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


1.  The Government has set out to strengthen the relationship between the UK and Turkey. In July 2010, in Ankara, the Prime Minister signed a renewed UK-Turkey "Strategic Partnership" agreement with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoan.[1] The Government's ambitions with respect to Turkey form part of its strategy of strengthening the UK's bilateral relations with a range of emerging states, beyond the UK's traditional US and EU ties. This is a major element in its foreign policy.[2] Reflecting this, when the Foreign Affairs Committee was formed in July 2010 we decided that over the course of the Parliament we would conduct inquiries into UK relations with and Government policy towards several emerging powers, including Turkey. We conducted our first such inquiry, into UK-Brazil Relations, in spring 2011.[3] In June 2011, we decided to launch our Turkey inquiry as the second in the series.

2.  The Foreign Affairs Committee last conducted an overarching inquiry into Turkey in 2001-02, after the EU gave Turkey official EU candidate state status in 1999, and before the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won office in November 2002.[4] More recent select committee work on Turkey has focused on its EU candidacy: our predecessor Committee considered Turkey's EU accession process as part of its 2006 Report on Developments in the EU, following the UK's Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2005;[5] and the then Business and Enterprise Committee conducted an inquiry into Turkey's EU accession in 2008.[6] In the 2010 Parliament, the Home Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry in spring 2011 into Implications for the Justice and Home Affairs area of the accession of Turkey to the European Union.[7]

3.  We conducted our inquiry at a timely moment. During 2011 and into 2012, the unfolding of the 'Arab Spring' highlighted and intensified Turkey's emergence as an important regional influence.[8] Meanwhile, as we prepared our Report early in the year, Turkey's EU accession process in 2012 appeared to face either a breakthrough (after eighteen months of stalemate), or continued stagnation and possible deterioration (when Cyprus assumes the rotating Presidency of the EU Council on 1 July)—depending on the outcomes of the French presidential election in April-May and the UN-sponsored effort to reach a settlement on Cyprus by mid-year.

4.  We announced our terms of reference in July 2011. We invited submissions of evidence which addressed the following questions in particular:

  • How should the Government's efforts to strengthen UK-Turkey relations be assessed, especially with respect to the economic and commercial spheres?
  • To what extent is Turkey a helpful partner for the Government's foreign and security policy, in the Middle East and North Africa, the South Caucasus, Central Asia or the Western Balkans? To what extent is Turkey such a partner for the UK in NATO?
  • To what extent do Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) function as models for other Muslim countries and organisations in a way that is helpful for UK Government policy, particularly in the context of the 'Arab Spring'? How should Turkey's role in this respect affect UK Government policy towards it?
  • Should the UK Government be concerned about trends in the quality of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Turkey, including the rights of ethnic and religious minorities (including the Kurds) and freedom of expression?
  • Is the Government correct to continue to support Turkey's membership of the EU? If so, what should the Government do to reinvigorate Turkey's EU accession process—for example, with respect to other EU Member States and EU policies, or the issue of Cyprus, as well as Turkey itself? Does Turkey still want to join the EU?
  • How important is Turkey to UK and EU energy security? How compatible are UK and EU, and Turkish, energy interests? How should Turkey's energy role affect UK Government policy towards the country?[9]

We did not seek to duplicate the work conducted in 2011 by the Home Affairs Committee on Turkey and EU justice and home affairs issues (which included consideration of legal and illegal migration from and through Turkey). We have drawn on the Home Affairs Committee evidence and Report where relevant.[10]

5.  We held four evidence sessions, two before and two after we visited Turkey at the beginning of November 2011. We took evidence from Dr Glnur Aybet, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, University of Kent at Canterbury; Katinka Barysch, Deputy Director, Centre for European Reform; Sir David Logan, KCMG, former British Ambassador to Turkey (1997-2001) and Chairman, British Institute at Ankara; John Peet, Europe Editor, The Economist; John Roberts, Energy Security Specialist, Platts (giving evidence in a personal capacity); Dr Philip Robins, Reader in Middle East Politics and Faculty Fellow, St Antony's College, University of Oxford; Dr Mina Toksoz, Head of Country Risk, Standard Bank International (giving evidence in a personal capacity); and the Minister for Europe, Rt Hon David Lidington MP, and officials. We received 35 written submissions—from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the British Council and the BBC World Service; the Turkish Embassy in London; a number of academic and think-tank specialists; and a range of representative and campaign groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We list on page 91 the written evidence we received.

6.  In Turkey in early November 2011, we visited Ankara and Istanbul. We held informal discussions with representatives of the Turkish government and all four parliamentary parties, our counterpart Committee and a range of NGO representatives, academics, think-tank specialists and journalists, representatives of the Turkish and international business community, students and third country diplomats. We publish an outline of our programme in Turkey as an Annex to this Report. Before travelling to Turkey, we were hosted to lunch in London by the Turkish Ambassador, HE nal evikz. Later in November, we were especially pleased to be able to hold an informal meeting in London with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu, who was accompanying President Gül on his State Visit. We would like to thank all those who provided evidence, spoke to us, hosted us or otherwise assisted us in our inquiry, including British Ambassador to Ankara David Reddaway and Consul-General Jessica Hand, the relevant UK teams in Ankara and Istanbul and the FCO in London, Meltem Bykkaraka at the Turkish Embassy in London, Fadi Hakura at Chatham House and staff of the House of Commons Library.

7.  We have also discussed Turkey-EU relations in the context of our ongoing 'rolling' inquiry into EU Enlargement and Foreign Policy, including during a short visit to EU and NATO institutions in Brussels in September 2011 and in an evidence session in November with Baroness Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission.[11] We also met informally with Enlargement Commissioner tefan Fle on two occasions in 2011 when he was in London.

8.  We identified two overarching strands in the Government's Turkey policy:

  • an effort to strengthen the bilateral relationship with Turkey, as a "strategic partner" for the UK, and
  • support for Turkey's accession to the EU.

Accordingly, we have arranged our Report into two parts. In Part One, we assess the Government's effort to cultivate Turkey as a "strategic partner", focusing on the overall effort (Chapter 2), Turkey's domestic political development and human rights (Chapter 3), Turkey as a foreign policy partner (Chapter 4), and economic and commercial relations (Chapter 5). In Part Two, we assess the Government's support for Turkey's EU accession, focusing on the objective (Chapter 6), the current process (Chapter 7), and ideas about an EU-Turkey partnership distinct from the accession process (Chapter 8). Throughout, we have sought to be alert to linkages between the two strands of Government policy.

1   "Turkey/United Kingdom Strategic Partnership", Ankara, 27 July 2010, via FCO website ( Back

2   For example, William Hague, "Britain's Foreign Policy in a Networked World", speech at the FCO, London, 1 July 2010, via FCO website ( Back

3   Foreign Affairs Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2010-12, UK-Brazil Relations, HC 949 Back

4   Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2001-02, Turkey, HC 606 Back

5   Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2005-06, Developments in the EU, HC 768 Back

6   Business and Enterprise Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Keeping the door wide open: Turkey and EU accession, HC 367 Back

7   Home Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2010-12, Implications for the Justice and Home Affairs area of the accession of Turkey to the European Union, HC 789 Back

8   We are conducting a separate inquiry into British foreign policy and the 'Arab Spring': the transition to democracy.  Back

9   Foreign Affairs Committee, "Announcement of new inquiry: UK-Turkey Relations and Turkey's Regional Role", press notice, 15 July 2011 Back

10   Home Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2010-12, Implications for the Justice and Home Affairs area of the accession of Turkey to the European Union, HC 789 Back

11   Oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 21 November 2011, HC (2010-12) 1642-i Back

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Prepared 4 April 2012