommodation establishments. At the same time, Estonian travel agencies sent 27,384 tourists to Turkey.
“I am sure that the economic and trade relations between Estonia and Turkey will bounce back in the near future; and we are certainly still interested in launching direct flights between the two countries,” President Ilves admitted.
Presidents Ilves and Gul also touched upon the crisis centers in the region. “Estonia wants the issue of Cyprus to be resolved in the interests of the Cypriot people, Turkey, and Greece, as well as also Estonia’s interests, as this is an issue that is hampering the very co-operation between NATO and the European Union,” stated Ilves.
The Estonian and Turkish heads of state also discussed the developments in the search for solutions to the Nagorno Karabakh conflicts and the situation in Afghanistan, where the defence force members of both countries serve in the NATO-led security forces. “However, NATO’s success in Afghanistan is not solely dependent on the courage of the troops of the alliance but as much or even more on the ability of the Afghan government to assume control in the country, and to what extent NATO and our allies can increase their civil contribution. Of course, stability in Pakistan is also a contributing factor,” said Ilves, adding “Here, Turkey has taken a leading role in initiating regional co-operation in this area, as well as organizing top-level communication between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
When speaking about energy security, the Estonian head of state assured that Turkey plays a strategic role in ensuring alternative energy supply to the European Union.
According to Ilves, this year and the next will be especially important for the cultural relations between Estonia and Turkey. “Istanbul is going to be the cultural capital of Europe in 2010, and Tallinn will take over this role in 2011, which gives us a good opportunity for co-operation in the sphere of cultural projects. For example, the plans include the organization of a week of Estonian culture in Istanbul, which would see the premier of ‘Adam’s Lament’ by Arvo Part on June 7 of this year,” said the president.
Ilves also gave a presentation to the professors and students of Bilkent University, where he discussed the history and future of relations between Estonia and Turkey.