Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, on the challenges Turkey faces if it is to reach its Vision 2023 goals.

HE Carl Bildt
Carl Bildt was born in 1949 and was educated at Stockholm University. He was the Prime Minister of Sweden between 1991 and 1994, and became Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2006. Previous positions have included Chair of the International Democrat Union (IDU) and Party Leader of the Moderate Party.

When Turkey celebrates its centenary in 2023, it may well be a very different country. While visiting the dynamic Turkish city of Izmir at the beginning of 2013, I stumbled across a striking example of the rapidly growing economic links between Turkey, the rest of Europe, and the wider world. In the Izmir area, I learned that textile factories are manufacturing an amazing volume of shirts for Swedish retail giant H&M. The Swedish company then sells these shirts to consumers all over the world. Today, the Turkish economy, like that of Sweden, is obviously an integral part of the globalized economic system.

Geographically, Turkey and Sweden are located at opposite ends of Europe. Nevertheless, our bonds reach far back into history. Many people living in Sweden were born or have roots in Turkey and contribute substantially to our economic and cultural development. Today, trade between our countries is substantial. Turkey is also one of the most popular tourist destinations for Swedes.

Standing in Izmir Harbor, which has radical expansion plans, I watched endless lines of large container ships on their way in and out. Turkey's official growth target of 5% annually over the coming decade seemed realistic. When the country celebrates its centenary in 2023, it could be a totally different country compared with today. However, Turkey is facing three challenges that will affect the extent to which this happens.

“Turkey needs a new constitution that reflects its democratization and move toward European integration."

Firstly, Turkey needs a new constitution that reflects its democratization and move toward European integration. The country has taken enormous reform steps in recent years, but much remains to be done. Improvements are needed in the areas of freedom of expression, women's rights, and the protection of minorities. Work on a new constitution presents a crucial opportunity to address such issues.

Discussions seem to be in an intensive phase right now and, crucially, the new constitution needs the strong backing of all political parties. Turkish leaders must agree on solutions that are in line with European principles.

Secondly, there are a number of serious challenges in Turkey's immediate neighborhood: Iran, Iraq, the Southern Caucasus, Cyprus, and Syria. It is necessary for Turkey and the EU to play a constructive and flexible role in any developments. Domestically, the Turkish government also needs to find a political solution to the Kurdish issue.

Turkey is a crucial partner in building security in Afghanistan and has made huge efforts to avert disaster in the Syrian conflict. The Turkish people have shown great generosity in a difficult time. But what lies ahead could prove to be even more difficult. The EU is also eager to work as closely as possible with Turkey in tackling the wider challenges of the Middle East and North Africa. We must help to prevent the revolution of rising expectations of the Arab awakening, today turning into a revolution of failed expectations some years into the future.

The IMF has concluded that to absorb the unemployed and new entrants into the labor force, the emerging economies of the Middle East and North Africa would require annual real GDP growth of more than 7.5%—almost three percentage points higher than the average achieved in the past decade. Achieving this—and at the moment the trend is going in the other direction—will require profound economic reforms and steps towards economic integration with the Arab world, the rest of the global economy, and notably the EU.

Here, Turkey sets an important example. Its impressive economic development cannot be seen in isolation from its accession to the EU Customs Union more than a decade and a half ago. We must be prepared to offer reforming economies of the Arab world the same opportunities. The model of deep and comprehensive free trade agreements is open for them whenever they are ready.

This brings us to the third challenge: Turkey's EU accession process. It must be possible to give this process new momentum during the coming year. Our EU discussions in Brussels in December 2012 gave new signals. Steps are required from both the EU and Turkey, and Sweden will do its utmost to help.

Sweden's support of Turkey's membership in the EU is more consistent and stronger than that of many other European countries. Sometimes we are critical friends, and that is because we truly want to support Turkey's continued reform process—the work on a new constitution, the work to better safeguard human rights for everyone, and the efforts at conflict resolution and reconciliation with all of its neighbors.