So how’s business?
Business is doing well, thanks to my colleagues who run things so well.
And Turkey’s economy is doing well?
Very well, yes. It’s been growing at 7 percent. And last year it grew at 9 percent. This year, they’re thinking about 6½ percent. Fifty-five percent of Turkey’s exports go to Europe. If there’s a slowdown in Europe, we definitely feel it. Unless we find other markets…
Such as …
South America. Possibly Russia. The Middle East is a mess.
What about China? Will it succeed in shifting from an export economy toward higher domestic demand?
They have already started putting more emphasis on domestic demand. We have a factory in China. And we are trying to sell our products within China and get organized. But it’s very difficult to do business with the Chinese. They’re extremely difficult people to deal with. They’re demanding, and they bargain very hard, you know. They are very smart people, and their greatest interest is in China over anything else. And as you know, this type of [economy] is free, it’s half-free, and sometimes it’s not a free market.
Do the Turkish people—and the government—still want to be part of the European Union?
Very much so.
Some argue that it’s not just about Turkey meeting some test that the EU has—that there’s also this sense that Turkey isn’t European.
Well, I had that meeting with [Valéry] Giscard d’Estaing [in 2002], and he said, “Turkey is not Europe.” I said, “Is Cyprus Europe?” And he said, “I’m not going to answer that.” Turkey’s been part of Europe since Ottoman times—historically, economically, and socially.
Turkey made a mistake in the past. It was asked to join the Common Market in those days when there were only five or six members. In 1978, when Greece was a negotiating member, they invited us also to become a member, with no conditions. At that time, Turkey’s population was about 44 million. And our government said, “We’re not ready. Our industry is not ready. We’ll tell you when we are ready.” Now we’re 75 million people. Good industry. But the Europeans are now, what, 27 countries that you have to get the O.K. from?
After all of Turkey’s efforts, aren’t many people tired of the delays?
That’s correct. The EU full-membership supporters were very badly disappointed because Europe dragged their feet and constantly brought us new measures. And today, that same enthusiasm is not there anymore. When the latest developments in the euro zone happened, we said, “Thank God we’re not in the European Union.” But eventually I think Turkey has to join. It’s in the interest of Turkey and the EU because Turkey’s economy is young and growing and dynamic—and it’s big now.
Your Prime Minister has argued that Turkey may be a good model, as a secular state, for nations emerging from the Arab Spring.
Yes. Secular, free market, and democratic. These three things are very difficult to achieve in the short term. You have to have democracy for many years, get through the pain, get the hang of it. And of course there are different strengths in different Arab countries: oil-rich countries, oil-poor ones, and countries like Egypt that are big but not very rich. So it’s very difficult to bring them all under one common denominator.
What do you say to the idea that the two main rivals for influence in the Arab world—Turkey and Iran—aren’t Arab states?
Iran is a different case, totally by itself. Iran’s population is pro-American, and the administration is not. But Iran is strong. Egypt can be very strong because it has population and demand. Egypt, Israel, and Turkey were the three legs that America has stood on in the region. And this has been mellowed or weakened.
What do you predict for the euro?
Europe has no chance but to make the euro survive …. I can’t even imagine or think or restructure in my mind how it would be if they went back to their original currencies. But when you have a single currency, you have to have single everything. If you don’t have a single flag, single foreign policy, single economic policy, single monetary policy, it’s very difficult to have a single currency because the countries that are not economically in good shape cannot devalue.