Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Good morning, gentleman. May I welcome on behalf of the Committee Dr William Hale, Head of Political Studies Department at SOAS, Dr Philip Robins, Faculty Fellow and University Lecturer, Middle East Politics, Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford and Mr William Park, Senior Lecturer and Research Associate at the Centre for Defence Studies in King's College, London. Gentleman, we are grateful for your willingness to assist the Committee in our inquiry. Each of you has submitted a helpful memorandum for which we thank you. Let me start straightaway in terms of the Turkish prospects for EU membership which is one of the key areas for the inquiry and ask you this: Dr Hale, you said, and I quote, that the UK "should not just stand on the sidelines, criticising Turkey for its failures over human rights and other issues, but be actively involved in helping the authorities to implement the needed reforms." What do you think we and our European partners can do which we are not now doing in positively reaching into Turkey and assisting those reforms?

  (Dr Hale) I believe that the British Government is active in this field. I am just saying that I think it is an important part of what they ought to be doing and that our other European partners are doing.

  2. What more should we do?
  (Dr Hale) To be specific about it, I would say that, for instance, improving the justice system in Turkey is extremely important. Obviously our criminal justice system is quite different from the one in Turkey because the Turkish one is based on continental models. Nevertheless, there are needed improvements in human rights standards which we could assist with. Another aspect might be improving the treatment of prisoners by the police, training the police and I would say urging the Turkish authorities to take stronger and more effective measures against police who are guilty of torture and other human rights abuses. Another field would be advising and helping the Turkish Government in improving the prison system. These are the kind of things I am thinking about because I think that improvement in all these fields is important if Turkey is to become a member of the European Union.

  3. How much of this is done already?
  (Dr Hale) I believe that it is done to some extent but perhaps you might like to query later witnesses from the FCO about this.

  4. Are there any areas in which we are not involved where you think we could usefully contribute?
  (Dr Hale) Not that I know of at this time, no.

  5. Would your colleagues like to comment on those areas to assist us?
  (Dr Robins) I certainly think that a great deal could be done in terms of bringing actual implementation in the Turkish arena. Time and again we have the Turks talking a good game about their intention to reform and of course at certain moments reform is actually being implemented in terms of constitutional reform, penal code reform and so on, but I think there is always a very big difference between the formal position, the legal position and the actual implementation on the ground. Therefore, I think to focus not simply at the legislative level or at the executive level but also to monitor the situation on the ground and to actually try to develop a strategy for the implementation of some of these practices on the ground would be immensely helpful.

  6. Would that be welcome by the Turkish authorities or would it be deemed to be interference?
  (Dr Robins) There are obviously differences in Turkey about whether some of these reforms should be initiated in the first place and some of those on the political extremes will always be critical, but I think that there is a big body of opinion in Turkey which realises that membership of the European Union is a good thing, which realises that in order for membership of the European Union to be viable, real reforms have to take place and that these reforms are in the direction of the Copenhagen Criteria and in the direction of liberal reforms in general, and I think would therefore be receptive, if they are actually going to implement some of these reforms at a formal level, to the idea of the implementation of these reforms in practice.
  (Mr Park) I am not in a position to comment in detail on the kind of assistance that the Turks get in these areas, but it might be worth comparing the sort of programmes that have been available for post-communist Europe, which are quite structured and quite well founded, with those of Turkey and, in a certain sense, Turkey lost out on that because it was not part of-post-communist Europe but maybe needed the same kind of assistance. That is one way of addressing the issue. Another way is to do with the balance of the comment that the Turks received and this might be presenting a perspective as the Turks would themselves see it, but they do feel themselves, and I think are, on the receiving end of quite a lot of criticism. So the issue is not only what sort of assistance might they get and what sort of encouragement might they get but also how does it balance against the criticism that they get, and I think they feel that maybe their cup is half full and half empty and the focus is too much on the half empty.

Andrew Mackinlay

  7. I have listened carefully to all that the three of you have said but it does require two to tango and, whilst there might be individuals who are receptive and no doubt some are arguing for much more modernisation et cetera, you still have to have the willpower in government to say, "We want help and assistance." It is not as if there is nothing on offer, clearly there is. In a sense, we know what we would like but the Turkish state as such is not wishing to absorb this, unlike countries of the former central Europe where, although they needed coaxing and encouraging, by and large they said, "Teach us civic society." That was the big difference. Even if you look at the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia where you did not have the question of requiring each side's accommodation of their minorities, nevertheless the carrot and stick of getting into the European Union has been a great dynamic. There is no demonstration of comparable circumstances in Turkey. If there are, can you explain them to us because, and I do not mean this disrespectfully, you have not.
  (Mr Park) I agree with quite a lot of what you say actually. In a sense, the Central Europeans presented a tabula rasa - they saw themselves on the receiving end of wisdom and knowledge—whereas the Turks approached the whole situation of Europe from a position that they already had and needed to be shifted from. I think that the Turkish case is sometimes more difficult for the reasons that you identify. I think that within Turkey there are all sorts of splits; there are very positive forces. You mentioned the state, actually even within the state; for example, in the foreign minister who I would say generally is a quite positive reforming person within Turkey. In some ways—and I do not know what we can do about this but I think the situation is stymied a little by the political system and the political culture—it is hard for a Turkish government, because it is a coalition government normally of ideologically quite disparate groups, to arrive at a position and stick to it and to implement what they say because it always generates problems internally. I have to say—and I do not want to say it—that I agree with what you say.


  8. Is there any dissent?
  (Dr Hale) If I can just add to what Bill Park said, to be more specific about it. Within the present Turkish Government, you have three parties. The Democratic Left Party, which is Prime Minister Ecevit's party, is I think generally liberal on most of these questions and I think there is a desire to reform on the part of most parts of that party. There certainly is also in the Motherland Party which is the third party in the coalition. I think the problem arises in the case of the Nationalist Action Party which is a strongly nationalist party, especially on the Kurdish question. It is difficult to convince people who support it and people in the party of the need for change, especially on human rights issues. Do not forget that there is a reason for this and that is that, between 1984 and the late 1990s, the was a vicious internal struggle going on between the Turkish authorities and, I may say, quite a large part of the Kurdish population on the one side and the PKK on the other side. Thousands of people lost their lives in that bitter struggle and it is not easy to erase the memories of that loss on the part of a large part of the population. We have a roughly similar situation, I suppose, in Northern Ireland although, thank goodness, the casualties were never so serious as they were in Turkey.
  (Dr Robins) I certainly do not dissent from much of what Bill Park has said but I think that we have to remember that Turkey itself has come a long way in the last 15 years or so. Up until the mid 1980s perhaps, there was very little civil society in Turkey at all. The civil society that has emerged over the last 15 years has been a very mixed bag but included in that bag has been, for instance, the emergence of at least three major human rights organisations that I think have very significant membership bases and which do good work and which are committed, perhaps not without their flaws, to actually monitor the situation in the country. So Turkey too has changed although the dramatic nature of that change has paled when compared to the former Eastern Bloc in Eastern Central Europe. What I think it would be desirable to do is really to work with those who are well disposed towards change, and they are considerable in number in civil society within political parties and even within the state, and try to persuade, cajole and reassure as well those who are instinctively against change.

  9. The Turks sometimes say that they are being faced with double standards in that their own political economic deficiencies are no different in kind to those of some of their neighbours, Bulgaria and Romania, who have already started the accession path. Do you have any sympathy with that view?
  (Dr Hale) I think it is fair to say that there is prejudice against Turkey, unreasonable prejudice, on the part of some people within the European Union and there have been examples of that during the 1990s. On the other hand, the position which the European Union has taken is that no country can begin accession negotiations with the Union until it meets the political part of the Copenhagen Criteria and Turkey has failed to meet those criteria as yet. It is making progress towards meeting them but there is still some distance to travel. Therefore, in that respect, I think the European Union can claim that it has been quite fair and that it has not adopted double standards; it has applied the same standards to other applicant countries.

Sir John Stanley

  10. For the record, when Dr Robins referred to the emergence of three significant human rights organisations, could he name the three organisations that he was referring to.
  (Dr Robins) There are two organisations which have generally the same names and I will supply you with the acronyms of those, but there is also a third which is an Islamist one which I think is an interesting experiment and which, from my vantage point of interacting with them—and this is Mazlum-Der—seemed to —

  11. Can we have the three names, please.
  (Dr Hale) There is the Insan Haklari Dernegi, which is the Human Rights Association; there is the Turkish Human Rights Foundation—I think I have the right initials; and then there is Mazlum-Der which is the Islamist Human Rights Organisation. There are others but these are the three main ones.
  (Dr Robins) I would say that those are the most prominent.

Mr Illsley

  12. My question follows on from what we have been discussing and, put quite simply, does Turkey's candidacy for the European Union deserve special treatment bearing in mind of course that they first applied in 1959 and there has always been this recruitment to incorporate them into the European Union? You have maintained that, since the 1980s, they have made great strides but it still always seems "a long way down the road" is the usual quote. Forty years on, should we give special treatment or not? Are they willing to meet the Copenhagen Criteria? Are they willing to address human rights abuses?
  (Dr Robins) Personally, I think that there should be no special pleading for Turkey because, having spent an enormous amount of time saying that there is an objective set of criteria, a view that took the Turks a long time to take on board, I think that now to suggest that in any way that does not exist, could be relaxed or could be changed would be confusing, would be counterproductive and I am not sure it would run anywhere; I am not sure it would run within the European Union. I think that would not be a good way forward. Having said that, I think that the Turks certainly feel very bruised by their experiences with the European Union. After all, they will say, "We were negotiating seriously with the European Union back in 1963. We were making serious efforts to become full members of the European Union while most of those who are now ahead of us in the queue were actually part of a military alliance which was at least formally dedicated to the break-up of the free world and to the undermining of the free world." They will also say, "At an economic level, we have taken the reformist, liberalising changes back in the late 1970s and early 1980s that the European Union has asked increasingly of aspirant members well before others were actually doing this and well before that was part of the criteria." I think it is important to take on board the sensitivities and the frustrations which exist inside Turkey but I think we should not do anything which suggests that the Turks might get away with anything less than the sort of standards we would expect on human rights and on the treatment of minorities and so on.

  13. I just want to pass the argument across because presumably, Dr Hale, you might argue that the Copenhagen Criteria was specifically directed at countries like Turkey and might argue that they got special treatment from the other way. Is that what you were saying earlier?
  (Dr Hale) I do not know that they were specifically directed against countries like Turkey. If I remember correctly, they were passed by the Copenhagen meeting of the European Council in 1993 and of course at that stage the other applicant countries, even those in the so-called first wave, were still quite a long way back down the track. So, I do not think it was specifically directed towards Turkey. There may have been other considerations at the time. For instance, worries about whether democratic Government was going to survive in other Eastern European countries following the fall of communism. So, I suspect that there were a number of other considerations at the time. It is important primarily for Turkey at the moment because, in the judgment of the European Union, Turkey is the only candidate country which has not yet met the political part of the Copenhagen Criteria. However, I would agree with Philip Robins completely and I am not suggesting that we should have to apply special terms for Turkey. Coming back to one other point that you did mention, Mr Illsley, which was the question as to whether the Turks themselves were prepared to make the changes which were necessary, I think we have covered some of the ground here already. I think there are different forces at work here. I think that, on the whole, the forces in favour of meeting the Copenhagen Criteria are stronger, certainly in the public at large, in the media and I would say in the parliament than the forces opposing them. This is a hopeful sign. If you look at public opinion polls, they indicate a very strong majority in favour of Turkey becoming a member of the European Union and I think a significant part of that is that when people are asked why they support Turkey's eventual accession to the European Union, Turkish respondents reply first of all because it would improve Turkey's economic situation, secondly because it would improve Turkey's standing in the world but the third reason is because it would improve human rights and democratisation. This is seen as a positive advantage by something like 70 per cent of the public which I think is quite significant.

  14. It appears that we are in something of a circular argument in that you could argue that if they were given European Union membership, human rights would improve as a consequence. On the other hand, you could argue that, until you improve your human rights, your membership is going to lie on the table.
  (Mr Park) Turkish reformers do make that case very strongly, that we need lots of green lights so that we can move this.

  15. Could the British Government be doing anything to address this idea of Turkey's exclusion from Europe and the fact that membership is a long way down the road and is distant? Should the British Government be doing anything to address that and to try and assuage Turkey's feelings in that regard?
  (Mr Park) To some extent, I agree with everything other team members of the panel have said. I do not think that Turkey is ready to be considered, but I think that I might put the question the other way round a little as well. I do not want to particularly pick on Bulgaria or Romania, but I would also question whether everything that takes place there really satisfies the Copenhagen Criteria and, even if it does, how deep those changes are. To that extent, I think the issue is not that Turkey is being unfairly treated but that they might feel discriminated against because others have been over fairly treated. That is one way of looking at the question. What you do from now on in is quite interesting and it raises questions about the European Union at least as much as it does about Turkey. There is scope here for interpretation of things like the Copenhagen Criteria. As we enlarge the European Union, we are expanding it from some sort of—I do not know how to put it—Central European chocolate box core Europe. Europe is quite a diverse place and Turkey is at the extreme end of its diversity. So the question is not only what we can expect from Turkey—and we have had questions that indicate the thinking—but it is also to what extent can the European Union be rigid in its application in all respects of the Copenhagen Criteria which after all derived from that relative handful of states where the Copenhagen Criteria are unquestioned. Europe is moving into new territory. Turkey is very much new territory but I would suggest that it is not alone. I think there is that question: what is the European Union becoming? Turkey raises that question emphatically but is not alone in raising that question.
  (Dr Hale) Can I just add something to what Bill Park said. Your question was, what should we do in this regard? One matter that I think we have to be very careful about is to make sure to avoid statements either in this country or more probably in other European Union countries to the effect that Turkey can never become a member of the European Union because it is a Moslem country. I believe that if such statements are made, either in this country or anywhere else, then our Government and as many as possible governments within the European Union should contradict that as sharply and strongly as they can. It is completely contradictory to the engagements that the Union has already entered into apart from other extremely unlikeable ideological aspects of that attitude.

Mr Maples

  16. The whole process has been dragging on for a long time and there have been a number of difficulties and you have gone through those in the last half-hour or so. Supposing this were to grind to what looks like a 20 year time horizon and the Turks and the European Union did not come to a formal conclusion that this was not going anywhere in the next generation but it became pretty clear that it was not, is that going to change Turkey's foreign policy? Does it have an alternative to the essentially fundamental strategic alliances that it has with the West? In NATO, and it has been very co-operative over various other things by taking over leadership of the Afghanistan force; it has a close relationship with the United States; it has a base for operations into Northern Iraq. Is that likely to change? Does Turkey have anywhere else to go?
  (Dr Hale) It is conceivable that, if the scenario you mentioned occurred, Turkey's likely best option in that situation would probably be to seek a stronger bilateral relationship with the United States covering defence issues, maybe economic issues et cetera. I do not know whether the United States administration at the time would be willing to go along with that but that, it seems to me, is the only other option there. It was an option, incidentally, which was considered in the very early days of the Cold War while NATO was still forming and before Turkey was admitted to NATO that they might work for that kind of relationship. I cannot see any other viable options from their viewpoint. It is very hard to see what kind of environment we might have in 10 years' time which would obviously affect the issue.
  (Mr Park) I suppose I might question how much the future of a country like Turkey in this kind of scenario can be analysed in the terms of different options. As I have already indicated, I think the future of the European Union is quite interesting. I am not sure that deepening and enlargement work easily together. I am not sure that the European Union can be that exclusive in the future in a whole range of areas. So, even a Turkey outside the European Union would still trade very heavily with the European Union and would probably be in some sort of security defence arrangement with the European Union and so on. Also, I think, as Bill Hale said, Turkey in effect already has a whole range of other relationships which even membership of the European Union would not terminate. They do have a special kind of security relationship with the United States. They are in a region of the world which is quite different from that that most EU members inhabit and they have all sorts of relationships, sometimes good, sometimes bad, in that area. I suppose I am not sure that either membership or non-membership of the European Union would profoundly alter much of that. It would shift the emphasis around a little but all of these aspects of Turkey's foreign policy relationships would still exist under any imaginable scenario.
  (Dr Robins) I certainly do not think that there is an alternative system or multi-lateral organisation that Turkey could turn to which would be in any way comparable to the European Union. To some extent, there was a little flirtation with some of that in the creation of Black Sea co-operation and things like that, nothing of course anywhere near as important as the European Union. However, I do not think that we should necessarily come to the conclusion that, say, the freezing of the relationship or freezing any prospect of accession over 20 years would not have a cost in terms of Turkish/EU relations. I think the sort of areas where costs may be borne would be in those areas which are not the sort of big areas, the big security areas, the areas that would have an implication for Turkish relationship with the United States or even the Turkish relationship with NATO, both of which are valued extremely highly in Ankara, not least by the military, but I think the sort of areas where there would be a cost would be in some of the more bilateral areas with the European Union and here I am thinking about possibly co-operation over illegal drugs, possibly co-operation over illegal immigration, possibly even co-operation over the issue of Cyprus although of course there is more of a US dimension to that as well. It is certainly very noticeable that since the Helsinki decision to give candidate status to Turkey, the Turkish Government and the Turkish State seems to have been more generally co-operative in a number of different areas where perhaps co-operation was less than perfect before and I think the area of illegal drugs might be a good example of that. Co-operation with Europe was improving before the Helsinki summit agreement, but since then I think it has been much easier for people in Turkey to pull together and to agree that this is generally the right way to go. I think that if signals from the European Union were to become more confused and more ambivalent in the future, it might have costs in this direction and I suppose that, apropos of the last question, a return to the sort of Luxemburg atmosphere where Turkey always seemed to be in a minority of one as the country that was being left out was not being considered seriously by the European Union as it interacted with non-member states is the sort of context to which we probably do not want to return. It is much more comfortable and it is much more productive to be in a Helsinki atmosphere than to be in a Luxemburg atmosphere.

Ms Stuart

  17. Can I just pick up on a few points that you have made. Mr Park made the point that there are more questions about the future of the European Union in terms of the Turkish accession than really about Turkey, not least because we will have a country with a population that may well soon be the largest population and largest Moslem population. In that context, I was pleased to hear that it will be extremely damaging if we start going down the road of saying that Turkey will never be a member of the EU. Within that context, I was very pleased that Turkey has actually been given a place of convention with all the other accession statuses despite the fact that it is in a waiting room for the next waiting room! I wonder if you would like to comment further recognising the very deep historical differences which we have to deal with within Turkey, not least the role of the military and their deeply entrenched role within civic government. Do you think that is one of the fundamental problems, that is their role as a safeguard of the civic state which is a concept which really we find very difficult to deal with? Is there any change in that in the foreseeable future and to what extent is it actually a barrier to EU membership?
  (Mr Park) I think it is a very, very interesting question. My personal view is probably not very politically correct on this. It seems to me that the problem with Turkey is not really the role of the military, it is the way in which the political system has operated. I am not sure that Turkey's evolution would have been more favourably regarded by the European Union if the military had not involved themselves from time to time. In other words, I think their involvement has sometimes been not entirely negative, to put it at its minimum. It is inevitable that the European Union is going to have an uneasy attitude towards this but I think that one of the problems that are created in EU/Turkish relationships is that the EU approaches the issue from the position of simply being against the military's involvement in politics rather than in some sense an understanding of it. Again, operationally, I do not know what conclusions that might lead you to but I think we perhaps could be a little more sensitive about why the military is involved in the way that it has been involved and what the impact of that has been. It is not necessarily all bad. This might lead you to quite negative conclusions about Turkey's real prospects for the European Union. I agree with what I think might have been the spirit of what you said, that the military's involvement is not easily going to evaporate in Turkey. Partly this is because of the way the military think and indeed are constitutionally empowered to think about their role in Turkish politics, but also because of things about Turkish politics itself and maybe Turkish society as well. So, I do not think it is going to go away as an issue. If the European Union is to insist that this degree of involvement in politics is in itself an ultimate barrier to Turkey's membership, then I think that Turkey's membership will continue to be a long way off; it probably is for other reasons as well but this is an additional reason. As I say, the question is also about the European Union. Is the European Union capable—and I am not proposing this—of accepting different models of civil military relations amongst its members or candidate members? If it were to regard the military's involvement in Turkish politics as not all negative, it might find it easier to start thinking along those lines.

Andrew Mackinlay

  18. Can you just paint a canvass for us as to where we are in regards to the Kurdish situation because I think it is inextricably part and parcel of what we are talking about, whether or not it is robust or not and so on. Whilst analogies are dangerous in international affairs, is there an equivalent of what I would call the SDLP and Sinn Fein to give us some sort of shading? Firstly, I would like to know about this canvass and whether various groups are represented; secondly, one of the matters we are debating is whether or not we should take this into account and if we should see people. I do not know if you can help us on this area.
  (Dr Robins) On that situation just picking up the military and bridging into the Kurdish issue, while it is certainly the case that in certain circumstances, the military may have been a force for good, I think we have to remind ourselves that the period when the military has been most influential in Turkish politics in recent times, ie the period after 1993, coincided with the period of the worst excesses of human rights abuses that we have seen in that country for some considerable time and the emergence of the "deep state", the absence of real accountability, the provinces in the south-east of the country where emergency rule was brought in with the suspension of the normal rights that functioned in the rest of the country and made the south-east an untransparent black hole in the country which was a very serious development which did result in a great deal of loss of life and the razing of villages, extrajudicial killings and things like that. I think it is important as well to make the point that the military do themselves express frustrations with civilian government. They say, "We have no desire ourselves to run the country or to govern the country. We are frustrated with the short-termist, self-serving nature of the political parties in the country." I think it is not an entirely altruistic situation that we have there. In terms of the Kurdish situation, I think that is one of considerable frustration and disappointment. When we had the insurgency, which I suppose began in its infancy in 1984 and built up to a real intensity from about 1989 onwards and was perhaps at its height from about 1992 until about 1996 and then went on at a lower level to the PKK cease-fire since we have had since 1999, it was said that it would be very difficult to go ahead with real reforms that would be inclusive as far as the Kurdish population was concerned under such circumstances, partly because it would be seen to be rewarding violent insurrection and partly because domestic public opinion would not stand for it particularly amongst the Turkish majority and it would be very difficult to implement on the ground against such a background of insurgency. There was some plausibility to that as long as the violence was taking place and I think it has been extremely, as I say, frustrating and disappointing that there has been such little movement on the issue of the Kurdish issue since 1999. I think the situation since then has been that there have been one or two flickers in the direction of reform which will be helpful, liberal reform some of which we were touching on at the beginning of this session; there have been one or two meetings, for instance, between the then President Demirel and the HADEP mayors, HADEP being a Kurdish ethno-nationalist party but one which is certainly more moderate than the PKK. So there were one or two indicators that things might improve. However, I think that, over the last three years, they have mostly been disappointed expectations. We now have the situation where the prosecution case against the existence of HADEP is still hanging over that party; it has been delayed, it has been postponed, it has been delayed a little bit more now. It is very difficult for such an organisation to operate normally and freely under such pressure. We have of course had the closing down of two earlier versions of HADEP, HEP and DEP, earlier on in the 1990s although, as I say, against a rather different political background on the ground. I think there have certainly been mistakes on the Kurdish nationalist side as well. Some of the actions of-self-conscious Kurdish parliamentarians in the early 1990s were, I think, precipitate and unwise. So even amongst those who seek to occupy the middle ground, I think there have been mistakes on both sides. I certainly think that what we should be looking for is a building up of the middle ground. In the 1990s, there was a great polarisation of politics on Turkey on this issue. Now the fighting is largely over, we should be looking to try to build up that middle ground and secondly, constitutionally and legally, we should be looking to a system in Turkey which is more inclusive, inclusive of different minorities, inclusive of different political shades, whether they be ethnic shades or ideological shades.


  19. When you say "we should be building up the middle ground", who are the "we" in that context?
  (Dr Robins) I think I said that we should be looking towards ... I think it would be difficult and inappropriate for people to start marching in with their big feet and trying to tell the Turks what to do, but I think looking for some change in this direction would be very desirable. The "we" in all of this is, I suppose, those who want to see, I would say, not only a liberal, democratic and accountable Turkey but also a Turkey that is a much better Turkey for those who live there as well. Here, things are often couched in terms of what we want and what the Turks want, whereas actually my perception is that most Turks want to have a more stable, more prosperous and more democratic system as well.

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