We need to revive Helsinki spirit, Bağış says

Amid mounting concern over the pace of European Union accession negotiations, during which several EU member states have busied themselves laying down obstacles in Turkey’s path, the country’s top negotiator has decided to launch a major drive to convince friends in Europe to mount pressure on Brussels in order to get more accession chapters open.

It was no coincidence that Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief negotiator with the EU, chose Helsinki, the capital of Finland, as a perfect venue to address the issue. “The Helsinki summit was a crucial moment in our history,” he said to an audience at the prestigious Finnish Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday.

Bağış was referring to the moment when Turkey was officially recognized as a candidate country for full membership, on Dec. 12, 1999, at the Helsinki summit of the European Council. “Helsinki had broken the anchor-credibility dilemma,” he said, stressing that the summit marked a clear vision for both the EU and Turkey and sparked sweeping reforms in Turkey between 2000 and 2004.

The message he was trying to convey was that both sides should spend political capital to revive the stalled negotiations. “We have to re-engineer the Helsinki spirit as soon as possible,” Bağış underlined, adding that membership would be a win-win situation for both sides.

His message was well received here both by the public and officials. In his meeting with Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, Bağış asked for a speedy screening process for chapters Turkey would very much like to see it open in the near future. Turkey has been complaining for some time that chapters that have already completed the screening processes have been stalled in EU bureaucracy for political purposes.

Finland has been a staunch supporter of Turkey’s bid to join the 27-member bloc, saying that the country’s full membership would strengthen the EU and very much emphasize the multicultural aspect of the union. Refusing calls for a “privileged partnership” for Turkey, raised by France and Germany as a halfway measure to prevent full membership, the Finnish foreign minister coined the term “unprivileged partnership,” needed for accession talks with the EU, signaling his country would not waver on the full membership target for Turkey.

Although Turkey-Finland relations remained very limited during the Cold War, they gained momentum after the official visit of then-President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari in 1999 to Turkey. Relations peaked during the Finnish presidency of the European Council in 1999, when the council declared Turkish candidacy open, giving further impetus to bilateral relations.