UK-Turkey relations and Turkey's regional role - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


The Government is right to continue to support Turkey's accession to the EU, subject to Turkey meeting the accession criteria, and subject to the imposition of restrictions on the right to free movement from Turkey to the UK after any accession by Turkey to the Union. Turkey's accession would be likely to boost the EU's economic growth and international weight.

However, Turkey's EU accession process is stuck, effectively hostage to the Cyprus dispute. Neither Turkey nor the EU is likely formally to suspend or abandon the accession process in the foreseeable future. However, by undermining the force of EU leverage, the stalemate in the accession talks is having consequences in Turkey that are detrimental to UK objectives there, as well as to Turkish citizens looking to the EU as an anchor for liberalising domestic reforms. This is especially regrettable at a time when Turkish democracy may be in a critical phase. By helping to create uncertainty over the timing, if not the fact, of Turkey's EU accession, the stalemate is also discouraging both the EU and Turkey from starting to address some of the most difficult issues that would be involved in Turkey's EU membership.

The Government's continuing support for Turkey's EU membership provides a strong basis for the development of enhanced UK-Turkey bilateral relations. The Government is correct to be seeking to strengthen the UK's relations with Turkey, as a "strategic partner" for the UK. Turkey possesses assets, characteristics and influence that potentially add value to UK foreign policy. It is also a rising regional economic power with which there is significant potential to expand the UK's economic and commercial relations, although the competitiveness of the market should not be underestimated.

However, shortcomings in the Turkish justice system are damaging Turkey's international reputation and leading to human rights abuses, in ways that make it harder to advocate close UK-Turkey relations and Turkey's EU membership. The current climate in Turkey is limiting freedom of expression and the media. Turkey's human rights record thus remains a problem for the "strategic partnership" with the UK, and for Turkey's EU accession prospects.

We have encountered no evidence that Turkey has made an overarching foreign policy re-alignment away from the West. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) should not underestimate the extent to which the increased independence and regional focus of Turkish foreign policy may generate differences between Turkish and UK perspectives and policies. However, as long as its foreign policy efforts are directed towards the same ultimate goals, Turkey may add value as a foreign policy partner precisely because it is distinct from the UK. The process of responding to the 'Arab Spring' has brought Turkey closer to its Western allies, including the UK, while also demonstrating the utility of Ankara's strong relations with the Arab League. Turkey has welcome influence in the Middle East and North Africa as an example of a predominantly Muslim secular democracy, albeit one that remains 'work in progress'.

The UK's visa regime for Turkish nationals is one of the greatest obstacles to the development of closer UK-Turkey ties. The regime undermines the credibility of the Government's wish for a "strategic partnership" with Turkey, as well as being a significant practical and psychological obstacle to intensified relations. The FCO should explore possibilities to make the acquisition of UK entry visas easier for Turkish nationals, especially frequent visitors.

The low visibility of Turkey in the UK, especially among the business community, appears to be a further obstacle to the development of close UK-Turkey ties. The British Council should ensure that the promotion of awareness of the UK in Turkey and Turkey in the UK is a central part of its role. The British Council and the FCO should take advantage of Turkey's embrace of 'soft power' and cultural diplomacy to welcome and assist efforts by their Turkish partners to improve understanding of contemporary Turkey in the UK.

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Prepared 4 April 2012