Foreign Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 1567

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Evidence heard in Public

Questions 85 - 105



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 25 October 2011

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr Bob Ainsworth

Mr John Baron

Sir Menzies Campbell

Ann Clwyd

Mike Gapes

Andrew Rosindell

Mr Frank Roy

Rory Stewart

Mr Dave Watts


Examination of Witness

Witness: Katinka Barysch, Deputy Director, Centre for European Reform, gave evidence.

Q85 Chair: Many thanks for coming along. This is just a 30-minute session. We very much wanted to meet you to pick your brains. Sadly, we could not fit you into the main session, so we have squeezed you in before we start looking at North Africa later this morning and everything that is going on there.

Do you think that Turkey actually wants to become a member of the EU?

Katinka Barysch: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it is a very long-standing aim of Turkey and, although there is a lot of rhetoric in the country now saying, "We don’t need the Europeans any more; we are a regional power. We have friends elsewhere," to my mind, Turkey has not quite woken up to the implications of what it actually means to give up that long-standing objective of aligning itself with Europe. Having said that, the accession process is obviously stuck, and Turkish politicians and a large share of the public feel very upset and wounded about the fact that they think they have been given promises on which the European Union is not delivering. There is a mixed feeling in the country at the moment. Officially, it still wants to join. Many people in the country believe that they need that external anchor, but they see that the process is not going anywhere, and many people believe that they do not necessarily need the EU any more. There is also the pride issue, which might just make them turn away from the EU.

Q86 Chair: Do we get any value out of its present involvement with EU institutions?

Katinka Barysch: What do you mean?

Chair: It is involved with a number of institutions with which we have a lot of contact. Are we getting good value from Turkey at the moment?

Katinka Barysch: Its involvement with EU institutions is tricky, in the sense that, officially, Turkey is a country negotiating for accession, and that is exactly how the EU treats it most of the time. It is a very scripted process of meeting benchmarks, opening chapters and negotiating bits of the acquis. Turkey did that for a little while, but now that process is stuck, mainly because of vetoes on the part of the EU and its member states, so we cannot open any more chapters, and we have not been able to close any. We do not have an alternative track for dealing with Turkey. We have squeezed Turkey into the accession track, and the accession track is stuck. We should be having all sorts of dialogues with it on foreign policies, security, emergency co-operation, energy and the Arab spring, but we do not have that, because we have squeezed Turkey into the accession track. At the moment, nobody is getting value out of the co-operation; it is a source of frustration.

Q87 Ann Clwyd: What kind of EU would it be with Turkey as a member? How would Turkish membership change the EU?

Katinka Barysch: The kind of European Union that would feel comfortable with Turkey as a member is a European Union that is obviously open and outward-looking, and understands its strategic role in the world and especially the region, because Turkey is now a regional power. It is also a European Union that is confident in its economic success, so it does not fear low-cost competition from a very large, dynamic, and basically emerging market economy. It might have to be an EU that is at least two-tier, with a group of countries that go further into integration-something you will probably see in the near future-with fiscal integration, a common currency and more common decision making, which are not things with which a pretty traditional power such as Turkey would feel comfortable. If you had an outer tier, with countries that are more loosely associated with the EU, I think that Turkey might, at least initially, feel more comfortable.

Q88 Ann Clwyd: What do you think would be the main risks to the EU if Turkey were to join and, conversely, if it were not to join?

Katinka Barysch: For the EU, obviously Turkey is, as we say, more modern than post-modern. It believes in sovereignty; it does not really necessarily believe in intervening in other countries’ affairs; it is proud and quite nationalist; and it has its own ideas about how the world works. In the European Union, where we are trying to do things together, and especially forge a common foreign and security policy, Turkey has often diverged from our views. On the one hand Turkey, would be an asset for the European Union because it is big, strong, fast-growing, has a big army and lies in a strategic region. On the other hand, it might just lead to paralysis in our attempts to forge a common foreign policy, because if we diverge, we do not have a common foreign policy.

On the economy, I think the risks are on the upside, because Turkey has a young and fast-growing population, and that is exactly what the EU will need over the next 50 years, so there we can expect only benefits.

Q89 Ann Clwyd: Are there any feasible institutional options that would be available to Turkey if it were not to become a full member?

Katinka Barysch: That is the big question that we will have to start addressing now, because even without writing off the accession process altogether and calling a formal halt to it, we need to have some sort of relationship with that very important country in our neighbourhood, as I mentioned. Since the accession track just does not do at the moment, we have to forge that alternative relationship. Turkey is still very reluctant to go down that track, because it fears that we will fob it off into a privileged partnership, so it is in two minds.

Turkey has a fundamental split in its attitude towards the EU; on the one hand, it keeps reminding us that it is an accession country like every other, and that we should not necessarily make it harder just because it is big, Muslim and slightly more complicated to integrate into the EU. It insists that we should treat it like every former accession country. On the other hand, when we treat it like every former accession country, it immediately gets upset and says, "Don’t you know who we are? You can’t treat us like Estonia or Slovenia. We are a big, important country. Treat us like partners at eye level." The EU and the Brussels institutions do not necessarily have the flexibility to go down that two-track route, which is why we are stuck at the moment, but we have to start thinking about alternative arrangements, dialogues and procedures that we can use to start working with Turkey more as a partner than an accession country, with less preaching at it about what to do, and taking its views on board and looking for areas of common interest.

Q90 Ann Clwyd: Would you say that Turkey is increasingly looking to the East and away from the West? That is the feeling I got when I was there last year. It was very obvious.

Katinka Barysch: It certainly is, and that is good and inevitable, because the situation until maybe 15 years ago, when Turkey was entirely isolated, was weird. What a strange state of affairs; you have a rising country with multiple neighbourhoods-the Caucasus, the Black Sea region, Central Asia and the Middle East-yet it does not have a relationship with anybody but Israel. That was the strange situation. In a way, what you are seeing now is a normalisation of affairs, whereby this natural regional power assumes its natural place in its region. Turkey has been a bit high on its own rhetoric with regard to its successes in its new foreign policy, forging links with other countries. It certainly sees a lot of opportunity in its neighbourhood. It has capitalised on these opportunities, in particular with regard to trade-sending construction companies to the Middle East and so forth-but I think the Arab spring has also shown it that the idea that it had previously that it could implement a "zero problem with the neighbours" policy-that is the official name of their foreign policy-is simply unrealistic.

Now Turkey is re-evaluating, and although it will still highlight to every European or American who visits the country, "We don’t need you any more; we have friends everywhere," you can already see a gradual rethinking. For example, it has sought an accommodation with the Americans on stationing bits of the missile defence system in Turkey, which has annoyed the Iranians. It is now calling for sanctions on Syria, and it is remembering who its real allies and old friends are. In the end, Turkey will need both. It will have to have those dynamic links with its new neighbours-or its eastern, southern and northern neighbours-but to my mind it will keep its strong link to the west.

Q91 Mr Baron: We believe we understand the main stumbling blocks for proper accession. Germany and France in particular seem to oppose it; Britain seems to be in favour. How will we get over this? What are the main routes round these stumbling blocks? What role does religion play in all of this?

Katinka Barysch: In terms of the accession process, the main stumbling block is Cyprus, for two reasons. First, the EU has blocked eight chapters in the accession process because Turkey refuses to open its ports and airports to ships and planes registered in Cyprus. Under the Ankara protocol, this is a legal obligation. The Turks say they will only do that when the EU implements its own promise to allow Northern Cyprus to trade with the rest of the EU-a promise that EU leaders gave to Turkey in 2004. They have a point there. They want a trade-off, but because that compromise could not be found so far, a large part of the acquis is simply blocked for negotiations on the part of the European Union. That is a European Council decision. Cyprus is a stumbling block also in the sense that Cyprus blocks bilaterally a number of chapters, because they have bilateral issues. Energy is one of these chapters; education is another. They do not allow progress on issues such as foreign policy.

So Cyprus is by far the biggest stumbling block. Then you have the French President, who says that Turkey will never be a member, so it does not need to bother with those parts of the acquis that matter only for full membership, such as the euro, institutional provisions and budgetary provisions. The French Government are also unilaterally blocking five chapters. The Germans are less of a problem. Angela Merkel obviously states repeatedly that she would prefer Turkey not to become a full member, but she sticks to the principle of pacta sunt servanda, and there has never been any indication that the German Government would block bits of the accession process.

So how do we get round this? We need a French election, so that we have a French President who does not block chapters. From what I have heard, François Hollande would unblock the bits that Sarkozy has been holding up. But that still leaves us with Cyprus as the big stumbling block. As far as I am aware, there is very little hope of getting a sustainable deal on Cyprus any time soon. The best that we could hope for is that Cyprus unblocks some of the chapters that it is blocking unilaterally. Whether that would be enough to restore momentum to the accession process, I am not sure.

On the role of religion, it is widely assumed that one of the reasons why a lot of people, in Western Europe especially, are against Turkish membership is because this country is predominantly Muslim. We have not got any good survey evidence of that. I remember reading one survey of Austria, which is easily the most anti-Turkey country in the EU, that actually made a distinction between "cultural concerns", meaning "These people are simply different", and religious concerns-"We Christian, they Muslim." It showed that a large share of Austrians were against Turkey joining because of cultural concerns-they thought that the Turks were just too different-but the share of people who were against because of religious concerns was remarkably small, so I cannot answer that question. I wish there was more detailed survey evidence of what people are actually concerned about when they say that they are against Turkish membership.

Q92 Mr Watts: What benefit do you think the UK derives from its active support of Turkey’s membership?

Katinka Barysch: The Turks clearly divide the European Union into countries that are friendly to their membership bid and countries that are not, and the UK-alongside Sweden and Italy, for example-is clearly in the camp of those countries that the Turks know are their friends in Europe. As for immediate benefits, that depends a little bit on what the UK Government make of this. Obviously, this is a dynamic economy, so hopefully British companies will be fully engaged there. You can see, for example, that French companies are not getting anywhere when they get involved in bids for public contracts, such as for the nuclear power plants; the Turks just will not contemplate it. British companies would not have that sort of problem. Beyond that, it really depends on what the issue at hand is.

Q93 Mr Watts: Turning it round the other way, the British people have a low level of public support for Turkey’s membership of the EU. How much do you think that influences our Government policy?

Katinka Barysch: How much does that influence British policy?

Mr Watts: Yes. Are there any restrictions? Do you think that the low level of public support in Britain for enlargement including Turkey is something that the Government have to take into account?

Katinka Barysch: Not necessarily, unlike in many continental European countries, where Turkey really is mainly viewed as an accession country, which means that the main things that people worry about are: how many Turkish immigrants will we have? How will Turkish MEPs behave in the European Parliament? How do we fit Turkey into the institutions? My sense is that Britain views Turkey more in strategic terms, more-a bit like the Americans-as an international player to be engaged. I understand that that is more the policy on which the British Government are focusing at the moment; rather than pushing strongly for Turkish accession, they focus on how they can work with Turkey. I do not think that public concerns about accession are the main obstacle to stronger engagement with Turkey.

Q94 Mr Watts: Do you think the low level of public support in the UK is economic, or does it have some other root? There are certainly parts of Britain where a large number of Turkish people have come to work and so on, at a time of high unemployment. Is it economic factors that drive that low level of support for Turkey’s membership?

Katinka Barysch: I wish there was more detailed survey evidence, because the studies that we at the centre have done on why people do not want Turkey in the EU showed very undefined, amorphous prejudices vis-à-vis Turkey. People do not want Turkey, but they are not entirely sure why. We found that yes, there is the fear of low-wage immigration. A lot of people in the European Union do not make a clear distinction between Turks and Arabs. They just think, "Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country; we have a problem with Arab fundamentalism." They lump it into one pot. Again, I wish there was clearer survey evidence, but what I found when I looked at the issue is that people are just not entirely sure why they do not want Turkey; they just do not want it.

Q95 Mr Roy: In relation to immigration, how important is the prospect of free movement to the Turkish people? During the accession transition period, there is a derogation from free movement; is there a possibility of extending that derogation? How would that balance with the Turkish people?

Katinka Barysch: The free movement issue is one that the Turkish people at the moment are very upset about because they are the only candidate country that has not been given visa-free access to the European Union. They have not even got much visa facilitation, which means they still bear the full brunt of EU and Schengen visa procedures. They have to travel to Ankara and Istanbul, queue, and provide up to 20 documents and there is a perception that a lot of visa applications get rejected, which is not true if you look at the figures. But Turks are very upset. They take it as a slight from the EU that they are not allowed to travel to the EU but people from Serbia, for example, are, and that even Russia and Ukraine have been put on a visa facilitation track and Turkey still has not got there. So it is a very important issue for them. It has been suggested to them before that if they join as full members they would have to accept at least a very long transition period before they get the free moment.

Obviously there are two different things: visa-free access is not the same as the right to come and work in all the EU countries. So even if they get the visa-free access they have been told that they might still have to wait many, many years before their people can come and settle freely in the EU. That is a very touchy subject for them. If they become members, given that they have given visa-free access to people ranging from Syria to Libya to Russia, which is a good policy given that they want to have that close economic integration with their neighbours, I could imagine a deal where they keep all their visa-free regimes with their Eastern, Southern and Northern neighbours and we, on our part, say, "Well, we want to keep a bit more control over who comes in from your country."

Q96 Mr Roy: Ultimately, could that be a deal-breaker?

Katinka Barysch: There are so many deal-breakers at the moment. That is one that I have not really thought about much recently. Good question.

Q97 Mr Ainsworth: Could we, the UK, do anything more to help Turkey? Obviously we cannot change the French President’s mind, certainly not at the moment in any case. But we have a pretty detailed understanding of Cyprus. Is there anything more that we could be doing to try to get a bit of momentum into the process with the UK?

Katinka Barysch: You mentioned a key word here already. It is Cyprus. The French and the Germans, to some extent, are hiding behind the Cypriot veto of the Turkish accession process. From what I gather, the British Government have not put a lot of pressure on the Greek Cypriot Government to move. I do not know why that is, but if I could give one recommendation to the British Government, it would be perhaps to be a bit more outspoken. This is the tail wagging the dog here. What kind of relationship you should have with Turkey is a big and strategic question and we should address all the issues that we have talked about already: whether the country is European enough, whether it is in a neighbourhood that is too unstable, whether we could cope with the labour flows and what kind of relationship we should have with Turkey. But we are not addressing those questions because we are all just hiding behind the fact that Cyprus blocks the accession process. My recommendation would be perhaps that the British Government should be a bit more outspoken about the fact that Cyprus should not hijack the accession process because of its own internal problems.

Q98 Mr Ainsworth: Is there a feeling perhaps in EU institutions or in Turkey itself that we have levers that we are not pulling? My take on the situation is that we have not got that much influence in Nicosia. We are not the most loved foreign Government in the Cypriot capital. Do people think that we are and that we could move that?

Katinka Barysch: Yes. As I mentioned, Turkey is a country that is quite traditional in its foreign policy thinking. So it sees big countries and small countries and the Turks find it very hard to understand how a group of nations the size of the UK, Germany and France, if they really wanted to, could not lean on a small island nation such as Cyprus to say, "Get a move on".

Q99 Mr Ainsworth: Can I switch tack a little? We have parked this process. The Turks have not been happy but have gone along with that. It is going nowhere. For how long will that be sustainable? Is it not effectively discrediting of both Turkey and the EU in the ultimate situation? Can we not bring this to a close and develop some other relationship or dialogue with Turkey?

Katinka Barysch: At the moment, neither side is willing to call a formal halt to the accession process. On the part of the EU, there would have to be unanimity among the member states, which is not there because the majority of member states are in favour of Turkey joining. They are the smaller ones, but countries such as Italy and Spain have no problem with the idea of Turkey joining. The EU will not call it to a halt. It also fears that an angry Turkey might then turn away from the EU, and we are aware that we need the country for energy security or foreign policy in the region, for example.

Turkey will not call a halt to the process. It is difficult for me to assess how far the Turkish leadership still believes in the process. Given that it is often accused by its opponents of not wanting to reform the country and of taking the country in an Islamist direction, the last thing that it wants to do is to call off the EU accession process because its opponents would accuse it of fully taking the country in the wrong direction of giving up the Western links that have helped it to modernise.

We are stuck in the situation. We have not opened a chapter for a year, nor will we probably do so during the next year. The Turks have said that they will boycott the Cypriot presidency, which means that there certainly will not be any progress during the Cypriot presidency. How long can you keep up that pretence? I don’t know because it is pretty much unprecedented. We can leave the empty shell of the accession process lying around. It is just as likely that we will start singing the requiem on Turkish accession during the Cypriot presidency, when it becomes evident that the issue is not going anywhere. There is a more optimistic prospect: let us assume that the Greek Cypriots elect a new Government, that the French elect a new Government and then all of a sudden we see movement again in the accession process.

Chair: Three people have caught my eye, and we have five minutes left.

Q100 Mike Gapes: May I take you to foreign policy? You referred in passing to the Turkish position with regard to Iran. We know that its relations with Israel are now very bad and that there is a sense of assertiveness. How much would you assess the new independent, more assertive foreign policy as being likely to help or to hinder the accession process?

Katinka Barysch: It certainly will help the accession process at the moment because, as I said, the European institutions and many Governments still see Turkey mainly as an accession country, which means that it has an application and we treat it as a pupil that either behaves well or doesn’t behave well according to our standards. But we certainly don’t want to see too much independence on the part of our applicants.

Turkey is a bit high on its own rhetoric and self-importance but, having said that, it always sounds much more assertive and aggressive than it is. For example, until recently it made a very studious attempt not to break diplomatic relations with Israel and, if I had to venture a guess, it will try a big damage limitation exercise to keep its relationship with Israel at least on an even keel. We also have to take a little away from the rhetoric and look at what it is actually doing.

Q101 Mike Gapes: What does that mean for the institutional arrangements and relationship with Cathy Ashton and the institutional bodies of the European Union? There are regular meetings with the Turks at that level. Is that going much better than the national relationships of the member states?

Katinka Barysch: The idea that the EU should have a foreign policy dialogue with Turkey is new. Usually, we don’t have that with accession countries. Once the EU has come up with a common foreign and security policy, the accession country usually aligns itself with it and says, "Yes, I support that." Most of those policies are not very substantive as elections in Albania or an earthquake in Bolivia. They are not something that really have anything to do with foreign policy co-ordination. Turkey does not want to do that; it wants real co-ordination. It wants to be consulted while the EU is still finding its own position. We haven’t given Turkey that role. Cathy Ashton and Ahmet Davutoğlu have a close and constructive relationship-they speak to each other a lot-but there is no follow up, no implementation, no institutional feeding in of the Turkish view into European foreign policy making. The EU is trying to do that now. There are more meetings lower down the hierarchy among senior officials, policy planners and so forth, but we are at the very beginning of that process.

Q102 Mike Gapes: Is that lack of feeding down an institutional problem, which the post-Lisbon process has not yet developed sufficiently, or is it a political problem, in that certain member states would find it extremely difficult to give Turkey a role in the evolution of a foreign policy of the European Union?

Katinka Barysch: It is both, and I would add to that a certain inflexibility on the part of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which doesn’t necessarily help.

Q103 Andrew Rosindell: You said earlier that Turkey would feel more comfortable in a looser European Union; could you elaborate on that a bit? Is that possibly a solution for other countries that may feel the same way?

Sir Menzies Campbell: I can’t think what you’re referring to.

Katinka Barysch: I am on very shaky ground here because I obviously have no idea how Turkey would behave as a full member of the EU, especially since that seems to be many years away. However, for the past 50 years the EU has been based on the principle that all countries are somehow equal. Some countries have slightly more votes in the Council of Ministers than others, but basically, every country has the same rights. We pool sovereignty and we are all equal. Turkey wants to be in the EU, but has it fully internalised the idea that it will be sitting between Portugal and Estonia at the table and will basically be treated the same way? Does it feel more comfortable communicating with the EU as a whole-with all 27 nations-because it thinks that befits its status as a rising power? I am not entirely sure whether they have really fully understood what being a member of the EU means.

Q104 Mr Baron: Briefly, because time is short, I want to explore further the foreign policy ramifications of what one senses to be the growing frustration in Turkey at not being allowed to accede. One senses that Erdoğan is probably one of the more popular, if not most popular, leaders in the region. It is certainly a very powerful country and strategically well placed. We all know the energy supply issue and so forth. What are the ramifications when it comes to something like North Africa? Can we see Turkey being more assertive? You talked about the difference between rhetoric and action, but is there any chance that the action might catch up with the rhetoric a little more?

Katinka Barysch: They are obviously doing lots of things. Their policy towards that region has, to some extent, been driven by commercial interests and that is still very much the case. When Erdoğan went to Libya recently, he took a bunch of business men along. Turkey is now often accused of having an agenda in Northern Africa and the Middle East-perhaps an Islamist agenda-but my impression is that they are just capitalising on the attention and popularity that the Prime Minister enjoys in the region, as they should. There are many things that they can do in the region: they can help Islamist parties in the region, for example, to become proper political parties-build up a grass-roots organisation and fit into a pluralist system. That is something they have a lot of experience with and I cannot see anyone else around the world assuming that role. Perhaps Turkey isn’t a model, but people really look to Turkey for inspiration on how a predominantly Muslim country can have pluralist democracy and how you place both religious issues and the military in a democracy.

Mr Baron: Being a secular state, it would be a force for good in the region-no doubt about that.

Katinka Barysch: I think a lot of people in the region see it that way and quite a few people in the region don’t see that as a good thing, but at the moment, just as we in Western Europe don’t know exactly why we don’t want to have Turkey, I am not entirely sure that a lot of people in the Arab world know exactly what they admire in the so-called Turkish model. Some people look to Turkey because they think it is very religious and some people look to Turkey because they think it is very liberal, so ultimately Turkey will have to disappoint some of its supporters because it is neither nor. It is a very interesting constant balancing act.

Q105 Sir Menzies Campbell: Very quickly: do they understand the Copenhagen criteria and in particular that freedom of comment, a free press and the ability of journalists to speak out are very important parts of a political dimension with the European Union?

Katinka Barysch: Well, a lot of Turks fully understand that and are very upset that the EU isn’t speaking out even more loudly about the problems journalists, non-governmental organisations and religious minorities have in the country. The Government obviously have made huge progress in improving democracy and how Turkey works, but in recent years there have been grave setbacks. That is, and should remain, a stumbling block on the way to EU membership.

Chair: Katinka, thank you very much. Time is up, but I think I can safely say that is as good a 30-minute briefing as we’ve had from anybody-that’s really good. If you don’t mind, we will come to you if we have further questions. That’s very useful indeed.

Prepared 2nd April 2012