#DiplomaticCentennial/ Romania’s Ambassador in Ankara, Gabriel Sopanda: Turkey - an ongoing strategic partner to Romania
Oct 9, 2018
#DiplomaticCentennial/ Romania’s Ambassador in Ankara, Gabriel Sopanda: Turkey - an ongoing strategic partner to Romania.
Turkey has been and stays an important partner to Romania, both on political and economic ground, and this reality is also confirmed by the solid strategic partnership between the two countries, which is built on a close traditional friendship, Romania's ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, Gabriel Sopanda said in an interview with AGERPRES.
The Romanian diplomat emphasized that Romania and Turkey share security interests and cooperate actively, both on bilateral and allied level, in order to promote common goals and identify appropriate responses to the current challenges. "Naturally, security developments in the wider Black Sea region and the role of NATO in this context, strengthening the deterrence and defensive posture on the eastern flank, or relations with the eastern partners are among the subjects on which we have a deep-going dialogue," Ambassador Sopanda says in the interview.
On the other hand, the Romanian ambassador notes that the efficient EU-wide management of migration and asylum is an EU priority goal Romania will pay particular attention to during its term at the helm of the Council of the EU in the first half of next year.
With regard to Romanian-Turkish economic relations, Ambassador Gabriel Sopanda mentions that Turkey is a privileged commercial partner to Romania and this is due primarily to geographical proximity, but also to similar cultural and social elements that facilitate cooperation.
The e-mail interview is part of the #DiplomaticCentennial editorial project conducted by AGERPRES throughout the year, with emphasis on diplomatic relations in the context of the 100th anniversary of the Greater Union.
AGERPRES: For a start, how would you describe the status of the Romanian-Turkish relations one and a half year since taking over as ambassador? Which were the main areas to see major results, but also those with not yet fully tapped potential, or where you faced challenges?
Gabriel Sopanda: In recent years, bilateral relations have continued to expand and develop, especially in the priority areas defined in the Joint Declaration on the strategic partnership signed by the two Presidents in 2011 and the Strategic Partnership Plan of Action signed at the level of Foreign Minister in 2013. Thus, there is a very high level of dialogue and cooperation between Romania and the Republic of Turkey, characterized by mutual trust and support, based on common interests and values. The frequent contacts between the Romanian and Turkish authorities, both in bilateral format, but also within the regional or multilateral framework, find their continuation in the business, academic, university and cultural environment.
There is also an ongoing dialogue among parliamentary structures, especially between the Committees on Foreign Relations and the Groups of Friendship. A particularly useful format for co-operation on regional security is represented by the annual Romania - Turkey - Poland trilateral meetings at both foreign ministers and parliamentary level.
This year, besides the political, diplomatic and consular activity, the Embassy paid special attention to organizing public diplomacy events for the promotion of the Greater Union Centennial, for marking the 140th anniversary of bilateral relations between Romania and Turkey, as well as for the promotion of Romanian traditions and cultural values.
AGERPRES: In 2017 Turkey continued to be Romania's top non-EU trading partner and the fifth partner in overall international exchanges. In 2017 Turkey - Romania trade amounted to 5.1 billion euro, and in the first two months of this year trade exchanges increased almost 40 percent. How do you expect these exchanges to evolve by the end of 2018?
Gabriel Sopanda: Turkey is a privileged trading partner to Romania. This is primarily due to geographical proximity but also to similar cultural and social elements that facilitate cooperation. The increase in trade volumes in the first two months of 2018 is significant, but monthly developments are fluctuating. Maintaining this direction is likely to result in a total volume of 5.5 billion euro at the end of the year, which means an increase of 10 percent, a normal expectation considering previous developments.
Analytical assessments of Romania and Turkey's export potential indicate a maximum volume of Romanian exports to Turkey worth 2.6 billion euro, but as exports currently stand at 1.7 billion euro, there follows that there is an unused potential of 1.25 billion euro, which means that under optimal conditions, in an optimistic scenario, we can expect an increase towards 7.8 billion euro / year in the coming years, very close to the target of 10 billion dollars (approximately 8.5 billion euro) agreed upon in March 2016 by President of Romania, Mr. Klaus Iohannis, and his Turkish counterpart, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the occasion of their meeting in Ankara.
There are multiple factors that contribute to exports by both parties, most of which escape our and the exporters' control, as they are generated both by regional and international economic and financial developments, as well as by the regional security situation.
AGERPRES: Turkey and Romania are NATO members and at the same time, Black Sea countries. In this context, how do you consider the concrete cooperation between the two countries on a military level, in the theaters of international operations, as well as on the protection of security and the promotion of stability in the region?
Gabriel Sopanda: Cooperation between Romania and Turkey, as NATO members, is running at very good parameters. Given also their geographical location, Romania and Turkey share security concerns and interests and cooperate actively bilaterally and at allied level to promote common goals and identify appropriate responses to current challenges. Naturally, security developments in the wider Black Sea region and the role of NATO in this context, the strengthening of the deterrence and defense posture on the eastern flank, or relations with the eastern partners are among the subjects on which we have a deep-going dialogue.
Bilateral political, diplomatic and military consultations at various levels are frequent and lucrative. Of course, there are also punctual subjects on which our countries have more nuanced or specific positions. Our bilateral dialogue is honest and open, facilitating better mutual understanding and the identification of common points. On military ground, the two states have a rich history and cooperation, beginning with the military educational institutions and goes through all categories of forces - Navy, Land and Air Forces - and materializes in institutional dialogue, visits, exchanges of experience and joint exercises of the two armies.
AGERPRES: With regard to the Turkey's domestic situation, just a few months before the start of your mandate there was an attempted coup d'état the consequences of which have been rippling to this day and perhaps this will continue for a long time from now on. What are its effects on the daily life of the Turkish citizens, as seen in Ankara?
Gabriel Sopanda: The July 15, 2016 coup attempt marked a turning point that is important for the recent history of this country, with multiple social, economic and political consequences. The entire country was strongly affected, as 248 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured, although the military attempt to overthrow the regime has failed.
Following these events, on July 22, 2016, the Turkish authorities instituted the state of emergency, which was kept in place for nearly two years. Substantial changes have taken place in the institutional landscape of Turkey, but despite the difficult situation created by the state of emergency, in the streets, in shops or in any other context, people show the same openness, beacon one with coffee or traditional tea, characteristic to the hospitality of this people.
AGERPRES: The July 2016 events in Turkey were followed by a repression campaign against political opponents, as well as human rights activists and journalists, a campaign that carries on and for which Ankara has come under the harsh criticism of the West. To what extent does pressure of the international community have an effect on the authorities in Ankara?
Gabriel Sopanda: The authorities in Ankara have the sovereign freedom to decide on the measures of internal and external policy they take, of course under observance of the international law they are committed to. The failed coup d'état in June 2016 occurred in a climate of permanent terrorist threat generated by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party, Ed. note) on the one hand, and by Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, Ed. note) on the other hand, given the geographical proximity of the Syrian civil war. Turkish institutions and dedicated forces have been successfully foiling a large number of terrorist plots in various preparation stages. As a result of the situation ensued, in January 2017 the Turkish authorities decided to set up the 'Commission of investigation into the measures taken during the emergency situation'.
AGERPRES: In an interview with AGERPRES, ambassador of Turkey in Bucharest, Mr. Osman Koray Ertas, said that the current Syrian refugee crisis is the most serious humanitarian crisis facing Europe since WW II and was calling for international solidarity with Turkey. In your opinion, what should the international community, specifically the European Union do, in order to shoulder the burden of the humanitarian consequences of the Syrian crisis?
Gabriel Sopanda: As a result of the effects of armed conflicts in Syria, Turkey and the entire Europe are faced with an unprecedented refugee crisis with regional and global impact. To address it, the European Union has already launched numerous programs and projects, while also creating support mechanisms to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees in the Republic of Turkey.
There is the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) for Turkey, which has a special dimension for refugees, there is also the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI). A specially created European tool is also the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, a complex, joint mechanism, all EU member states (including Romania) contribute to yearly. As much as 3 billion euro have been allocated under this mechanism starting in 2016 to various projects representing efforts to address all the needs of the refugees, while also supporting the Turkish authorities wherewith Brussels maintains a close and permanent collaboration.
The Facility for Refugees focuses in particular on humanitarian assistance, support for educational and health services, migration management projects, building municipal infrastructure, social and economic support. According to the European Commission, at the end of December 2017, there were 72 projects through which 3 billion euro have been contracted; of this amount, 1.93 billion euro had already been transferred to the project partners as early as the beginning of April 2018. The resources allocated to this mechanism come from the European Union (1 billion euro), supplemented by national contributions from EU member states totaling 2 billion euro. On March 14, 2018 the European Commission set in place the legal framework for the launch of the second tranche of 3 billion euro under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.
The European Commission acts in close coordination with the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and with representatives of the civil society in this country and in the EU member states to allocate the first tranche of 3 billion euro and implement projects for refugees. Romania contributes annually a certain share to this amount and analyzes concrete ways to cooperate with the Turkish authorities for the carrying out of such projects.
AGERPRES: The annual assessment report on Turkey presented by the European Commission on April 17 slams Ankara for the massive and disproportionate repression following the attempted coup in July 2016. The document cautions that years of progress toward attaining the European standards of human rights, freedom of speech and rule of law are on the verge of being lost, and that Turkey's democracy has weakened with the consolidation of presidential powers. In this context, is there a risk for Turkey's accession to the European Union to be postponed indefinitely?
Gabriel Sopanda: The European Council declared Turkey a candidate state in December 1999, and accession negotiations began in October 2005. So far, 16 negotiation chapters have been opened and one has been closed. The Turkish government has consistently reiterated its commitment to joining the EU. Accession to the European Union is a lengthy and complicated process of adjusting all domestic areas of the candidate countries to the Union principles, values, standards and legislation. The fulfillment of the accession criteria by the candidate countries is monitored by the European Commission, which releases regular country reports on the relevant progress of the candidate countries.
EU membership cannot be acquired from one day to the other, but involves going through a complex procedure. Once the accession requirements have been met, the candidate countries must enforce European legislation in all areas. Given the very high volume of European regulations each candidate country has to transpose into national law, negotiations take a long time. The Union reserves the right to decide when it will be ready to accept new members.
It is equally true that each country has difficulties to overcome - politically, socially and economically - without following an ever-upward development trend. After the events in July 2016 and the attempted coup, Turkey makes efforts to recover, and the authorities in Ankara permanently show interest in maintaining negotiations for EU membership as a strategic foreign policy goal.
Let us not forget that the Republic of Turkey spans 783,562 sq km, by 139,761 sq km more than France (EU's largest state) and has 79.51 million inhabitants, about 1 million less than Germany, which is the EU most populous country (80.39 million). To the 79.51 million we should also add over 3.5 million refugees who are currently settled on Turkish soil. Once integrated, each state brings to the Union all its benefits as well as the problems it faces. In this regard, as it prioritizes member states' issues, the European Union will decide when it is ready to accept new members, meanwhile creating the necessary framework to accommodate the new realities arising from the new member states, by closely monitoring the implementation of the acquis communautaire in the candidate states.
AGERPRES: Romania will ensure the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of next year. How do you think can Romania influence Turkey's rapprochement to the EU bloc?
Gabriel Sopanda: Twelve years on since its accession to the European Union, Romania is about to take over as of January 1, 2019 the responsibility of the six-month Presidency of one of the most important institutions - the Council of the European Union. Preparing and running this mandate is a national priority. Romania's exercising the Presidency of the EU Council in the first semester of 2019 is the most important country project after the EU accession on January 1, 2007. For Romania, a successful Presidency will mean first and foremost the strengthening of its profile as a EU member state and implicitly increasing our ability to influence the decisions adopted at the level of the European Union.
Romania will exercise the Presidency of the EU Council at an important moment for the future of the European project, under the motto 'Cohesion, a common European value'. Thus, Romania intends to contribute to the debate on the strengthening the unity of the EU and will act to ensure the cohesion of the member states.
The most important milestones during the Romanian Presidency of the EU will be: the completion of the Brexit process, the preparation of the new multiannual financial framework, the end of the term of the European Commission and the European Parliament. Specific for this moment is that, on the one hand, sustained efforts will be needed to close the current legislative files, and on the other hand, the possibility to add new themes on the European agenda will be quite limited. Thus, the subjects of interest during the Romanian Presidency of the EU Council will be structured on four pillars of action: Europe of convergence: growth, cohesion, competitiveness, connectivity; Europe of safety; Europe as a global actor; and Europe of common values.
Turkey has been and stays an important partner for Romania, both politically and economically, and this is also confirmed by the solidity of the strategic partnership between our countries, which is based on a tradition of close traditional friendship.
In the EU context, we need to continue implementing the EU-Turkey agreement on migration, and Turkey's efforts to handle migration by hosting a large number of refugees on its territory deserve appreciation. This cooperation takes place based on the joint Plan of Action adopted in November 2015 and on the EU-Turkey Joint Statement endorsed by the European Council of March 17 - 18, 2016.
The major goals of cooperation with Turkey include limiting illegal migration on the Eastern Mediterranean / Western Balkans route, combating migrant trafficking networks and providing humanitarian support for the accommodation of Syrian refugees in Turkey. The efficient Union-wide management of migration and asylum is a priority goal at European level, Romania will also pay particular attention to while holding the Presidency of the EU Council.
AGERPRES: This year marks the Greater Union Centennial, but also the 80th anniversary of Romania - Turkey diplomatic relations being promoted to embassy level. What events do you intend to organize to honor these anniversaries?
Gabriel Sopanda: Indeed, there are multiple anniversaries this year. As you have mentioned, 2018 is not just the year of the Greater Union Centennial, but we also celebrate 80 years since the promotion to embassy relations, and 140 years of diplomatic relations. In this context, we have already launched a number of promotional and public diplomacy initiatives, some of them in a first, organized in partnership with other institutions in Turkey and Romania.
Such an event was recently held in Ankara on May 2, 2018 - the first Festival of Romanian Gastronomy, given the similarity of our countries' culinary traditions. The festival ran one week in the restaurant of the Sheraton Hotel in Ankara, where dishes prepared according to traditional Romanian recipes by the chef, such as stuffed cabbage or vine leaves meat rolls, grilled minced meat rolls, beef tripe soup, 'amandine' chocolate-glazed syrup-soaked cakes, and 'papanasi' - fried cottage cheese doughnuts could be served. During the opening of the festival, the book Sharing the Same Tastes: The Common Turkish and Romanian Traditional Cuisine - republished in Romanian, Turkish and English by the Turkish National Commission for UNESCO - was presented and offered to the guests.
Another one-off event was the opening in February 2018 of the first lectureship on Romanian language, culture and civilization in Turkey, at the Faculty of Languages, History and Geography of the University of Ankara, which has currently over 50 Turkish students enrolled.
There was also a series of events to mark the celebration of the Constantin Brancusi Day, in cooperation with the National Library of Turkey and the French Institute. And, since we mentioned the National Library of Turkey, in the year of the Centennial, the Embassy managed to breathe a new lease of life into the "Window to Romanian Culture" at this Library, as it donated the institution over 300 volumes which were made available to us by the National Library of Romania, the Romanian Cultural Institute and the "Carol I" Central University Library.
Also, the Embassy organized a string of events to highlight the spring-celebrating tradition of 'Martisor', aimed at instilling this tradition into the souls of children in various schools in Ankara, through workshops for the crafting of March tokens, offered by Romanian artisans. The Embassy has also initiated and coordinated the organization, together with the Embassies of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Moldova, of a joint event to mark this traditional celebration, where 100-year-old March tokens were offered to members of the Romanian community in the Ankara metropolitan area.
In June this year the Embassy organized an event to celebrate the Romanian folk blouse 'ia' and the Romanian folk costume, a charity event for the children of the Syrian refugees living in the Ankara metropolitan area; the Embassy also launched the first edition of the program dedicated to Turkish children 'Come play in Romania'.
In the last quarter of this year, together with the "Dimitrie Cantemir" Cultural Institute in Istanbul, we will organize an extraordinary concert in celebration of the Centennial and of 140 years of Romanian-Turkish diplomatic relations, offered by the internationally renowned violinist Alexandru Tomescu together with the Presidential Symphony Orchestra of Turkey, an exhibition of archival documents on diplomatic relations between the two states, as well as other actions with public impact.
For the celebration of the Greater Union Centennial, the Embassy plans to organize several public diplomacy events in November and December, including a large-scale action scheduled for December 1. I would also mention that right from the beginning of my term, I have visited the local communities in Turkey and I have come into contact with people from the more remote areas, in order to talk to them about the Romanian culture and traditions, European values, and the Greater Union Centennial and its significance for all Romanians, but also about the centuries-long relationship between our states, our friendship and strategic partnership. In the year when we celebrate the Centennial and 140 years of diplomatic relations, we also envisage twinning agreements between Romanian and Turkish cities, as well as opening new honorary consulates. AGERPRES (RO - author: Tudor Martalogu, editor: Mariana Ionescu; EN - author: Simona Klodnischi, editor: Adina Panaitescu)
[Read the article in Agerpres]