Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report


Why the Turkish military remains influential

64. The Turkish military's role in domestic politics is not simply a matter of military might imposing its will on an elected democracy. The military is empowered by the constitution to protect Turkey from both external and internal threats. It is also able to act as it does because it has the trust of the Turkish people. William Hale told us that "a large part of the Turkish public still regard the military with a great deal of respect. Public opinion polls show that it has far more trust in the military than it does in their elected politicians."[74] And we heard from David Barchard that:

    "Turkey is a front line state. It is very aware that if it did not have a record of military prowess it would not exist today in its present form. There was a time, fairly recent in people's consciousness, where it stood totally alone against the rest of the world and was saved by its soldiers. There is also a perception—and do not forget that all Turkish men have done service in the army—that the military is better organised, the hierarchy is functioning properly, there is a command system, people know whom to take orders from, and therefore it is a more effective institution than other institutions. It is also in some ways a more altruistic institution than other institutions because it exists for the national


65. Respect for the military is all the more stark in contrast with the lack of respect afforded to civilian politicians. According to a poll from the Ankara Social Research Center in January of this year, none of the three parties in the governing coalition has the support of enough of the population to pass the 10 per cent threshold required to gain seats in Parliament.[76] It is notable, however, that while respect for the military is strong, opinion polls show that very few Turks actually want to be governed by the military.

66. The military's interventions in domestic politics have often been supported not only by the Turkish people, but also by some sections of the international community. The quiet coup of 1997, in which the military forced the resignation of a Government with tendencies towards political Islamism, has been condoned even by the European Court of Human Rights.[77] William Park told us: "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",[78] while David Barchard's opinion is that "if the military, for instance, had not intervened in the situation in the mid-1990s in the way that they did on the 28 February 1997, we would not be sitting round this table today talking about Turkey's membership of the European Union".[79] We conclude that there is an awkward tension between the EU's emphasis on democratic standards and civilian control of the military, and the concern of Turkey's NATO allies (many of which are also of course EU member states) that Turkey should remain a western-orientated secular society at all costs, even if this means disenfranchising those elements in the Turkish population who support political Islamism, however moderate.

67. It is argued, on the other hand, that the current fragmentation of the Turkish political system is at least partly a result of the military's interventions in domestic politics. Dr Philip Robins has also noted:

     "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".[80]

While the interventions of the Turkish military in domestic politics have not been entirely negative, it would be a vastly preferable situation if the country's democratic political system were sufficiently robust for such interventions to be unnecessary.

'Getting the pashas out of politics'

68. None of our witnesses believe that an end to the role of the Turkish military in domestic politics will be achieved in the short term. William Hale writes that "it will probably be some time before the armed forces' political position is changed in practice".[81] Professor Clement Dodd suggests that "the conditions for recurrent military intervention should be avoided", rather than limiting the military's ability to intervene.[82] William Park writes that "it will not be easy to prise domestic political influence away from the military", and suggests further that "it is an open question whether an end to the military's domestic political role would necessarily lead to a Turkey that the EU would be happy with".[83]

69. The Foreign Secretary told us that he can 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.[84] The evidence we have received does not support this belief. William Park has suggested that "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", unless the European Union is capable "of accepting different models of civil-military relations amongst its members".[85] We conclude that there is little likelihood of the Turkish military ceasing to be involved in domestic politics in the short or medium term, although it may adopt a more behind-the-scenes approach for the sake of appearances. We recommend that the Government and its EU partners examine imaginatively with the Turkish authorities ways of ensuring that Turkey's stability can be guaranteed within the scope allowed by the Copenhagen criteria through means other than intervention or threat of intervention by the military. If such a mechanism cannot be found, we conclude that Turkey's EU candidacy is likely to make little progress for the foreseeable future.


70. Some factions in Turkey view the reforms which are required under the Copenhagen political criteria as a threat to the integrity of the state. Michael Leigh told us that "the main grounds for hesitation among those who do so, is their own belief that certain aspects of the Kemalist tradition may not be compatible with EU membership and they themselves are not ready to make this sacrifice."[86]

71. In our opinion, the external threat, and the threat from separatist groups, is vastly overstated. Turkey has the second largest military contingent within NATO, it is well trained and well armed, and the idea that any separatist organisation or foreign country will successfully bring about the partition of Turkey is little short of absurd. Moreover, the integrity of Turkey and its continued existence as a strong state is in the clear interest of other NATO members, given the possibility of further action against Iraq and given the paucity of other regional allies of any reliability. The idea that western countries would seriously countenance the break-up of Turkey is sheer paranoia in today's political climate.

72. As for other internal threats, giving minorities cultural rights and targeting money for regional development will lead to a fall in support for groups demanding secession, although some Turks believe the contrary. The threat from political Islamism is perhaps more real. But political parties with Islamic links do not have the support of a majority of the population. Furthermore, the right of the courts to ban political parties which threaten the secular nature of the state has been upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

73. There will always be resentment at human rights reforms which are seen to be demanded by foreigners. But these are reforms from which the Turkish people will benefit, reforms which will allow them to live in a freer society, one in which they would be able to speak their minds and in which they would not be at risk of torture from the police. They are reforms which should be carried out whether or not Turkey wants to join the EU. We recommend that the Government encourage the Turkish authorities to take ownership of the reforms required under the Copenhagen political criteria, to accept that they are in the best interests of Turkey, not just in the best interests of the EU.


74. There are a number of practical steps which the Government, alone and with its EU partners, can take to help the Turkish authorities to carry out their reform programme. These proposals deserve careful consideration by the Government.

Financial Assistance

75. Claims by Turkish politicians that they are not on a level playing field with the other EU candidates are often overstated. It is true, however, that the other candidates have had access to a number of sources of funding, both from the European Commission and bilaterally from the United Kingdom, to which Turkey is not entitled.

76. We heard from Michael Leigh that Romania, with access to the Phare, ISPA and SAPARD programmes, receives more than twice as much from the European Commission as does Turkey[87]—yet it has only a third of the population of Turkey. We have also heard scathing off-the-record criticism of the bureaucracy in Brussels for being slow to implement participation in programmes, such as Socrates, Leonardo and Youth for Europe, to which Turkey is supposed to have access. Karen Fogg, the Head of the European Commission's representation in Ankara, told us during our visit that the Phare programme could usefully be extended to Turkey. We heard in Turkey that, although the country's institutions are in better shape than those of the Eastern European countries immediately after the fall of communism, Turkish officials today are far more ignorant of how the EU and its institutions function than officials from Eastern Europe. We recommend that the Government explore with the European Commission the possibility of extending the Phare programme to Turkey.

77. The United Kingdom has bilateral assistance programmes, the 'Know How Funds', with the new democracies of eastern and central Europe. These programmes aim to help achieve a successful transition to a pluralist democracy and a well regulated market economy in such a way that benefits are sustainable and spread through all levels of society. Although it is not their stated aim, the programmes have also helped the countries of central and eastern Europe to prepare for EU accession. Turkey has never been the recipient of a 'Know How Fund', perhaps rather unfairly, as although it has not had to reconstruct itself entirely, as countries emerging from Communist rule have done, it faces similar problems in altering and strengthening its institutions and processes to meet the demands of EU accession. In some ways, because this process is not starting from scratch, it is all the more difficult to carry through.

78. Turkey receives bilateral assistance from the United Kingdom through an EU Action Plan.[88] But the amount of money involved, £150,000 in 2001-02, is small compared to the sums available through the 'Know How Funds'. Slovakia, for example, currently receives in the region of £3 million per year, despite having a population only one twelfth the size of Turkey's. Michael Leigh has suggested that a 'Know How Fund' for Turkey would be a useful initiative,[89] and the Foreign Secretary has said that he would be prepared to consider it.[90] We recommend that the Government consider setting up a 'Know How Fund' for Turkey.

Inclusion in fora

79. We consider it essential that the Government and the EU send out signals of good will towards Turkey, and constant reassurance that its application is being seriously considered. Action speaks louder than words, however, and where possible Turkey should also be included in EU programmes and fora. Turkey's full membership of the Convention on the Future of Europe is an excellent example of such practice, and particularly appropriate. Membership of the Convention is organised not on the basis of 15 Member states, plus 12 negotiating candidates, plus Turkey, nor even on the basis of 15 Member states plus 13 candidates, but rather as 28 equal participants. The Chairman of the Turkish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee is invited, on the same terms as the chairmen of counterpart committees from other candidate countries, to the regular six-monthly conferences of EU Foreign Affairs Committee Chairmen. This is another welcome precedent. The agreement reached with Turkey on European Security and Defence Policy also involves Turkey, albeit from the outside, in decision-shaping within the EU. Although many activities of the EU are only open to member states, we recommend that Turkey be included in EU programmes and fora whenever this is possible.

'Green lights'

80. As we have already mentioned, a common plea from those in the Turkish establishment who are committed to Turkey's EU candidacy is for the EU to give Turkey "green lights"[91] to prove that it is serious about Turkey's candidacy, and to show sceptics in Turkey that acceptance of difficult reforms will indeed lead to EU membership. The particular 'green light' most frequently requested is for a date to be set for Turkey to begin formal accession negotiations.[92]

81. If Turkey is genuine in its desire to be treated on an equal footing with the other candidates, the only date which could reasonably be set would be a provisional one, a fact recognised by some of those we spoke to in Ankara. All that Turkey can expect is an undertaking to begin negotiations on a particular date if it has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria by that date. There is no precedent even for this, as Michael Leigh from the European Commission has told us: "We remind Turkey that in the past, in the case of Slovakia, for example, we did not fix a date or open negotiations because the political criteria had not been satisfied yet."[93] We agree with Mr Leigh that it is important that the European Commission should remain as impartial and even-handed as possible in its treatment of candidate countries' applications—although there is bound to be an element of subjectivity in deciding whether the criteria have been satisifed. The European Commission would not be the appropriate body to suggest a provisional date on which Turkey's accession negotiations might begin. As far as the Commission is concerned, negotiations should begin once and as soon as Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria (which might, at least in theory, be the case before any chosen date).

82. However, as we have already noted, decision does not rest solely with the European Commission. The member states can make political decisions in a way which would not be appropriate for the Commission. Moreover, fears about the wholeheartedness of the EU's desire to see Turkey a member are directed more towards the member states than they are towards the Commission. There is a case for suggesting that at a forthcoming European Council a statement by the member states encouraging Turkey's application could give political momentum to reformers in Turkey. Such a statement might also include an expression of hope that Turkey will be in a position to begin accession negotiations by a specified date.

83. The EU is not always averse to setting dates. The short-term priorities in the Accession Partnership were due for completion in 2001, although a number of these were in the event not satisfactorily completed to time. The Foreign Secretary, however, has told us that "it has been collectively judged that it would not be appropriate to offer them [Turkey] a date at the moment".[94] Peter Ricketts from the FCO offered a practical reason for why setting a date would not be appropriate: "in the end it is up to the Turks themselves and the pace of their own economic and political reform programmes which will determine how quickly they move through this process leading to the accession negotiations".[95] There are also other possible drawbacks to setting a date. The Turkish media would almost certainly portray the date as a promise of admission and put less emphasis on the conditionality attached. It would be hard to resist headlines such as 'Turkey will begin negotiations in year x'. If at the date itself Turkey was not after all ready to begin negotiations, and the EU said as much, this would be likely to cause an outcry in Turkey and damage the position of reformers within the Turkish establishment.

84. The advantages of setting a target date for Turkey to begin accession negotiations are probably offset by the false expectations which this move would excite. There is a danger, however, that if a date is not set, mistrust of the EU will increase and reform in Turkey will lose momentum. We recommend that the Government should consider whether it would be in Turkey's interests for a forthcoming European Council to set a date by which, in the estimation of member states, Turkey should be ready to begin accession negotiations. We further recommend, if the Government concludes that setting such a date would not be in Turkey's interests, that it should ensure that the reasons why this is the case are properly explained in Turkey and more widely. Finally, we recommend that the Government should do its utmost to encourage forthcoming European Councils to produce conclusions which encourage progress in Turkey's candidacy whether a date is set or not.


85. At the Helsinki European Council, candidate states were urged to make every effort to resolve outstanding border disputes, and, failing this, to bring the dispute within a reasonable time to the International Court of Justice. The European Council has undertaken to review progress on resolving such disputes by the end of 2004 at the latest. Turkey has a number of disputes with Greece concerning islands in the Aegean, airspace, and, most controversially, maritime waters. According to Professor Clement Dodd, Turkey is concerned at Greece's desire to extend its territorial waters to twelve nautical miles, the current international norm.[96] If this limit were enforced, shipping to and from Turkey's two largest ports, Istanbul and Izmir, would be unable to access the High Seas without passing through Greek territorial waters.[97] On 12 February, the Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers began talks to try to resolve the issue.[98] We conclude that progress in negotiations between Turkey and Greece aimed at resolving boundary disputes in the Aegean would be good news not only for Turkey's EU candidacy but also for the stability of the region as a whole.

74   Q 21 Back

75   Q 104 Back

76   Reported in International Herald Tribune, 11 January 2002 Back

77   Ev 92, para 4 [Dr David Shankland] Back

78   Q 17 Back

79   Q 105 Back

80   Q 18 Back

81   Ev 2, para 8 Back

82   Ev 87, section 2 Back

83   Ev 5, para 8 Back

84   Q 190 Back

85   Q 17 Back

86   Q 71 Back

87   Q 64 Back

88   Ev 75-76 Back

89   Q 69 Back

90   Q 208 Back

91   Q 14 [William Park] Back

92   Q 49 [Michael Leigh] Back

93   Q 50 Back

94   Q 177 Back

95   Q 177 Back

96   Ev 85-86, section A 2 (iv) Back

97   The Aegean Sea: Bridge or Barrier?, Commander Mike Mason, RUSI Whitehall Paper Series No 54, p. 2 Back

98   'Turks and Greeks break ice', The Guardian, 13 February 2002 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 30 April 2002