I can still clearly remember receiving a phone call in the last days of 2014 from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, inviting me to make a speech regarding cooperation between public and private sectors at a meeting hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine and supported by USAID. The meeting was part of USAID research into possible precedents for economic and structural reforms in Ukraine. Turkey featured prominently in this research, leading to a high-level delegation trip to Turkey involving the participation of Ukrainian politicians, ministry officials and business community representatives. The delegation visited the techno-city at METU (Middle East Technical University) and a range of other industrial zones and similar institutions. The goal of our subsequent meeting in Kyiv was to share their findings from this trip and to evaluate how these findings might apply to Ukraine. I accepted the invitation to participate, and can say without any hesitation that I experienced one of the most beautiful and inspirational days of my entire life.
Ms. Tetiana Korotka, who at the time served as Director of the Public and Private Sector Cooperation Department at the American Chamber of Commerce and project manager of USAID, led the delegation that visited Turkey. Ms. Korotka’s positive analysis of Turkey’s economic development, and her portrayal of Turkey as a developed rather than developing country, were enough to fill me with a huge sense of pride. The evaluations of other delegation participants were similarly enthusiastic.
"While it has become something of a tradition to compare Ukraine to fellow east European nations like Poland, the similarities between Turkey and Ukraine are impossible to ignore"
The general impression created by the conference was that it would be useful to foster greater economic and trade ties with Turkey and to seek to learn as much as possible from Turkey’s development model. This recognition of the importance of the Turkish model mirrors current attitudes within the Ukrainian business community, which has made no secret of its interest in the Turkish experience. This is a healthy and logical process. While it has become something of a tradition to compare Ukraine to fellow east European nations like Poland, the similarities between Turkey and Ukraine are impossible to ignore.
Ukraine does not enjoy EU advantages of 1990s
The reform experience of the newer EU member states, especially the Visegrad group of nations (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) are undoubtedly very important for Ukraine. However, it is also crucial to keep in mind the fact that the circumstances facing Ukraine today are very different from the situation in the 1990s. In the early post-Cold War years, public opinion formed in the Visagrad nations against a backdrop of the reunification of Germany and widespread expectations of everlasting peace and prosperity in the EU zone. Meanwhile, high growth rates facilitated substantial funding in support of reform efforts. In the 1990s, foreign development support to Poland reached 27% of the country’s 1990 GDP, and since then the West has continued to generously support and reward Poland’s European choice.
Expansion fatigue continues to plague EU
The situation within the EU is very different today. Clear majorities in a number of key EU member states are opposed to further EU enlargement, while many member state populations within the EU are preoccupied with their own economic recoveries. As it looks to pursue EU integration, Ukraine is confronted by many of the same obstacles that have served to dilute enthusiasm for Turkish integration. Both countries are often perceived as having less developed economies, relatively low average incomes, and large populations. Even if the Russian factor is left to one side, Ukraine most overcome considerable problems if it is to succeed in integrating into the EU. The relationship between Ukraine and the EU therefore shares more similarities with the ties between Turkey and the European Union than it does with the relationship between Brussels and the former Warsaw Pact nations of the 1990s.
EU integration process is a marathon not a sprint
In terms of Ukraine’s potential future EU and NATO membership, both France and Germany – the two nations dubbed the twin engines of the EU – have expressed reservations. Indeed, there has been very little support for granting Ukraine the status of EU candidate country. Turkey is already a NATO member and EU candidate, but German and French attitudes towards Turkey in recent years can hardly be characterized as constructive. Nevertheless, Turkey has not given up, and Ukraine must remain similarly determined and resolute.
Turkey’s road towards EU integration has been a long one. In 1963, a partnership agreement was signed, and in 1987 Turkey officially applied for membership. A Customs Union deal was then inked in 1996, but Turkey only gained candidate country status in 2004. Although negotiations have taken a long time, the process continues and Turkey continues to benefit in terms of social, economic and political advantages. Ukraine will also benefit from the integration process. It is important to remain patient and appreciate that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Ukraine could benefit from EU and IMF anchors
The process towards EU membership, together with the IMF programme introduced in Turkey in 2001, have served as important anchors and catalysts for Turkey’s economic, social and political reform processes. It is possible that we will see something similar in Ukraine in the coming years. Turkey’s experience with both the EU and the IMF offers important examples that Ukraine can benefit from. Cooperation in the public and private sectors must now improve in this context.
It is my pleasure to see a second conference focusing on Turkey’s public private partnership experience taking place in Kyiv on 22 June, and I am happy to be participating once more. Ultimately, the challenges of creating a democratic and economically prosperous Ukraine governed by the rule of law cannot be met by anyone but the Ukrainian people themselves. However, the reform experiences of friendly nations such as Turkey will undoubtedly prove useful for Ukraine.
About the author: Burak Pehlivan is Deputy Chairman of the International Turkey-Ukraine Business Association (TUID)