European, Turkish youth to create major economic advantages for Turkey, EU: NGO

ANADOLU AGENCY
BRUSSELS
Published 04.06.2015 13:29

The Young Friends of Turkey (YFoT), a Brussels-based non-governmental organization founded in 2011 that seeks to bring Turkish and European cultures closer together, has claimed that fifty years ago a young Swede and a young Turk would be miles away from each other, but thanks to today's social media they can now talk instantaneously in the same virtual place-and it is this closeness which will influence Turkey's relationship with Europe.

Maria Teresa Teixeira da Costa, YFoT co-founder and vice-president, tells Anadolu Agency that improving cultural dialogue and mutual understanding between European and Turkish youth will have an impact on Turkey-EU relations in years to come.

"Turkey is a topic that should always be at the top of everyone's head because it's such an important partner within our [European] neighborhood," she says.

Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, YFoT communication director, says the reason why today's youth will impact Turkey's future in the EU is because they are more engaged and exposed to the political and cultural advantages of closer cooperation.

"Young people are likely to live and work in different countries, and while shaping our shared European future-through the Internet and social media-are more exposed to cultural diversity than any previous generation," Doveri Vesterbye says.

"Whereas a Swede and a Turk would be miles away 50 years ago, today they can be in the same online chat room for instance," he adds.

Turkey and the EU are currently negotiating on a visa liberalization process, which would allow Turkish citizens to travel freely inside the 28-nation bloc.

"A positive outcome of these negotiations would foster more cultural understanding between young people in Europe and in Turkey and create major economic advantages for Turkey and the rest of Europe," Doveri Vesterbye says.

Giving opportunities to Turkish businesses, cultural institutions, media organizations and other civil society groups from Turkey to promote and to discuss Turkish positions on culture, economics and political affairs would have an impact on its future as a EU member state, according to Doveri Vesterbye.

This is why the Young Friends of Turkey have launched an annual roundtable series with Turkish business NGO - the Independent Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or MUSIAD - scheduled for late 2015 and 2016.

"This kind of conference series will help put Turkey on the map of the European policy makers ... to understand the major economic incentive for young people in Europe to work in Turkey and young people in Turkey to work in Europe," Vesterbye said.

A decade has passed since Turkey began its bid to join the European Union, but the Cyprus issue and political opposition by France and Germany have stalled membership negotiations.

"Turkey is such a culturally rich place [and] brings together so many cultures that in most ways it's really not that different from the rest of the European Union," Teixeira da Costa tells the Anadolu Agency.

"It's a beautiful destination that attracts more than 30 million tourists a year. It's a highly developed and growing economy on par with EU countries and the advantages of working together are obvious on both sides," she adds.

According to the German Marshall Fund's 2014 report on transatlantic trends, 45 percent of Turks, a 10 percentage point increase from 2013, described their opinion of the EU as favorable, while 51 percent-a nine percentage-point drop-described it as unfavorable.

Turkey is now launching a new communications strategy to support its bid for EU membership, including its position over the EU's free-trade agreement between the EU and the U.S., called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

This new strategy, intended to increase public support for Turkey's membership in the European Union, would reinforce the value of Turkey's participation, according to the country's ministry of EU Affairs.

''The image of Turkey in the EU in the last three-to-four years has been damaged; the image of EU has also been damaged,'' said Volkan Bozkir last October during a speech at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

Today, Teixeira da Costa says: "We [definitely] want to break down the stereotypes and the prejudices on [the European] side.

"Europe doesn't always speak with a united voice and Turkey has its own domestic concerns but that doesn't mean that we don't benefit from closer cooperation between Turkey and the EU," she adds.

"We need to remember that we're geographically, economically and historically tied together. Turkey without Europe is less strong, and this logic applies to the EU too."

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