The Elder Statesman

In Alpbach, there is nothing extraordinary in meeting faces, well known, little known or related to the latter. It is one thing to spot a face from politics, science or the private sector in passing, and reconcile it with the impression gained with the image from television, radio and print media (which can definitely lead to surprising conclusions). A completely different feeling creeps over me when I find myself sitting next to someone previously unknown to me – having only just been briefed on said person – but clearly important. I call this – in accordance with our location – the ‘Alp-aha-effect’; which recently occurred to me at the breakout sessions of the Political Symposium, as outlined below.

At 9:30 in the morning we are able to choose from eight subjects in the Hauptschule, a location already known to us from the seminar week. Session 03 with the title ‘EU and Turkey: Driving cooperation’ beckons attendees to the first floor. The tapping of sources of information until midday is not denied to the inquisitive scholarship holders. The ever-current Turkey question, the still unresolved issue of EU membership, the increasingly secondary Cyprus conflict in European politics and not least the war in Kurdistan, guarantee two and a half ours of intense discussion.

The smart-looking chairman of the Brussels organization ‘Young Friends of Turkey’ led the panel with three speakers from politics and academia. Pinar Ipek is one of the leading experts in the Turkish and European energy policy field, demonstrates the possibilities and the envisaged developments in European-Turkish energy policy. She emphasizes that Turkey could play an important mediating role between Europe and the Middle East despite a lack of its own raw material resources. Selim Yenel, Turkish Ambassador in Brussels, makes clear in his statement, that in the current political situation, the first step towards the resumption of EU accession negotiations must come from Turkey’s side, provided that the Cyprus issue has been previously resolved. The ambassador gives this diplomatic breakthrough a year, otherwise, some sort of plan B should be considered.

And now to the Alp-aha-effect: the speaker sitting nearest to me with the deep, raspy voice of a chain smoker and accurately parted, snow-white hair is none other than the closest, for many years political consultant of Helmut Kohl! Prof. Joachim Bitterlich is an ‘elder statesman’ par excellence, a man who has influenced the fortunes of Germany and Europe behind the scenes. (Note of the author: Already pretty cool, to be sitting in a room with such high rollers!) He delivers his proposal for a solution – matured over many years of experience – in clear, plain words. He outlines that Turkey would attain membership through a 10 to 20 year process in which the energy question and Turkey’s role in the Middle East as a helping hand would be crucial.

After the statements we are given the opportunity to discuss the topics to a greater depth with the experts in smaller groups. We also broached current issues such as Erdogan’s policies and his totalitarian tendencies. I am positively surprised by the professionalism and mutual respect in a group of such an eclectic mix of nationalities.

Typical Alpbach I guess, you had to have been there!

by Felix Obermair (translated by the Young Friends of Turkey organization