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.”

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