Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 80 - 88)



Mr Chidgey

  80. Can I temper the optimism. In the event that it proved impossible to gain a settlement and the Republic of Cyprus proceeded to accede to the EU independently, what impact do you believe that would have on Turkey's foreign policy?
  (Mr Leigh) Again, at this stage, I do not think it very appropriate to speculate in any detail as to the consequences of failure. I think each one of us could make our own calculations and our own scenarios as to what would take place. I think what one can say is that a Cyprus settlement would be extremely positive in the development of EU-Turkey relations. One might state that it is a necessary condition; indeed, it is a short-term priority under the enhanced political dialogue which is part of the accession partnership. So clearly this is an issue where progress and indeed success has been identified by the EU as a condition for further progress.

  81. A pre-condition perhaps.
  (Mr Leigh) We are already involved in the process. But rather than wonder what would be the consequence of a negative outcome, I think one can say that a positive outcome would have a very positive effect on EU-Turkish relations. In the absence of a settlement, we would be in a new situation where all parties would have to reflect, consider the situation and decide on the most appropriate course of action. But now in February of this year, the parties having chosen the date of June as their goal for a settlement, it is unwise to speculate in public beyond our own perhaps personal calculations as to what we think might happen. I think all efforts should be in reinforcing their efforts to reach a solution.

Ms Stuart

  82. What would you say to me, as an extreme cynic from the Turkish side who came to you and said, "We have wanted to be members of the EU since 1999—very happy to have Turkey as a key member of NATO, very happy for the Europeans to use Turkey as a bridge, even though Turkey does not want to be that bridge and has been looking to the west quite consistently. What the Commission and the rest of the EU is worried about is having a Member State coming in whose population certainly will be the largest, the system of qualifying by majority voting will suddenly come in as the key player, and, if we continue the current system, would actually have the largest voting weight." Has the Commission given any thought as to what the dynamics would be, and the whole structures of how the EU organises itself, once Turkey would be a full member and what that would mean for the workings of the EU?
  (Mr Leigh) Yes, indeed, this kind of question obviously is raised and is present in people's minds. When you consider some of the key policies of the European Union, how they might be applied in Turkey, this does raise the kind of question that you are mentioning. But I would always reply "Give us a chance and take us at our word". I mean, one could well speculate along those lines—and indeed they are questions that many people ask themselves—however that has not prevented the governments of the 15 Member States again and again, and most recently and in a most forthcoming way at Laeken, looking forward to the prospect for Turkey's membership. If you look at the conclusions of successive European Councils from Helsinki onwards, this has been the position taken by our Heads of State and Government. Therefore, whatever one's views on these issues and how it might work out eventually: "Take us at our word, do not challenge our sincerity, look rather at our deeds and what we are doing to implement the commitments taken at Helsinki and you will see that we are, indeed, proceeding with Turkey along the same lines as other candidates." What will be the eventual outcome, nobody knows. It is clear that we are going towards an enlargement now, with up to 10 countries, which will take the EU population up to something like 500 million already. There are two other candidates waiting in the wings, as the Chairman pointed out at the beginning, Romania and Bulgaria, and there may be other candidates. We are moving towards a European Union that may have something like 30 members in the course of the next decade. Each of us can form our own judgments about the feasibility of further enlargement beyond those candidates already in the pipeline. Turkey has been acknowledged as a candidate, a pre-accession strategy is in place, we are trying to bring Turkey into the full panoply of pre-accession instruments, of community programmes, education programmes and all the rest. In other words, we are taking this candidacy very seriously. I think there would be no reason to doubt on the part of anybody in Turkey who is familiar with the details of the preparations for membership, that the EU is being true to its word on this issue. The eventual outcome? I do not have a crystal ball. But progress so far would satisfy an objective Turkish observer that we are treating them on the same basis as the other candidates, mutatis mutandis. Clearly the challenges are also particularly great. In the political area to which I have referred; you still have a very large part of the population involved in agriculture, you still have major regional disparities, you have the size of the population, there are major challenges along the road in preparing Turkey for membership which I would be the last person to minimise, but all of these have been formulated in terms of specific priorities, action programmes, ways and means to tackle these issues, and therefore I do not think there is any reason to be sceptical as to the feasibility of this project. As to the timing and how it might fit in eventually, the kind of resources that might be necessary eventually to make a success of it, these are issues that one would have to look at as we make progress. But, looking at the record since Helsinki, I would say that guarded optimism as to the progress made is probably the right approach.


  83. You have spoken about action programmes and legal obligations. There is also what is happening on the ground. How ready equipped is the Commission to look at what is happening on the ground rather than to examine aspirations and legal instruments?
  (Mr Leigh) I think you have put your finger really on the crucial issue. It is all very well to adopt accession partnerships and national programmes for the adoption of the Acquis. It is also all very well to adopt constitutional amendments and even legal changes, but the crucial question is how these are felt by the ordinary citizen of Turkey and whether there is any real improvement both economically and politically.

  84. How do you monitor that?
  (Mr Leigh) We monitor it very closely in conjunction with the Member States. In Ankara we meet together with the Member States, all of whom are also following these matters very closely. We are also in touch with the Council of Europe and with non-governmental organisations. In particular, this comes together in our annual exercise of the regular report, which, in all modesty, I think one can say is a sort of state of the art in terms of a snapshot of where things stand in Turkey at any given moment, and there the picture is very mixed indeed. The main problem is one of implementation and enforcement and a real change, as you say, in the situation on the ground. Beyond the kind of changes in law and in the constitution, clearly there has to be a change in the conceptual approach, in mind set, on the part of judges, of prosecutors, of the police of the military, so that these legal changes are actually translated into improvements in conditions for ordinary citizens. There I regret that progress is a little slower than we might hope.

  85. What expectations do you have, for example, on the use of a Kurdish language in the education system?
  (Mr Leigh) This is one of the priorities under the accession partnership where we are looking for real improvements and where the changes in the constitutional amendments and the recent legislative package are inadequate from our point of view. It is our view that the Turkish authorities could well afford to make changes and to be more open as to the use of languages other than Turkish in education, and particularly in broadcasting, without calling into question the security of the State, which is their main pre-occupation.

  86. You mentioned earlier the special place of the Turkish armed forces in the political system as guardians of the integrity of the nation with general popular approval. Does the Commission have any direct contact with the military or with the ministry of the interior?
  (Mr Leigh) With the ministry of the interior, yes; with the military, no.

  87. Given the special place of the military in the political structure, is that wise?
  (Mr Leigh) Turkey is a country where there are the normal democratic structures of government: the parliament, the government, the judiciary. They also have the National Security Council, which brings together both civilian and military leaders, which has an advisory role, and where we hope in the future the role will become, as it were, increasingly advisory, where we have nothing against, in principle, informal contacts with, for example, civilian administrative staff working on the National Security Council but, given the decision-making structure of the country and its own constitutional structures, I think it is most appropriate for the Commission to have contacts with the government, with the parliament, with the judiciary while being aware of the context in which this democratic system is functioning.

  88. Mr Leigh, you have been helpful to the Committee. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Mr Leigh) Thank you very much indeed.

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