Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Turkey, Oral Evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Wednesday 13 March 2002


  I am delighted that the Foreign Affairs Committee is undertaking this inquiry into Turkey—an important country, where significant British interests are at stake. I am especially glad to be having this discussion with you after your visits to Ankara and Istanbul—which went well, I gather. Turkey is a country which repays visiting. I have been there twice in the last five months.

  Turkey has long been a serious ally in a difficult neighbourhood. A member of NATO, she has provided practical support to our Northern Iraq policy—UK and US aircraft engaged in Operation Northern Watch operate from Incirlik. And she is a staunch ally in the coalition against terrorism. If Turkey is able to take over in Kabul as lead nation in ISAF later this year, that will be just the latest illustration of the practical partnership we have with Turkey. Turkey is our ally, a partner and a friend.

  It is a partnership which is becoming easier to operate with each step forward Turkey takes in its ambitious programme of political and economic reform. Those reforms are often debated in the context of Turkey's candidature for membership of the European Union—a candidature which the UK strongly supports. But I hope—during your discussions in Ankara and Istanbul—you will have gained the impression that Turkey's "National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis" is also indigenous. That is our aim. To bring together Turkey's long-held sense of a European vocation, with forces for modernisation and reform which spring from a developing civil society.

  The clearest measurements of such development lie in the realm of human rights, to which the UK and EU devote considerable attention. There are encouraging signs that Turkey's reforms are beginning to develop a self-sustaining momentum. On the legislative side, at least, the government has kept up a brisk pace, with a raft of constitutional reforms last October, followed up in February by a package of new laws to implement those changes. These are taking Turkey into the heart of the matter, with tough choices about freedom of expression and national identity. It is generating fierce debate within the country, as is natural. As is democratic. I am glad you had the chance to meet a wide spectrum of opinion on the progress these reforms are making. Doubtless some spoke of a glass half-empty, others of a glass half-full. But none, I should imagine, sought to portray a society at a standstill. And that—I submit—is to Turkey's credit; and justifies UK support for Turkey's EU candidature, to be assessed against the objective Copenhagen criteria. In this respect, the EU is applying the same standards to Turkey as have been applied to all other candidates.

  That is the strategy, and UK policy is—in a nutshell—to find ways to make that strategy work. Implementation is crucial. Turkey's Constitutional amendments are important, but they need to be translated—to take just one example—into humane procedures in every police station, throughout that vast country. As you saw, our Embassy and Consulate-General report regularly on human rights. They have an extensive network of contacts, and a number of active ways to intervene—chiefly through project work, on which we spent £1.6 million last year. I gather that the Committee met both Government and NGO representatives who have received such practical support—and that you heard how this was appreciated.

  Turkey must also meet the economic criteria. Not enough is made of this sometimes. I say that because the economic criteria are important in their own right, because they are part and parcel of the stronger civil society which Turkey is building, and because the progress Turkey has made to stabilise its economy and liberalise its markets is often inadequately publicised. I'm glad that you met Kemal Dervish, Economy Minister, during your visit. And I'm glad he was in Oxford last week, spreading the word about his reforms. These have earned the support of the international community, for example through the IMF's recent $16 billion Stand By Arrangement.

  Our agenda with Turkey includes Cyprus. This has recently entered a more optimistic phase, though everything is still to play for—as Lord Hannay illustrated to your Chairman yesterday. We welcome and support the process of face-to-face talks between the two leaders, and the role played by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General. We firmly believe that a just and durable settlement is achievable within the timeframe they themselves have set. And that—while not a precondition—this can enable the accession of a reunited island to the European Union. All of us, but Turkey in particular, stand to gain a lot from such a result.

  Last but not least, we are working with Turkey to tackle the drugs menace. Most of the heroin arriving in the UK has transited Turkey. Much more needs to be done to stop this. But co-operation with law enforcement agencies in Turkey is improving. We have invested heavily: we have six liaison officers in Turkey, tackling the drugs trade and other manifestations of organised crime. Here too, we see a way to harness Turkey's "European vocation", by finding ways to involve Turkey more in Europe's expanding Justice and Home Affairs agenda.

  In closing, may I say once again how much I welcome the attention you are paying to these serious issues. It is striking how many foreign policy and other British interests are at stake in Turkey. I look forward to your questions and—naturally—will respond, in due course, to the conclusions you reach.

13 March 2002

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