Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)




  180. And you would not oppose it?
  (Mr Straw) Of course not. I have been to Turkey twice already and I would count it as a very important ally and a very important country with which we should develop already deep relations.
  (Mr Macgregor) There have been regular exchanges between senior officials on a whole range of issues: on defence, Mr Ricketts himself, I think regularly, but there is also normal political dialogue between us. There is also a lot of practical work between us, for instance, through drugs liaison officers and indeed there is a proposal that there should be an immigration liaison officer which we hope will come to fruit this year. There is a lot of practical co-operation between British and Turkish officials.

  181. And Ms Stuart's comment on the language competence of our officials?
  (Mr Ricketts) We certainly attach great importance to language competence in Turkey, as elsewhere. You will, I hope, have seen that our current Ambassador could speak good Turkish, that our Consul-General in Istanbul speaks Turkish, and we are making sure that coming up through the ranks there is a sufficient number of Turkish speakers preparing to become ambassador in due course.

  182. We were concerned about the issue so perhaps you could supply some chart of those who are Turkish speakers at different stages of the Foreign Office.
  (Mr Ricketts) Certainly[6].

Mr Maples

  183. Perhaps we can turn to discuss possible Turkish accession in terms of technicalities, such as how many constitutional amendments they have made, and it is 34, you tell us. There are actually some very big issues at stake here. On the one hand Turkey is an extraordinarily valuable ally, playing a vital part in NATO, and is a bridge to the Middle East. We want to tie it into Europe rather than see it floating in the other direction, and I suspect those are the reasons that were driving policy and trying to help Turkey accede to membership. On the other side, I would suggest to you, there are equally very big issues that people seem very reluctant to discuss, which are that Turkey does have its feet outside the European mainstream tradition in terms of law, of government, of the relationship between the military and the civilian government. It has an enormous and very fast-growing population. I think I am right in saying that the total population will be about 100 million in 20 years' time which would make it 20 or 25 per cent of the population of an enlarged European Union. It has a GDP per head of way below the European average. If this was a small country of eight million people or so it would be easy. If it were Cyprus—and I am not suggesting Cyprus is quite so different—or a country of that size, this is not a problem, I can cope with that, but can the European Union really take in a country of that size with those differences without being seriously unbalanced?
  (Mr Straw) I think so, is the answer. We are into the realm of speculation but I think the European Union has shown itself to be an extraordinarily adaptable institution since it started as a very narrow organisation with six Member States, with two at the time hugely dominant, France and Germany. You say that Turkey is outside the European mainstream tradition of law, control of the armed forces and so on, with great respect I do not agree with you. Turkey is different because it is an Islamic country, although it is a secular Islamic country, but if you think about the countries which are now coming into membership or, for example, you think about the state that acceded into membership of the European Union by a different route, namely East Germany, people living in East Germany until 1990 had not enjoyed any idea of democracy for getting on for 60 years, and the armed forces were not subject to proper democratic control. That is also true with different but similar experiences across Eastern Europe where countries like Romania were hardly known as paradigms of democracy before the War and did not have any serious sense of democracy or the beginnings of democracy until the collapse of Communism at the end of the 1980s. And that goes for one country after another. I think Turkey is in a slightly different stage of development but it is not that different from many other European countries. You are furrowing your brow but we, in this country, forget just how recent is the experience of democracy in most European countries. We also forget that even in countries where democracy is now taken for granted across the Western European Union—let us leave aside France and Germany and those counties under German occupation during the War—such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, they all had fascist dictatorships when I went to university, when I left university and for some years after that, yet they are now fully-functioning democracies. I think Turkey's provenance is actually a far better one than those countries which were fascist dictatorships within the lifetime of most people in this room. So, with respect, I am more optimistic than you. It has a growing population but the united Germany now has a figure of 80 million, and my recollection of Turkey's population is that it is 64 million. On GDP per head, in the speech to which again Sir John paid such attention, he will recall there was a series of figures quoted—23, 20, 4—where I pointed out that the geographical area of the European Union would increase by 23 per cent with the accession of not Turkey but the current accession states, its population would increase by 20 per cent but GDP increase by just 4 per cent. In other words, the average GDP of countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and so on, is one-fifth of the average GDP of the current 15. When I got those figures, I simply did not believe them, and had them reworked again and again. It is true that if you use exchange rates and purchasing power parities you come to a slightly narrower gap but it is still stark, so if the European Union ends up by being able to cope with the accession of these states, it will be able to cope with Turkey's accession.

  184. You have stated your views on that but I think you concentrated very much on democracy. I would have said that countries like Spain and the eastern part of Germany were very much part of the European mainstream in terms of government, philosophy, religion, art, for hundreds and hundreds of years whereas Turkey has not been. It is more different, far more different, than any of them were. In the case of East Germany, there may not have been very many people alive who remembered democracy but it was certainly part of their being part of a greater Germany and of Europe and part of their history and traditions along with art, philosophy and everything else for hundreds of years.
  (Mr Straw) You are on a slightly dangerous ground here, certainly with art, and philosophy and science.

  185. I am not saying it is better or worse, just different.
  (Mr Straw) No, but the whole point about Turkey is that it is the fulcrum point between Asia and Europe. Do not forget, it has a Christian heritage as well as an Islamic one, as you will have seen; that is part of its history. If you think about the young Turk movement, yes, they had to break away from what we now describe as an authoritarian, non-democratic past, but there are quite a number of countries around in Europe which had to do that too, and have done it and did it rather late, and then had a long period when, however much the idea of democracy tried to flower, democracy was stalled. But if you think about the development of the young Turk movement, and then of what Ataturk was able to achieve, I think it is a pretty remarkable story, and it stands scrutiny with many other European nations. You said that a lot of these things were rather technical, with every accession state, not just Turkey, we have to ensure the criteria are not just technical but real because we do not do those countries any good or the European Union any good if we say, "Because you have passed a piece of paper which says that human rights will be respected, we know by virtue of that fact they will be respected", we have to be reassured that in reality, on the ground, they will be respected.

  186. I understand that and I hear what you say, I just think the European Union will have enormous difficulty in absorbing Turkey in a way which will not be so with any other country. I want to ask you though one final question, let us suppose this process drags on for a very long time—in one way or another Turkey has difficulty meeting the criteria or circumstances change which postpone the date of Turkey's accession—do you think that would damage our relationship with Turkey as a very valuable ally in terms of both military and foreign policy where we need it, for example some of the things it has done in the Middle East recently? Do you think it might damage that relationship or do you think we are so locked together in that relationship that accession or not to the EU is irrelevant?
  (Mr Straw) We are both very firm members of NATO, and that applies to most but not all of the existing other 14 of the European Union. There are strong trade and investment ties between the United Kingdom and Turkey, and, allowing for the dip in trade with every country which occurred after their big economic crises, trade links have been growing and, with luck, if Turkey's application, as it were, ran out, those relationships would continue. I very much hope and the United Kingdom Government hopes that Turkey will become a full member of the European Union, and we are giving every encouragement we can to them. The question of rejection does not arise, it is a question of getting to a position where Turkey is able to go through a pre-screening process and then it takes part in the process that countries further advanced, for example, Poland and the Czech Republic, are in now, and when we get to a position when all the chapters are closed, all the chapters are closed. Of course it is open to the democratic wishes of the people of Turkey at any stage to decide they want to stop that, but I suspect they will not.


  187. Foreign Secretary, in response to Mr Maples you said, and I quote, "Turkey is at a slightly different stage of development from the other countries", is there not this fundamental difference, the role of the military? Traditionally the military in Turkey have been the guarantors of democracy, they have intervened on three occasions effectively after a period to restore democracy. It is an essential part of the Kemalist tradition, which effectively underpins stability in that country. Is there not therefore a potential conflict between the wish of us to receive a modernised, appropriately qualified Turkey into the Union, and the necessity of democratic control of the military, which runs directly counter to the Kemalist tradition?
  (Mr Straw) Mr Macgregor has just passed me one of the constitutional changes which was agreed in October 2001, which was to change the composition and functioning of the National Security Council, altering the balance in favour of the civilian government and emphasising its advisory rather than its policy-making role. I have to say that since your Committee, Mr Anderson, spent some time there, this is one of many areas where I would be very interested to have your observations about whether you feel this change, once implemented, will be sufficient.

  188. The jury is very much out on that. One can have paper changes but the real balance, the real possibility of intervention, may still be there, and indeed the military, a very proud institution in Turkey, highly respected, are essentially an underpinning of that tradition which we want to continue.
  (Mr Straw) Indeed. Do you want to say something?
  (Mr Macgregor) Really just to talk of the slight irony, that of course in that role they have pushed Turkey into a more westward-leaning mode—

  189. Indeed.
  (Mr Macgregor)—and in a way into a shape which is more like the country that we would like to deal with. But changes nevertheless are on the way, and those constitutional changes of October last year are only the first of what is anticipated to be a series of changes.

  190. May I ask you, Foreign Secretary, can you envisage a time within the EU negotiation timescale when the army in Turkey will have a role analogous to the role of the army in other countries of the Union?
  (Mr Straw) I think that is almost explicit in the constitutional change which they have agreed to, so the answer to that must be yes.

Sir John Stanley

  191. Foreign Secretary, in paragraph 22 of your paper there is one of these wonderfully fork-tongued constructed sentences setting out the Government's position on the accession of Cyprus in relation to whether Cyprus comes in divided or united. The sentence reads: "The UK strongly believes that it is in the best interests of all concerned that a reunited Cyprus should join the EU, but supports the conclusions of the Helsinki European Council, which stated that a settlement is not a pre-condition for Cypriot accession[7]." The question I would like to put to you is this: can the Committee conclude, at least from the second part of that sentence, that the British Government will not contemplate a delay to the accession of Cyprus as it is now, ie divided, on the grounds there has been an apparent resumption of discussions between the two halves of Cyprus and that some form of settlement and negotiations are under way?

  (Mr Straw) Actually I thought it was pretty clear. I must say in terms of Government gobbledegook I do not think it is even in the second division, if I may say so. However, our position is literally what was agreed at Helsinki in December 1999, and it is worth me reading that out. "The European Council underlines that a political settlement will facilitate the accession of Cyprus to the European Union." I depart from the quotation there to say that I think everybody understands and accepts that, that it would be better if there were a political settlement. The text then goes on, "If no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, the Council's decision on accession will be made without the above being a pre-condition. In this the Council will take account of all relevant factors." I think that is really all one can say about this at the moment. That is the position, it is not a pre-condition but we would prefer it if there was a settlement.

  192. That does not answer my question. The question I asked you was, can you assure the Committee that if there should be a resumption of apparently substantive negotiations towards a settlement, the fact such negotiations are taking place will not be used by the British Government as a ground for delaying the accession of Cyprus in its present divided state?
  (Mr Straw) I think it is an answer to the question, with great respect to you, Sir John, because I have just said that we support the position set out here, which is that we want to see a political settlement, but what happens if no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, which are separate in any case, and I see no suggestion that accession negotiations should be delayed by the negotiations on a political settlement. "The Council's decision on accession will be made without the above being a pre-condition". Are we proposing to change the Helsinki conclusions? No.

  193. Could I put the question around the other way. Is the British Government's position that the accession of Cyprus in its present divided state should take place at the earliest possible opportunity, assuming Cyprus meets the requirements of the chapters, regardless of whether or not settlement negotiations may be in train at the time?
  (Mr Straw) Our position on Cyprus' accession is that Cyprus should be treated in the same way as anybody else in accordance with that text that I read out earlier from Copenhagen from June 1993. So that sets out the template. Cyprus, as you will be aware, has closed more chapters than any other accession applicant. That process continues on a track which is separate from negotiations, if any, about a political settlement. That is where we are.

  194. Do you envisage any other EU Member States might seek to delay the accession of Cyprus on the grounds that settlement discussions are in progress?
  (Mr Straw) I am not aware of any. Whether some have tried I cannot say, I can only speak for the British Government.


  195. The Republic of Cyprus is a market economy, a fully functioning democracy, which is in the lead in terms of the closing of chapters, therefore it is likely to be very much in the first wave of those being accepted. If a divided island of Cyprus were to be taken into the Community, the Union, what is your judgment of the effect on opinion in Turkey?
  (Mr Straw) Everybody in Turkey I have ever met who takes an interest in these things understands that Helsinki raises the possibility of a divided Cyprus, or part of Cyprus essentially, being admitted to the European Union, that is just a reality, it could happen, it is there in the texts. I do not presume to speak for the state of public opinion or governmental opinion in Turkey about that, and you may have greater insights than I do.

  196. Some of our interlocutors have used words like "catastrophic" in terms of Turkish relations with the Union. Is that a view that you would take?
  (Mr Straw) I do not presume to speak for them. We would have to make sure that such an apocalyptic vision did not occur. I think everybody is aware of this, not the apocalypse or the catastrophe but the fact that the Republic of Cyprus, the geographical island of Cyprus, could be admitted to the European Union is a reality and it is a possibility and they have got to work around that.
  (Mr Ricketts) It would clearly be a much less satisfactory outcome for Turkey, but also for the EU and for Cyprus, than the accession of Cyprus reunited at the end of successful settlement negotiations. That is what we are bending all of our efforts to achieve in the remaining months.

  197. You must surely accept that there would be very negative consequences for Turkey's relationship with the Union?
  (Mr Straw) Turkey would have to make different decisions about what it then did. It would not stop its request to become a full member of the European Union. Mr Ricketts said, and it is implicit too in the conclusions of Helsinki, it is a less than satisfactory outcome, less than the outcome we want, but it may be the outcome that is inevitable if there cannot be a political settlement of Cyprus.

  198. And in the happy event of an agreement between the parties some time after the discussions between the leaders of the two communities, President Clerides and Mr Denktash, would you expect the Union to be able to respond very speedily to prepare the north of the island for accession?
  (Mr Straw) I think they could respond speedily, it depends what was agreed. What I am not going to do, with great respect to this Committee, is get into speculating about the current state of discussion which is taking place between the different parties in Cyprus, between Clerides and Denktash, on which your question is based.
  (Mr Macgregor) The EU has said that it will accommodate a UN settlement, in other words that it will be flexible about it. It has already indicated a degree of flexibility.

Ms Stuart

  199. Can we turn to the issue of human rights. It was quite clear on our visit to Turkey that quite a number of legislative changes have been made and it would be very easy to gain the impression that these changes are significant also on the ground. The evidence we heard was that laws have been changed when it comes to treatment in police stations but very little seems to have changed in relation to provisions for prosecution, torture, and when you look at the evidence of how many prosecutions are successful that is not happening. I would be interested to hear to what extent the Foreign Office is monitoring not only what happens at the official level but what actually happens on the ground and to what extent you work with NGOs and other organisations to really determine what the reality of the protection of human rights in Turkey is?
  (Mr Straw) I will ask officials if they have got anything to add, but if you look at paragraph 24 of the memorandum[8] that we submitted you will see that we really made a similar point to yours that what matters is what happens on the ground. Obviously changing the text is a precondition, it is necessary but by no means sufficient. We have got a large number of human rights projects with Turkey and examples from 2001 include translation into Turkish of the FCO Handbook on Prevention of Torture, a training programme for senior prison administrators, independent monitoring of prisons in Turkey, development of prisoner education and recreation programmes, training for the Jandarma, who are the military police, in custody, detention and public order policing, and forensic science training for the Jandarma. Also this year we are seeing the launch of the Human Rights Dialogue at senior official level between the United Kingdom and Turkey.

  (Mr Macgregor) I am the leader of the Human Rights Dialogue on the British side and we are intending to arrange a first meeting probably in May of this year. Before going forward into that meeting we shall be consulting the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the House and also NGOs to ask what points they make. To go back to your own point, Ms Stuart—do we try to keep in touch with the situation on the ground. The answer is we certainly do and, indeed, I think it was through us that you were able to talk to the NGOs you did talk to in Istanbul. We go to hearings where there are leading human rights cases, we are in court whenever we can be. We also, I think, learn a great deal through police exchanges by having our police in Turkey, by them coming here. No-one is pretending that this is going to change things in a night but I think it is making some real progress. Similarly, the booklet on torture translated into Turkish, it will not itself prevent torture immediately but it is a start.

6   See Evidence, pp. Ev 74-Ev 75. Back

7   See Evidence, p. Ev 58. Back

8   See Evidence, p. Ev 58. Back

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