Belgium’s Ambassador to Ankara Paul Huynen said his country, which takes over the rotating EU presidency, will “seek to strengthen ties with key partners such as Turkey.”
During this period, Belgium will encourage follow-up on the Borell report, including the updating of the Customs Union, Huynen told the EKONOMİ newspaper. Belgium will also encourage reflection on internal reforms to increase the EU’s capacity to absorb enlargement, the ambassador said.
The report, prepared by the European Commission and Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, reflected the EU’s traditional stance but introduced a new approach on issues such as updating the Customs Union and visa facilitation.
Belgian Ambassador Paul Huynen’s answers to EKONOMİ’s questions are as follows:
Belgium’s EU presidency started in 2024. What will be Belgium’s priorities in this period?
First of all, I would like to thank the EKONOMİ newspaper for allowing me to share with your readers the priorities of the Belgian Presidency. In many ways, the European Union remains the anchor of peace and stability on the European continent. As a firm supporter of multilateralism and a founding member of the European Union, Belgium has always been committed to advancing the European project. A strong and united Europe, reflecting European values, underpins prosperity and peace across the continent and allows Europe to play a greater role on the global stage. The Belgian presidency comes at a critical juncture in international relations. Russia’s ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine and renewed conflict in the Middle East pose challenges for policymakers around the world. At the same time, we continue to prepare our societies to tackle global challenges such as the energy crisis, extreme climate events and to ensure competitiveness in ever-changing global economic dynamics. The Belgian Presidency will build on the achievements of the European project and work to safeguard our security and values, strengthen our economy and resilience, while preparing the European Union for any future challenges. Hence the motto of our Presidency: Protect, Strengthen, Prepare. Six thematic priorities stand out during our Presidency: Protecting democracy, the rule of law and our values; Strengthening our economy and competitiveness; Pursuing a green and just transition; Strengthening our social and health agenda; Protecting our citizens and our borders; and Promoting a global Europe.
“We will promote reforms”
What are the EU agenda items of interest for Turkey during the Belgian presidency?
In terms of the enlargement process, the Belgian presidency will constructively promote the accession process of candidate countries, based on the existing methodology and merit-based approach. In parallel, the Belgian presidency will encourage reflection on internal reforms in order to increase the EU’s absorptive capacity for future enlargement.
On 18 January, on the occasion of the 13th Belgian Presidency of the Council of Europe, the Embassy organized a first-of-its-kind event for Turkish alumni of the College of Europe and alumni from other countries living in Turkey. During the event, keynote speakers, including H.E. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Head of EU Affairs Ambassador Mehmet Kemal Bozay, H.E. Ambassador Rauf Engin Soysal and H.E. Ambassador Nikolas Meyer-Landrut, Ambassador of the European Delegation to Turkey, exchanged views on the state of the European Union, the mutual expectations and opportunities for EU-Turkey relations and the continued importance of the European project in a changing geopolitical environment. The aim of the event was to promote the exchange of ideas on EU-Turkey relations among key stakeholders and to strengthen the existing ties between the College of Europe’s Turkish alumni.
How does Belgium view EU-Turkey relations? Could the modernization and updating of the Customs Union agreement with Turkey start during the presidency?
The joint report by the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the state of EU-Turkey political, economic and trade relations addresses the modernization of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and the Belgian Presidency will encourage the follow-up of this report.
“Economic diplomacy is one of our main priorities”
How do you evaluate Turkey-Belgium relations in terms of their historical development?
In 2023, the centenary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Belgium and Turkey celebrated 185 years of diplomatic relations. Immediately after gaining its independence, the Kingdom of Belgium actively maintained friendly diplomatic and trade relations with many countries, including the Ottoman Empire. In 1838, Belgium and the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, which marked the beginning of official relations between the two countries. Since then, Belgium and Turkey have enjoyed long-standing, multidimensional and constructive diplomatic and economic relations. Belgian and Turkish citizens are the true architects of our bilateral relations, weaving a web of connections that spans continents and time. Belgium is home to a large Turkish community of around 270,000 people, while in 2022, around 600,000 Belgians traveled to Turkey
For Belgium, an emerging trading nation, there was a clear advantage in being connected to the historic trade routes that converged in Constantinople. Trade and economic relations have been an important cornerstone of our bilateral relations, which today amount to more than EUR 13 billion. Economic diplomacy is one of the main priorities of the Belgian government. Belgium will continue to use its full diplomatic toolkit to stimulate economic growth and create jobs. We will seek to strengthen our ties with key partners like Turkey by building on our strong bilateral relations to boost bilateral trade.
Turkish companies are increasingly interested in investing in Belgium
Can you assess the current state of bilateral trade and mutual investments?
Belgium-Turkey trade relations have been developing quite well over the last few years. In 2020, when I arrived, the bilateral trade volume was EUR 9.5 billion, while in 2022 this figure increased to EUR 13.2 billion, with a small surplus for Belgium. Our main exports to Turkey are transport equipment, chemicals and base metals. The main categories of imports from Turkey are transportation equipment, machinery and equipment and mineral products. FDI inflows from Belgium to Turkey since 2002 have amounted to USD 9.2 billion. According to the Financial Times, Belgian investments covering the period 2003-2023 have created 3225 jobs in Turkey. On the other hand, Turkish companies are increasingly interested in investing in Belgium. A recent example of this is the opening of a glass manufacturing plant in Belgium by a Turkish company, which has created around 500 jobs in Belgium. Belgium is an attractive destination for foreign investors due to its unique geographical location, excellent connectivity with other European markets through excellent logistics services and telecommunications, a vibrant economy with dynamic trade in goods and innovative service sectors, a highly skilled workforce and an attractive consumer market.