Turkish President Gül includes minority leader on Sweden trip

In the first ever state visit by a Turkish head of state, President Abdullah Gül will travel to Sweden on March 11, at the invitation of King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Church Metropolitan Filiksinos Yusuf Çetin will be the first ever representative of a Turkish minority to accompany the Turkish president on such a visit.

President Gül and the King will participate in the opening ceremony of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies. During his two-day visit, Gül will deliver a speech at the Swedish Parliament.

A memorandum of understanding on promoting trade, investment and cooperation in the field of environmental technology, along with a joint declaration on strategic partnership will be signed during the visit.

Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu and EU Minister Egemen Ba??? will also accompany the president.

Sweden is home to some 100,000 Syriacs, most of whom originate from Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. Syriacs are an ethnic community indigenous to Mesopotamia, including Turkey’s Southeast, however many migrated from the 20th century onward, leading to the presence of wide-scale diaspora communities across Europe.

The King and Queen visited Turkey in 2006, the first Swedish state visit to the country. Gül’s visit to Sweden scheduled in September 2012 was postponed due to health issues. Sweden’s official relations with Turkey go back to the 17th Century. Sweden sent its first ambassador to Turkey in 1631, while the Ottoman Empire appointed an ambassador to Sweden in 1637.

There are three major reasons for the visit, according to Hakan Akesson, ambassador of Sweden to Turkey. “First of all, it’s to mark our long-standing and excellent relations. Secondly, it’s to underline the importance of having Turkey joining the European Union. Sweden is firm advocate for Turkey’s EU membership,” Akesson told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.

Trade opportunities

The visit also aims to boost trade and investment in both directions, the ambassador said, referring to the large delegation of big business representatives that will accompany President Gül, members of which will also participate in a business forum in Stockholm.

Elaborating on trade opportunities between the two countries, Akesson said the visit would be mutually beneficial. “Swedish companies can bring some technology and know-how that Turkish companies may not have, while Turkish companies can bring knowledge about the markets in this region,” he said.

Swedish and Turkish companies could also work together in third markets, Ambassador Akesson noted, citing Iraq. “Iraq has been a very large market traditionally for Swedish companies. But Turkish companies of course might know Iraq better than Swedish companies. It would therefore be quite interesting to see Swedish and Turkish companies join forces to gain market shares in the Iraqi market,” he said.

The ambassador said the memorandum of understanding in the field of environment technology could also increase bilateral trade and economic relations. “I know that Turkey is very interested in increasing environmental standards and working on issues such as energy efficiency. Swedish companies have quite a bit of knowledge and know-how in this area,” he said.

Even though there might seem to be some challenges regarding the EU process right now, Akesson expressed his optimism on Turkey’s EU bid. Time is playing in favor of Turkey when it comes to the EU process, he thinks. “The EU’s awareness of the fact that the Union needs to remain open and to open up further to the outside world is increasing. The EU needs to enhance its competitiveness to restore economic growth. In that perspective, enlargement of the EU is important, particularly to have Turkey as a member,” the ambassador said, drawing attention to the fact that Turkey was a large and dynamic country.

He underlined that the reforms Turkey is carrying out would positively impact views in the EU concerning Turkish EU membership.

9 March 2013