Sink or swim?
Business community must set example for governments: Eurochambres President
Turkish and European business societies conveyed a simple message from the private sector to the top officials of Turkey and the European Union (EU): “Help companies to proceed so that we can do what have to do to help you fulfill your costs.” Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and Jyrki Katainen, European Commission Vice-President responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness gathered together with business circles and officials for the third High Level Economic Dialogue (HILED) in Istanbul last week, where issues like visa exemption, promotion of bilateral investments, political and trade relations, updating the customs union, and economic reforms were discussed. In a business only dialogue the day before, Turkish and European business organizations shared their experiences in a series of roundtable discussions and decided on the demands to be delivered to the authorities. Representing the European businesses, Eurochambres President Christoph Leitl said that the meeting was encouraging in an exclusive interview with DUNYA Executive.
“I was very impressed by your finance minister,” Leitl said, “because I think he is aware that after a period of security now the economy is the number one issue to deal with.” Highlighting the $80 billion imports and exports and $15 billion trade in services, Turkey-EU relations in the economy is balanced, he said. “That means we have an economic connection to each other but there is room for improvement. Therefore, today I was directly visiting also with the representatives of the European Commission, asking for the immediate start of nego- tiations on modernizing the Customs Union. The Customs Union has brought a lot of success since 1995, tripling trade volume. Modernizing the procedure and extending it to other areas such as services and public procurement would give an additional push to the bilateral economic relations.”
“Economy goes before politics.” Leitl noted. “If the economy is growing, projects are realized and people come together into dialogue, then perhaps one day some political developments are easier to handle than they are today.” Turkish and European business societies are demanding two things from the politicians, he added: Maintaining rule of law and regaining confidence in a steady political environment.
“Europe has a better chance to perform successfully”
Touching on the 2019 agenda of the EU, Leitl said that he is optimistic the Union will come to an appropriate solution on the Multiannual Financial Frame for 2021-2027, which will be discussed this year. According to him, Brexit and the institutional frame treaty is much more concerning. Protectionism and nationalism, such as the behavior of the U.S. and the rising power of China are also threatening, he added. “But we have to deal with that and look at other markets such as Africa, etc. That’s why I think we need inner strength in Europe which does not only mean political consensus but also economic cooperation. If we can give our young people (also you in Turkey) a life perspective where they can bring in talent and creativity and therefore innovations, we can make them optimistic about the future. Europe has a better chance to perform successfully.”
“Business circles are against nationalism,” Leitl said, noting the disadvantages it has created in history. “Now we are living in a period of where there is relative stability and peace in the EU. We should be grateful but have to push it into the future. That is why acting together is important. We can either swim together or sink alone.”
“Turkey is part of EU in business”
Leitl appreciated Rifat Hisarciklioglu, president of Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), as one of the best Turkish representatives of the business community, not only in Turkey but also worldwide. “He is my vice president in Eurochambres. That means Turkey is already part of the European family in business.”
The HILED, co-financed by the European Union and Turkey, has taken a lead in strengthening economic ties between Europe and Turkey, together with partners like Business Europe and TUSIAD, Leitl added. “We have the same goal and strategy so we have to follow the same path and help the governments in the EU and Turkey to realize what they are elected for: To give prosperity and welfare to the people. Jobs, education, taxes, social security are all afforded by companies.”
Promises will be monitored by experts
Demands were discussed and delivered to the authorities in last week’s dialogue meetings but this will not be the microphone for diplomacy, Leitle cautioned. The Business environment will also continue to monitor the authorities in Turkey and Brussels to see what has been achieved before the next high level economic dialogue next year in Brussels. According to Leitl, a group of experts from Eurochambres, TOBB, TUSIAD and other business organizations will monitor what has been expressed and keep the issues constantly on the table to maintain pressure positively on authorities.
Pointing out the 81 vocational educational training schools in 81 provinces announced by TOBB, Leitl said: “Instead of complaining about lack of skills and an experienced workforce we, as the private sector, are doing it ourselves. That is our contribution because we are doing it so we have the legitimacy also to demand it from the state. We are delivering jobs, taxes and social security but education is bigger. So we demand help from the authorities on top of what we have to do so that they can fulfill their responsibilities.” Within the scope of Business Dialogue project, at the beginning of April, Eurochambres will formally launch 20 partnerships between local EU and Turkish chambers that will be working together for the next year in bilateral trade operations, which Leitl defines as “20 little bridges being built.”