Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Philip Poole

  1.  I have lived in Turkey for the last twelve years working as a teacher of English as a foreign language. For the last ten years I have worked at Bilkent University in Ankara, My views are entirely my own and in no way represent Bilkent University.

  My submission is largely observation and interpretation and I realise that it may be very subjective however I offer it as the reflections of someone who has lived here for some time and represents no particular interest— although I feel positive about my life and work in Turkey.

  My submission concerns the prospects for Turkey's admission to the European Union and is divided into four parts: Turkey's current suitability for membership, things likely to impede progress, positive factors and finally conclusions

2.  Turkey's suitability for membership of the European Union (there is no specific data to support these ideas but much is readily available)

    —  Turkey is in a geographical position that is very important for many reasons.

    —  Turkey is almost certainly the most secular and democratic of those nations that have an overwhelmingly Moslem population.

    —  The Turkish people have a high regard for Europe and the majority are enthusiastic about joining.

    —  Turkey is a staunch member of NATO and ally of the West.

    —  Turkey has many historical and cultural links with Europe.

    —  Turkey is potentially a huge market.

    —  Turkey has a much younger and faster growing population than most of the rest of Europe.

    —  The Turkish authorities are making efforts to align standards in Turkey with those of the EU and independently of that values are changing in the same direction especially amongst the better educated.

    —  Turkey is a relatively poor country at the moment going through an economic crisis. The gap between the more and the less developed parts of the country is growing as is that in the distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor. Standards of education vary greatly. A large percentage of the population is still illiterate or educated to a low level (relative to the norm in the EU)

    —  There is only a partial democracy in Turkey. This is partly because of the system which allows the dominance of party leaders, partly because some of the rural parts of the country are not much more than semi-feudal and partly because ideas are less important than personalities.

    —  There is very low public confidence in politicians and the political system.

    —  There is not always equality before the law. The rich and influential are likely to be treated differently by the courts, and probably police, from the poor and uneducated.

    —  The military has a much more prominent role in Turkish public life than it does in most member countries of the EU.

    —  The standard of human rights is often low, eg the treatment of people in police custody or prison.

    —  There is a vast inequality between the sexes, especially in less developed areas. A very high proportion of husbands use or have used violence against their wives.

    —  The question of the status of Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin (notably whether they should be recognised as a minority) and the Kurdish language is likely to controversial.

    —  Freedom of expression is limited, at least in some areas. A large number of journalists are put on trial and many have been put in prison.

    —  Corruption is quite widespread.

    —  Relations between Turkey and some of its neighbours could create problems for the EU. A good example is Greece and the issue of Cyprus.

3.  Things which are likely to impede progress

    —  The Turkish sense of identity and belonging is very strong. The family is by far the most important but loyalty to groups of various kinds is very important (football fans have been known to commit suicide—and murder—for the sake of their teams). It is fairly easy to appeal to a rather mindless sense of nationalism and/or religious allegiance.

    —  Turkey has (relatively speaking) a dependency culture. People expect some-one else to solve their problems. In return unquestioning and often undeserved loyalty is given to leaders.

    —  Turkish people tend to be both fatalistic and at times unreasonably optimistic. There is a tendency not to think about the consequences of actions.

    —  Generally, neither individuals nor society is capable of being self-critical. Criticism is seen as an act of unfriendliness.

    —  Turkish society does not allow for diversity within itself. In fact this is only half-true. As long as things are not public many things are tolerated but, publicly, just as criticism is unwelcome so is being different.

    —   Turkish society is conservative in all or most areas of life, they are not good at change or at integrating with others.

4.  Positive factors

    —  Although the military has a major role in public life and there have been several military coups in the past, neither the military nor particular leaders within it seem intent on hanging on to power. Given their relatively powerful position the Turkish military seem as public spirited as any in the world.

    —  The military and the president are the most popular institutions in the country. They are valued for being more honest than the professional politicians. Perhaps ironically, neither are elected by the public.

    —  The economic crisis is being met with determination, the banking system is being reformed and in the longer run the economy has a good chance of getting stronger.

    —  Turkish society has shown both stability and resilience in the face of the present economic crisis.

    —  Although most people are rather cynical about the government an unlikely three party coalition has managed to stay in office for over two years and could stay there for some time to come. I think that it is a sign of developing political maturity.

5.  Conclusions

    —  It is in the interests of both Turkey and the EU that there is some kind of special place for Turkey and in many ways Turkey deserves it.

    —  Full Turkish membership of the EU has the potential for great success. If this were to happen it would presumably have positive benefits for the relationship between the West and the rest of the Muslim world.

    —  There is also the potential for Turkey to be the poorest (and therefore most expensive) as well as the most difficult member of the EU.

    —  Joining the EU before it is ready could actually create problems for Turkey as well as the EU.

    —  The most important thing is to judge which direction Turkey is going in and how fast. This isn't always clear and shouldn't be judged on a single issue (the Ottoman marching band used to take three steps forward and one back but got there in the end).

    —  If, and when, Turkey manages to meet the Copenhagen criteria (in deed as well as in word) it should be admitted as a member but not before.

    —  It is important that this message is repeated consistently but in a positive manner.

Philip Poole

January 2002

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