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

Conclusions and recommendations


Strengthening the bilateral relationship

UK-Turkey "Strategic Partnership"

1.  We conclude that the Government is correct to have identified Turkey as a "strategic partner" for the UK and to be pursuing enhanced relations accordingly. We commend the Government for the concerted effort it has been making to this end, and we urge it to ensure that the effort is sustained and sustainable. (Paragraph 15)

FCO resources

2.  We welcome the fact that the FCO is expanding its diplomatic presence in Turkey. We believe that this will signal to Turkey and others the seriousness of the Government's intent to develop the UK's relationship with Turkey, as well as help to deliver enhanced co-operation in key policy areas. (Paragraph 21)

3.  The effectiveness of UK diplomatic staff posted overseas is reduced if they cannot speak the language of their host country. We welcome the FCO's decision to require Turkish language skills of those taking up the new UK-based staff positions in its Turkey network. Although we want to see country experts shaping FCO policy-making in London, we are perturbed that so many of the department's Turkish speakers are deployed outside Turkey, and we regard this as symptomatic of the drawbacks of the FCO's current system for filling staff positions. We recommend that the FCO reform its recruitment system so that it can actively manage the language expertise it has at its disposal, to ensure that such expertise is deployed effectively and on an ongoing basis in the service of UK diplomatic objectives. (Paragraph 22)

UK visa regime

4.  We conclude that the operation of the UK's visa regime for Turkish nationals is undermining 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. We welcome the fact that the FCO appears to recognise this and is taking steps to try to ease the UK regime. We recommend that the FCO start discussions with the UK Border Agency and the main academic, cultural and trade bodies engaged in the effort to build UK-Turkey relations on possibilities for: reducing visa fees; reducing the quantity of information required with visa applications, certainly for frequent visitors; introducing a 'fast-track' service for certain categories of applicants; and opening more centres in Turkey for the submission of biometric data and the collection of returned documents. (Paragraph 30)

People-to-people contacts and public opinion

5.  We are concerned that the cut to the FCO grant to the BBC World Service which was made under the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review has caused the World Service to discontinue radio broadcasts in Turkish, losing the Service a radio audience of 450,000 (a fifth of its total audience in Turkey). In line with our overall view on the cuts to the World Service, we question whether the savings made are proportionate to the resulting loss of UK influence. (Paragraph 33)

6.  We conclude that the Government's ambitions for a new "special relationship" between the UK and Turkey appear to find little popular resonance, but that this may be due to what appears to be Turkey's relatively low visibility in the UK, and that the situation may therefore be capable of being improved. (Paragraph 38)

7.  We recommend that the British Council in Turkey should guard against any risk of becoming 'just' an English language-learning organisation. We recommend that the British Council should use the vital contact which it is building up with Turkish young people through its English language work to further their awareness of the UK; and that it should ensure that the wider promotion of awareness of the UK in Turkey and Turkey in the UK is a central part of its role. The FCO and the British Council should take advantage of Turkey's embrace of 'soft power' and cultural diplomacy to welcome and assist efforts by their Turkish partners, such as the new Yunus Emre Turkish Culture Centre in London, to improve understanding of contemporary Turkey in the UK. (Paragraph 42)

8.  There must be a doubt over the extent to which locally-engaged staff, however enthusiastic, can represent the UK to the British Council's host countries if they have had little exposure to the UK themselves. The concomitant of the cost savings achieved by making increased use of locally-engaged staff must be that the British Council commits to bringing such staff on visits to the UK on a regular basis. We recommend that in response to this Report the British Council should set out its practice and plans with respect to ensuring that its locally-engaged staff are regularly exposed to the UK. (Paragraph 44)

9.  We recommend that the British Council and FCO should exploit the fact that Turkey is bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics to use the public diplomacy programmes associated with the 2012 London Games to promote the UK in Turkey in a particularly intensive way. However, we further recommend that the British Council should not allow the Olympics 'brand' to take over the broader promotion of UK identity and culture in Turkey. We recommend that the FCO and British Council should report to us after the 2012 London Games on the Olympics-related work which they have conducted in Turkey and its impact on Turkish attitudes towards the UK. (Paragraph 47)

10.  We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO should set out its rationale for pursuing, its key objectives for, and its plans for securing, a new UK-Turkey cultural agreement to update that concluded in 1956. (Paragraph 49)

Turkey's domestic political development and human rights

The nature of AKP rule

11.  We have encountered little evidence that the AKP government is seeking to 'Islamicise' the Turkish state. We conclude that the AKP is best seen as akin to a socially conservative Christian Democrat party, continuing to govern within a secular state. However, some among Turkey's secular population are uneasy lest the effort to make Turkish public life more welcoming to openly devout Muslims comes to tip into disadvantage for secular citizens. We recommend that the FCO should remain vigilant on issues of religious freedom and discrimination and should ensure that its Turkish partners are clear about its stance in this respect. (Paragraph 57)

12.   We recommend that the FCO should ensure that its Turkish partners are in no doubt that the 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, or imagine the realisation of, close UK-Turkey relations and Turkey's EU membership. We further recommend that the FCO should offer support to the package of reforms announced by the Turkish Justice Minister in January 2012 and should let its Turkish partners know that it would welcome the opportunity to assist in its further development and in further reforms in the justice system as they may request, involving also the Home Office and Ministry of Justice as appropriate. (Paragraph 68)

13.  Turkey has made welcome improvements in human rights standards in many areas over the last decade, but there is the appearance of a reversal in some respects. Many of the most potentially worrying developments concern legal proceedings, so it is often hard to form an assessment in the absence of firm public information about the relevant evidence, but we are clear that the current climate in Turkey is limiting freedom of expression and the media. This is despite the release on bail of four prominent journalists in March 2012, which we welcome. We conclude that Turkey's human rights record remains a problem for the "strategic partnership" with the UK which we support, and for Turkey's EU accession prospects. We recommend that the FCO should suggest that the Turkish government encourage prosecutors and judges to exercise restraint in the use of arrest and pre-trial detention, pending more thorough-going reform of the justice system. We further recommend that the FCO should seek every opportunity to help Turkey in practical ways to achieve further improvements in its human rights practices, including as regards freedom of expression and the media. (Paragraph 76)

Kurdish situation

14.  Prospects for peaceful steps towards reconciliation between Kurds in the south-east and the Turkish state appear to be receding and in the process of being replaced by a return to confrontation and armed conflict. We are concerned about the civilian casualties—both inside and outside Turkey—which are being caused by the upsurge in the use of violence by both the PKK and the Turkish state. We recommend that the FCO should urge the Turkish government to make clear that the peaceful participation of representatives of the Kurdish community in Turkish public life remains welcome. We further recommend that the FCO should urge representatives of the Kurdish minority to condemn PKK violence and clearly spell out their wishes for enhanced cultural rights and sub-national government within Turkey. We further recommend that the FCO should offer the parties assistance, on the basis of the UK experience with Northern Irish terrorism and UK devolution, in exploring practical steps that could be taken now towards ending violence and achieving an accommodation between the Turkish state and Turkey's Kurdish minority. (Paragraph 85)

New constitution

15.  We conclude that a new constitution could be a unique opportunity to advance democratic, liberalising and pluralistic reform in Turkey and signal both at home and abroad a decisive break with the country's more authoritarian past. We welcome the Turkish government's ambitions in this respect, but we are concerned lest the constitutional momentum is lost amid renewed confrontation between government and opposition and Kurds and the Turkish state. We are further concerned in case the new constitution raises fresh risks to the independence of the judiciary. We recommend that the FCO should continue to remind its Turkish partners of the international importance that would attach to a successful constitutional reform effort. (Paragraph 90)

Turkey as a foreign policy partner

Turkey's international position and policy

16.  We conclude that the Government is correct to have identified Turkey as possessing assets, characteristics and influence that potentially add value to UK foreign policy, and to be seeking a stronger foreign policy partnership accordingly. (Paragraph 97)

Non-Western turn?

17.  We have encountered no evidence to suggest that Turkey has made an overarching foreign policy re-alignment away from the West. Rather, Turkish foreign policy is best regarded as becoming more 'normal', in the sense of focusing on Turkey's region, pursuing national security and economic interests, and better reflecting Turkish public attitudes. The FCO should not underestimate the extent to which this shift may generate unavoidable differences between Turkish and UK perspectives and policies. However, we conclude that—as long as its foreign policy efforts are directed towards the same ultimate goals—Turkey may sometimes add value as a foreign policy partner precisely because it is distinct from the UK. (Paragraph 103)

18.  We conclude that 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. (Paragraph 112)

19.  We conclude that Turkey has a particular value for the UK as a friendly state able to talk to Iran. However, Turkey's alignment with the West and the Arab League in the Syrian crisis, and Ankara's hosting of an element of the NATO missile defence system, may put its capacity to continue to fulfil this function vis--vis Tehran under severe strain. Nonetheless, we further conclude that Turkey's decision to contribute materially to the implementation of NATO's new Strategic Concept in respect of ballistic missile defence is welcome. (Paragraph 119)

Exaggerated influence?

20.  We conclude that the fact that Turkey has experienced foreign policy setbacks, and may not wield as much influence as is sometimes thought, should not disqualify it as a foreign policy partner for the UK. Ankara has been addressing longstanding issues and conflicts that continue to challenge many other powers, including the UK. We recommend that the FCO should approach foreign policy co-operation with Turkey positively and in a spirit of realism. (Paragraph 125)

21.  We conclude that Turkey is a more valuable partner for the UK when it has strong relations with Israel than when it does not. (Paragraph 129)

Turkey as 'model'?

22.  With respect to Turkey's potential influence on democratising states in North Africa and the Middle East, we conclude that the FCO is correct to treat Turkey as an 'inspiration' in broad terms, rather than as a specific 'model'. We agree with the FCO that Turkey has welcome influence as an example of a predominantly Muslim secular democracy, albeit one that remains 'work in progress'. We recommend that the FCO should make clear to Turkey that it would be able to support Turkey's 'inspirational' role more strongly were Turkey to improve its democratic and human rights practices, and, above all, to resume progress towards an accommodation with its Kurds. (Paragraph 134)

Energy security

23.  We conclude that the FCO is correct to have identified Turkey's crucial importance for EU access to Caspian gas. However, the stalling of Turkey's EU accession process is losing the EU influence over Turkey's energy policy decisions. (Paragraph 143)

Economic and commercial relations

Turkish economy

24.  We conclude that the Government is correct to have identified Turkey as a rising regional economic power. We recommend that the Government should not allow any short-term setbacks to Turkey's economic performance to cause it to weaken its efforts to intensify UK-Turkey economic ties over the longer term, which must remain its focus. (Paragraph 149)

UK-Turkey trade and commercial relations

25.  We conclude that the Government is correct to have identified significant potential to expand UK commercial relations with Turkey, although the competitiveness of the market should not be under-estimated. While we welcome the galvanising effect of the Prime Minister's target of doubling bilateral trade from 2009 to 2015, we recommend that the Government and its partners should bear in mind the need to build much longer-term relationships if the UK is to strengthen significantly its commercial presence in Turkey. The FCO needs to be clear about the balance between the trade and the investment potential of specific sectors in Turkey, and about the lessons that the UK may learn from the relative success in Turkey of other countries such as Italy. We further recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO should update us on the Government's activities aimed at increasing Turkey's visibility to the UK business community. (Paragraph 159)

26.  As UKTI's Defence and Security Organisation seeks to expand the UK's share of the Turkish defence and security market, we will—as one of the Committees on Arms Export Controls—closely scrutinise UK exports of strategic goods to Turkey, to ensure that they comply with the Consolidated Criteria for licensed arms exports. (Paragraph 161)

EU-Turkey Customs Union

27.  We conclude that the EU-Turkey Customs Union is not working as effectively as it should to liberalise trade, partly because the lack of movement in Turkey's EU accession process appears to be contributing to Turkey's unwillingness to implement fully its Customs Union obligations. We further conclude that the Customs Union is anyway unsatisfactory because it excludes the services sector, including legal services. Given the UK's comparative advantage in the sector, we recommend that the Government should explore any options open to it on a bilateral basis to encourage Turkey to liberalise access to its market for UK services, particularly lawyers and legal services firms. (Paragraph 165)


Membership goal

UK support for Turkey's EU membership

28.  We conclude that the Government is correct to continue to support Turkey's accession to the EU, subject to Turkey meeting the accession criteria. Turkish accession would be likely to boost the EU's economic growth and international weight. We further conclude that the Government's continuing support for Turkey's EU membership provides a strong basis on which to develop enhanced UK-Turkey bilateral relations. (Paragraph 173)

29.  Although the UK would not be expected to hold a referendum on any EU Accession Treaty with Turkey, we recommend that the Government should seek to foster popular support for Turkish accession as part of its broader efforts to enhance Turkey's standing with the British people. (Paragraph 175)

30.  We conclude that the Government is correct to be planning to impose restrictions on the right to free movement from Turkey to the UK following any accession to the EU by Turkey (although it is by no means certain that Turkey's accession negotiations will reach this stage before the next UK General Election). We recommend that the FCO should if necessary take steps to mitigate the risk that the Government's stance on this issue might damage the UK's standing among Turkey's population. (Paragraph 179)

What kind of EU?

31.  We recommend that, if and when it is required again to consider the possible incorporation of the new intergovernmental 'fiscal compact' into the EU Treaties, the Government should bear in mind the implications of EU Treaty change of this sort for possible future accession countries such as Turkey. (Paragraph 183)

Blocked accession process

Stalemate costs

32.  Turkey's EU accession—a key Government objective with respect to the country—is stuck, effectively hostage to the Cyprus dispute. 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. We regard this as especially regrettable at a time when Turkish democracy and work on the proposed new constitution 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. (Paragraph 194)

Cyprus breakthrough?

33.  We recommend that the Government should offer every assistance to UN Secretary-General Ban and Special Adviser Downer that they might feel would contribute to the securing of a Cyprus settlement by mid-2012. We further recommend that if this effort fails and there is still no settlement on Cyprus once Cyprus's period as President of the EU Council is completed at the end of 2012, the Government should consider whether any alternative approach to the Cyprus situation, by itself and the international community, might be more likely than previous efforts to yield a settlement. We further recommend that the FCO should support the use of prospective revenues from possible gas reserves off Cyprus to facilitate a settlement on the island. (Paragraph 200)

EU-Turkey partnership?

34.  We recommend that the Government should encourage EU personnel and institutions, including High Representative Ashton, to explore with Turkey ways of developing a partnership outside—but not prejudicial to—its EU accession process, which we continue to regard as having key strategic value. (Paragraph 205)

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 4 April 2012