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A renewed relationship between Turkey and the European Union will be in the mutual interest of both sides in line with the positive agenda adopted in the recent EU Council meeting, Italy’s ambassador to Ankara has said, underlining that reforms to be announced soon in the field of rule of law will be welcomed by the EU.
Massimo Gaiani, Italy’s ambassador to Ankara, has outlined the scope of Turkish-Italian bilateral relations, the current state of play between Turkey and the EU as well as the discussions about the past year’s tensions in the eastern Mediterranean in an exclusive interview with the Hürriyet Daily News.
Italy has a new government, and it was remarkable to observe that Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi praised the ties with Turkey as both a partner in the Mediterranean basin and a NATO ally. How would you describe the importance of the collaboration with Turkey for Italy?
Turkey is certainly a priority for Italy’s foreign policy and has been one of the very few countries mentioned by Prime Minister Draghi in presenting, a few weeks ago, the government program to the Italian Parliament. The cornerstone of our international projection are the EU, NATO and the Mediterranean basin, where we will continue to push for renewed dialogue and a peaceful settlement of any dispute.
For Italy, Turkey is a close partner and an essential actor in the Mediterranean Region, a crucial ally in NATO and is also very important for the EU. Rome and Ankara are constantly acting together for the reinforcement of the Southern flank of NATO. We believe that a renewed relationship between the EU and Turkey is in our mutual best interest, as Ankara is important for our economy, for our security and for regional stability. That is why we hope that all sides will work constructively in the next months to create a renewed spirit of cooperation.
Italy believes in Turkey. In the last year, our companies were the main investors here, and Italy is the second trade partner of Turkey in Europe and permanently among the top five in the world. Our economic and industrial partnership will be crucial for both countries to recover from the economic effects of the pandemic.
One of the key concepts PM Draghi mentioned was the shared Mediterranean sensitivity between the littoral states. In a bid not to revisit the tension this region faced in the past year, a conference to bring the littoral countries together with the participation of the countries whose energy companies are operating is being discussed. Does Italy endorse this idea? What should be the main objectives of such an initiative?
Italy supports the mandate provided by the European Union to the high representative to carry out the preparation of this conference, and as a Mediterranean country directly involved, it is ready to contribute to it. It will be crucial to carefully agree on its scope and timeline, with special attention to the definition of all the stakeholders to include. The growing polarization in the area is affecting the geopolitical balance of the Mediterranean, and I believe that the eastern Mediterranean issues can only be solved through dialogue and cooperation. Our aim is to defuse tensions among the coastal countries by promoting an inclusive approach. If this new spirit of cooperation prevails, it will be easier for those involved to look for pragmatic and realistic solutions.
‘Lose-lose scenario should be avoided in eastern Mediterranean’
Hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean were in the spotlight for a long time. How well can all the relevant countries cooperate to make this richness an asset for regional prosperity and peace?
Keywords in this regard are cooperation and compromise. Recent tensions related to the hydrocarbon explorations in the eastern Mediterranean are clear evidence that unilateralism can only bring to a lose-lose scenario, where everyone blocks everyone, and the economic potential cannot develop. I believe it is possible to define a scheme where all parties involved can have a fair return, but, on the other hand, all concerned Governments need to show a real willingness to compromise on their national position in order to achieve an equitable and sustainable international framework able to boost regional wealth and security.
Turkey and the EU have recently adopted a positive agenda that includes the renewal of the migration deal of 2016, upgrading customs union and visa liberalization. Could you please specify the Italian position concerning all these aspects of the positive agenda?
Our Country, within the EU, is among those who have most strongly supported the need to increase dialogue on a positive agenda with Turkey, and it should cover the three areas that you have indicated. Turkey is the country that hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, around 4 million. Italy, as well as the EU, are aware of the enormous efforts made by Turkey, and we greatly admire what has been done here in terms of assistance and integration of these refugees. We, therefore, believe that Turkey’s efforts should continue to be supported.
We also believe that it will be in the best interest of both the EU and Turkey to resume the discussion on the modernization of the customs union. In this regard, we also need to concentrate on the better implementation of the existing agreement.
The liberalization of the visa regime mentioned in the EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016 certainly can be a fertile ground for an increase in the level of cooperation, accepting the fact that mutual efforts must be made to find the synthesis of the respective positions.
‘EU to welcome Turkey’s judicial reforms’
Ties with Turkey will be one of the main items in the upcoming EU Council meeting in late March. How do you think Turkey and the EU can best maintain the momentum in ties for the future?
We have a positive agenda, but upon everything, we have a common interest to cooperate; stronger bonds, more trade and greater exchanges in all areas are the only way to restart after the pandemic.
Of course, we also have to avoid incidents and reciprocal provocations as soon as the March deadline passes. This does not mean that one has to give up defending what it perceives as being its rights and interests. It means avoiding initiatives that do not have in practice any positive impact but may provoke a strong reaction on the other side.
In more general terms, the best way to maintain momentum is by sharing values. The EU and its member states are certainly not exempt from mistakes, but we try to uphold a general framework of rules and values that will improve life for all our citizens. We do not want to impose our standards, but our public opinion considers these values to be of central importance. We have been encouraged by the announcements by Turkey regarding the rule of law and judicial reforms. I think that positive steps on these issues will be welcomed in Europe, and they are important for the accession process, of which Italy remains supportive.
Italy resumes important global roles in 2021 as the term president of G20 and co-president of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). Boosting global efforts to combat climate change seems to be one of the top objectives of Italian diplomacy. Turkey is the only G20 member that did not ratify the Paris Convention. What actions will Italy undertake to secure Turkey’s full participation and implementation of the treaty?
The transition towards a greener economy is a fundamental step to secure better living conditions for future generations, especially after the pandemic. As you know, no country can act alone on this topic, and every country must do its part according to its capacities, within a process that is fundamentally multilateral. I believe that Turkey could contribute under many regards to the fight against climate change and building momentum for the country to restart the process of ratification could be crucial. Italy – also as part of the EU – will adopt an inclusive stance in every negotiation process leading up to the G20 and COP26 Summits, thus allowing a continuous and hopefully productive dialogue on this issue.
SAMP/T systems would provide security to Turkey
Turkey and the Italian/French consortium, Eurosam, has been undertaking what they called the definition study over the SAMP/T air defense systems. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey was still considering the SAMP/T systems as potential air defense systems. Could you update the latest situation?
First of all, let me underline that Italy attaches the utmost importance to the security of Turkey and deployed a SAMP/T air defense system and military personnel in Kahramanmaraş for more than three years in response to a request for support by Turkish authorities. We have been resolute in offering our support as a NATO ally and in view of the strategic importance of Turkey for the security of the alliance.
With the same spirit, the Eurosam consortium has been open to cooperation with Turkey in order to jointly develop an air defense system based on the SAMP/T. The consortium is concluding the feasibility study at a technical level, and both the companies involved and the authorities are now considering the next steps. I remain convinced that the SAMP/T air defense system will provide a valuable solution to the security requirements of Turkey and will strengthen our alliance as well.