Italian Ambassador to Turkey Gianpaolo Scarante has stated that many countries in Europe have simplified their visa application procedures with Turkey, thus the next step will be the removal of all visa requirements.
Underlining that the European Union has eliminated visa requirements for various countries in the Balkans, Scarante said that if the EU can achieve this with the Balkans, there is no reason not to give it to Turkey. "I'm sure that next year we will develop a way, and the removal of visa requirements for Turkey is not very far off," he added.
Scarante also said Italy was the first country to raise the issue in the European Council (EC) and added that there is no threat of immigration of Turks to Italy or Europe in general if the EU removes the visa requirements.
Commenting on migration from Turkey, Scarante said: "When we compare Turkey's economic situation with that of the EU, many people are coming back to Turkey. So that's an important point."
Turkish and EU officials recently announced that they will sign a readmission agreement on Dec. 16 in Ankara which would kick-start the parallel process of a visa liberalization dialogue between Turkey and the EU with eventual aim of eliminating altogether the need for visas for Turkish travelers.
The readmission agreement would require the repatriation to Turkey of third-country nationals illegally migrating to Europe via Turkey.
If Turkey signs and Parliament ratifies the readmission agreement, visa exemption for Turkish nationals visiting the EU will come into force three years later.
Turkey initialed the readmission agreement in 2011 but was hesitating to sign and ratify it, saying that the EU should begin to implement visa facilitation for Turkish citizens with the eventual aim of lifting all visa requirements.
'Imagining Europe without Turkey is impossible'
Commenting on suspicions that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has given up on the EU accession after Turkey's ruling party joined the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) in November, Scarante said there is no doubt that Europe will be in Turkey's future.
The Italian ambassador underlined that Europe and Turkey have a long shared history and said, "I can't imagine the future of the country without Europe, because Europe is in Turkey's past. It's in your present as well."
After a long period as an observer within the largest political group in the European Union, the European People's Party (EPP), Turkey joined the AECR, which many have considered a very bad move.
"We consider Turkey European. When İstanbul was a European Capital of Culture, when speaking about Turkey being part of the European Championship in football, nobody asked why Turkey was in the championship," he said.
"I don't know in which way Turkey will integrate with Europe, but to imagine Turkey without Europe is impossible, and Europe without Turkey is very difficult," he noted.
'Italy to support Turkey's EU bid in 2014 presidency'
The ambassador recalled that Italy will hold the EU presidency in 2014 and promised to provide support for Turkey's EU negotiations.
Scarante stressed that negotiations are now continuing after a pause, stating that the EU opened Chapter 22 on regional policy and the coordination of structural instruments at the Intergovernmental Accession Conference in November.
The EU took this year's European Commission Progress Report on Turkey into account when deciding whether to restart Turkey's frozen accession process by opening talks on a new policy area.
Though having already agreed in June that Chapter 22 on regional policy would be opened, the EU then delayed the intergovernmental conference until October after seeing Turkey's handling of the Gezi Park protests. These protests swept Turkish cities, starting in opposition to the redevelopment of İstanbul's Gezi Park, but they soon turned into anti-government protest throughout the country and violent demonstrations through the involvement of marginal groups. Clashes with police left four people dead and around 7,500 injured.
Turkey has only been able to open 14 out of 35 negotiation chapters it has to complete for full membership so far, with only one chapter provisionally closed. The Cyprus issue needs to be handled for the blocked chapters to be opened for full membership to be achieved.
Turkey began negotiations to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after its first application. But a series of political obstacles, notably the Cyprus issue and resistance to Turkish membership by key members France and Germany, have slowed progress.
The ambassador stressed that the relationship between Turkey and Italy has a long-standing history. "Looking back in history, the commercial road between İstanbul and Italy was the most important commercial road for many centuries," he said.
Turkey and Italy both have interests in the Mediterranean region, according to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which describes the relationship as a strategic partnership of two regional powers.
The ambassador underlined that Italy's foreign policy has three foundations: firstly the EU, secondly the Mediterranean region and thirdly the Balkans. He noted that the two countries have common interests and that these areas are among the regions that Turkey's foreign policy also focuses on.
Turkey and Italy can share experiences, as Turkey has very important experience in the Balkans while Italy has a long tradition of relations with the Mediterranean countries.
"The Mediterranean Sea is a crucial place in terms of immigration and economy, so I think we can cooperate very well in the regions where we have common interests. And our common interests are almost everywhere," he noted.
The ambassador said Turkey and Italy have a shared will to cooperate on solutions to regional and global challenges and also carry out joint activities in a broad area from Afghanistan to Lebanon.
Having served as diplomatic advisor to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Scarante noted that Turkey and Italy have always enjoyed a good relationship, since the countries have mutual interests. "During the time that Berlusconi was in power, the relationship between our ministers was very good, which of course was helpful," he said.
"The key is that all the governments in Italy have supported Turkey. We are supporting all sectors in Turkey in every way we can," Scarante said.
Commenting on the bilateral visits to improve the relations, the ambassador said the Turkish president is expected to visit Italy in January. The Italian prime minister, minister of commerce and minister of defense are to visit Turkey in the first three months of next year.
Big potential to expand cooperation in third countries
Commenting on economic relations between Turkey and Italy, the ambassador said that Turkish and Italian companies have been working together in third countries.
"In many countries Italy has had a presence for many years, but in other countries, such as Iraq, Turkey's presence is very important and useful for our country. The experience of Turkey in various regions is a positive factor, and there is a big potential to expand such cooperation," said the ambassador.
In the construction sector, Italy and Turkey are jointly constructing a metro station in Warsaw, an airport in St. Petersburg and a highway in Qatar.
Italy is also a significant trade partner for Turkey. There are ongoing partnerships in the areas of energy, tourism, construction and the automotive industry.
In 2011, the trade volume between the two countries increased 28 percent over 2010 to reach $21.3 billion. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat), Italy was ranked seventh among the top 20 countries in terms of Turkey's exports and was the fifth in volume in imports to Turkey in 2012.
"Economic relations are very good, despite the economic crisis [in Europe] because there is an objective interest in staying together. Our trade and economic systems are really complementary for each other," the ambassador said.
Turkey also continues to invest in Italy. "You have invested in real estate in Venice, for instance, and in many other sectors," Scarante said, giving the example of Italy's 150-year-old Pernigotti chocolate company being purchased by a Turkish company.
This is not an economic crisis, but a historic transition
"I think all the people should understand that we are not talking about an economic crisis in Europe. This is a historic transition to another, different system. The equilibrium in the world is changing, not only economically but also politically," said the ambassador.
Underlining that the current economic situation is difficult for the EU, the ambassador noted that it is not possible to compare this crisis with others in the past.
"At the end of this process, everything will be different; everything will change, not only the economy but the way we run the democratic system in our countries," said Scarante, adding that the world will see a new structure in the future.
He said the economic crisis in Europe is terrible for Italy and for many countries, but added that the EU is recovering.
Settlement process important political initiative
Commenting on the government's initiative to end the decades-long Kurdish conflict in Turkey, the ambassador expressed approval for the new dialogue.
Since the beginning of the settlement process, which aims to resolve the country's long-standing Kurdish problem through negotiations with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces have halted, and there has been no news of soldiers or PKK militants dying in clashes for more than a year.
"I think the start of the settlement process on the Kurdish issue is an important political initiative for Turkey, and we support it because we think that conciliation, discussion and negotiation are the best way to reach a solution. It's not an easy way," Scarante noted.
He recalled that Italy had gone through a similar process in the past, when its northern part was faced with terrorism and separatism. "We solved this situation through negotiations and some agreements," he added.
The ambassador said that the fight against terrorism is important for every country. "It's a mix of two different components. First we have to improve our cooperation with all other countries. Second we have to try to solve a regional crisis in which terrorism can be more and more influential."
Touching on the Syrian crisis, Scarante said it must be solved because there is a potential danger of terrorism spreading outside the country.
"It is a difficult task, as terrorism is complicated and has many motives. We have to understand that beforehand, but I think that cooperation and a political solution to this important crisis in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East is very important for an effective fight against terrorism."