Thursday, September 21, 2006

From Bosphorous to Rhone

It's early Thursday morning by the Bosphorous, and the great city of Istanbul is waking up.

It's somewhat unclear how many people are actually living here. The city is growing fast. There might be around 20 million people in the urban landscape around the Bosphorous.

And it is indeed one of the greatest of European cities.

Thick with history and bustling with life. The ships from and to the Black Sea ports passing constantly, while the minarets of Sinan's fabolous mosques are pointing towards the sky. The airport is filled with aircrafts heading also for desttinations all over Central Asia.

I was here for a dinner yesterday evening discussing the future of Turkish business in the European Union.

There is a slight pessimism concerning the accession process. The Cyprus issue risks causing a train wreck in the months ahead if nothing is done. Words of rejection from different European politicians have certainly been noted here, and are playing into the hands of more hard-line nationalist politicians.

But history seldom moves in a completely linear fashion. It always has its ups and down and bumbs in the road.

It might be ten years down the road when we arrive at the final decision concerning the membership of Turkey. It will be another European Union by then, and it will also be another Turkey.

But if we have a clear interest in Turkish membership today, I'm convinced that we will have an even clearer interest a decade or so down the road. It's geostrategic importance will certainly not decline.

But now I'm off to Lyon by the river Rhone in France. Once the capital of the Gaul of the Romans, and then a trading and fair city of European importance. Now the second largest city of France and its gastronomical capital.

So I take the Turkish Airlines non-stop flight from Istanbul to Lyon to speak there about the challenges facing Europe in the years ahead.