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Dear Speaker Çiçek
Dear Colleagues Parliamentarians
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to start with some words that are not related to today's ceremony. I would like to condemn in the strongest terms last 25 May bomb blast in Kayseri and deeply regret the loss of life. I would like also to stress once again that the EU stands with Turkey in its resolve to fight against terrorism. Nothing justifies such indiscriminate violence.
Coming back to the ceremony, it makes me very proud to be here today at the opening of the "Civil Society Facility - Parliamentary Exchange and Dialogue." I would like to thank the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, Speaker Çiçek for hosting this event. I would also like to thank the European Commission and Delegation of the European Union to Turkey for their hard work in making it possible.
This is an important and exciting opportunity for both the European Union and Turkey. It is an opportunity to dispel some misconceptions on both sides; an opportunity to bring our government officials and members of civil society together to strengthen and affirm our shared values and hopes, and confront common challenges.
Many European citizens and their elected representatives have concerns about Turkish accession that could be resolved through exposure to Turkish people and institutions. Knowing that they are working with their Turkish counterparts on a process they too have gone through will build trust and a sense of common endeavour. They may learn that Istanbul is one of the largest and most vibrant cities in Europe and its most popular tourist destination. That the Turkish historical narrative is strikingly similar to their own; one featuring a difficult transition from autocracy to democracy and then having to consolidate that democracy. It is a story familiar to many of us.
Having parliamentarians from the European Parliament or from the National Parliaments of the Member States visit Ankara will help those in the Grand National Assembly and Turkish civil society to know that many EU leaders are behind them in this journey towards membership. They can see what being in EU means on a first-hand basis, what implementing the acquis has meant for national legislatures. That joining the EU does not mean losing a sense of self, but rather means allowing Turkey to contribute to the common European narrative.
We may look at this Facility within the broader context of the "Positive Agenda" that was launched during Commissioner Füle's visit on 17 May of this year and fully supported by the Member States. The best way to further develop the common strategic interests of the EU and Turkey is to engage in a wide variety of frank, face-to-face discussions as foreseen in this Exchange and Dialogue. It is my sincere hope that the understanding and close ties brought about by this Facility will help to make progress with those chapters frozen for political reasons and in particular those highlighted by  Stefan Füle during his visit.
It is an opportunity to strengthen Turkey's parliamentary democracy, to make it the driving force in the reform process. It is no secret that the path to EU membership will be long and difficult. Dramatic changes are required of Turkey, changes that can only come after negotiation with all interested parties. Changing the constitution, the fundamental law that governs the working of your nation, is no small matter. It must represent a broad consensus from across society and come from society to be legitimate.
This means two things. Point one, the Grand National Assembly must be the centre of gravity for constitutional deliberations. A parliament, as a body elected by the people (the source of all democratic legitimacy) to represent their interests, is the natural forum for discussing changes of this importance. They cannot simply come down as diktats from the government. The Constitutional Conciliation Committee is the right venue for this work and I congratulate Speaker Çiçek as chairperson on the committee's commitment to consulting extensively with civil society before beginning to draft any proposals.
Which leads me to the second point: Constitutional reform must reflect a broad consensus of society and therefore of all its representatives. There must be cooperation between the parties, dialogue must be engaged in, arguments had, compromises made. It will not be easy. Many of you have, perhaps, very different visions of the future of Turkey. That is the nature of politics. Nevertheless, it will be a joint future and it is incumbent on you, as today's leaders, to leave a constitutional legacy to tomorrow that is seen as legitimate by all citizens of Turkey.
It is the intention of this facility to strengthen the role of the Grand National Assembly, and one of the most effective ways to do this is give more voice to civil society. A government that encourages the participation by civil society in decision making, that acknowledges broad rights of free speech, that seeks out and respects the opinions of experts and interested parties is not only more legitimate in the eyes of the people but is all the more effective and efficient for it. And Turkey will not be able to make headway with the accession process without it.
The constitutional reform process is an opportunity to incorporate all of Turkish society. By this, I mean bringing into the discussion those historically excluded from the political process. Women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities. Minorities especially should be protected by any constitution purporting to represent all of Turkey. It is not enough to simply recognize their status as a minority. In fact, on its own this can do more harm than good, as we in Europe know only too well. Rather, any new constitution should take care to guarantee minorities all rights and duties of Turkish citizenship. There must be a safe and peaceful political space for them to express their views and legitimate demands as citizens without fear for their livelihoods, liberty, or life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a time of great transition and unrest in our neighbourhood and the future of the fledgling democracies is still uncertain. Whether they consolidate their hard-won freedoms and avoid the fate of so many would-be democracies around the world is in large part dependent on us. We must work together closely in all available forums if we hope to face these challenges. Turkish cooperation with the EU's Common Foreign and Security policy should be reinforced and we invite Turkey to join us as we move to revitalise the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean, the presidency of which I recently took over for one year.
Turkey is uniquely placed in this regard. Your political and material support, especially in relation to Syria, has been invaluable. So too has the example you have set as a vibrant, secular, Muslim-majority democracy. However, Turkey could be a still better example by continuing with reforms of the judicial system, further strengthening civilian authority over the military, more clearly defining offenses such as 'terrorism,' and grant religious and ethnic minorities equal protection and access under the law.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Only a few short years after passing the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union is again facing the need to adjust the rules it works by. However, during this necessary period of introspection, we must resist the temptation to ignore the world around us. If anything, we must redouble our efforts to strengthen our ties with our neighbours, especially one as important to us economically and politically as Turkey.
It is my sincere hope that this Civil Society Facility will help draw attention within Europe to the opportunities and challenges to be encountered in Turkey's accession process. Turkish membership in the EU will be a win-win situation for us both; the better this is appreciated by both sides, the better our ability to make progress towards the ultimate goal of accession. Let us move forward, then, with understanding, mutual respect and a spirit undaunted by the challenges ahead.
Thank you for your attention and good luck for the facility.
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