Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Memoranda




Letter from the Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to the Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 23 July to the Foreign Secretary requesting further information from the Government as to its views on the conclusions contained in the Committee's recent report of its enquiry into UK/Turkey relations[1] (our Command Paper 5529 addressed the Committee's recommendations). In the Foreign Secretary's absence, I am replying as the Minister responsible for Turkey.

  Please find below the Government's point by point response, as you requested.

  (a)   We conclude that Turkey's cultural and religious traditions will make a positive contribution to the diversity of the EU. Pursuing Turkey's candidature even-handedly gives an important signal that the EU is not a closed Christian club, but an open organisation which can embrace those parts of the world within its geographical compass, both Christian and Muslim, which are prepared to accept common political and economic values, including respect for human rights (paragraph 11)[2].

  The Government agrees and would oppose any suggestion that Turkey's candidature is weakened by the fact that it does not share the same cultural and religious background as existing member states.

  (n)   We conclude that Turkey can only make progress in its EU candidacy if it guarantees cultural rights for all its citizens, irrespective of their origin (paragraph 45).

  Cultural rights are covered by the Copenhagen political criteria. The Government's responses to recommendations (b); (c); (d); (e); (f) and (z) underlined the importance of meeting the Copenhagen political criteria and the benefits this will bring to all of Turkey's citizens.

  (r)   We conclude that by providing education at least of the Turkish language through the medium of local languages, and by enabling people to access state institutions through their mother tongue, the Turkish authorities would be enhancing, not diminishing, the cohesion of the Turkish state (paragraph 52).

  The Government agrees with the Committee. The cultural rights of the Kurdish minority are at the centre of a vigorous public debate in Turkey; including, encouragingly, the argument adduced by the committee. All these issues are under discussion between Turkey and the EU, as part of the pre-accession process.

  (s)   We conclude that Turkey is unlikely to meet the Copenhagen political criteria regarding freedom of expression and freedom of association until there is a fundamental change in the way that the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities act and think (paragraph 56).

  The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion. Constitutional and legislative reforms, impressive though they are, need now to be translated into daily practice throughout the country.

  (v)   We conclude that the military is a factor in domestic politics which the Government and the EU cannot afford to ignore (paragraph 63).

  The Government considers it important to keep in contact with all parts of Turkish society. The UK in fact has extensive contacts with the Turkish military in the course of NATO business and other co-operation proper to close allies. The Government believes that such contacts can have some beneficial effect on the role played domestically by the Turkish military, including promoting wider support for, and deeper understanding of, the reforms entailed in the EU accession process.

  (x)   We conclude that there is an awkward tension between the EU's emphasis on democratic standards and civilian control of the military, and the concern of Turkey's NATO allies (many of which are also of course EU member states) that Turkey should remain a western-orientated secular society at all costs, even if this means disenfranchising those elements in the Turkish population who support political Islamism, however moderate (paragraph 66).

  The Government believes that its efforts to help Turkey comply with the Copenhagen criteria are the best way to ensure that such tension does not arise.

  (ee)   We conclude that progress in negotiations between Turkey and Greece aimed at resolving boundary disputes in the Aegean would be good news not only for Turkey's EU candidacy but also for the stability of the region as a whole (paragraph 85).

  The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion.

  (ff)   We conclude that it is almost inevitable that Cyprus will be accepted as a member of the EU at the Copenhagen European Council in December 2002, whether a settlement has been reached or not. This is a political fact with which Turkey must come to terms (paragraph 86).

  The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion but continues to stress to all the parties involved that a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement remains achievable within the timeframe. As the Seville European Council concluded: "The Helsinki conclusions are the basis of the European Union's position. The European Union's preference continues to be for the accession of a reunited island. The European Council fully supports the efforts of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and calls upon the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities to intensify and expedite their talks in order to seize this unique window of opportunity for a comprehensive settlement, consistent with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, hopefully before conclusion of the negotiations. The European Union would accommodate the terms of such a comprehensive settlement in the Treaty of Accession in line with the principles on which the European Union is founded: as a Member State, Cyprus will need to speak with a single voice and ensure proper application of European Union law. The European Union would make a substantial financial contribution in support of the development of the northern part of a reunited island".

  (ii)   We conclude that because of its geostrategic position, its military strength, its secular political system, its Muslim population, and its utter commitment to fighting terrorism, Turkey is an extremely valuable ally in the ongoing war against terrorism (paragraph 94).

  The Government agrees wholeheartedly with the Committee's conclusion.

  (jj)   We conclude that it remains uncertain whether Turkey would be prepared to support a US military intervention in Iraq under current circumstances (paragraph 98).

  The Government notes the Committee's conclusion.

  (kk)   We conclude that Turkey's strategic role is fully compatible with its EU aspirations, but that, contrary to what sometimes seems to be believed in Turkey, its strategic importance does not significantly enhance Turkey's prospects of EU accession (paragraph 103).

  The Government believes that Turkey's candidature, like others, must be dealt with on its merits and that the requirement for opening negotiations is compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria.

  (ll)   We conclude that whatever the reasons for the Turkish Government's eventual agreement to ESDP, the role of the British Government in negotiating the terms of this agreement was crucial and we congratulate those responsible. We further conclude that Turkish brinkmanship on ESDP should be borne in mind in the context of other negotiations, such as those for a settlement in Cyprus (paragraph 105).

  The Government notes the Committee's conclusion.

  (mm)   We conclude that there is probably only a limited extent to which Turkey can bring together Europe and the Islamic world, but that it is well worth the effort of it trying to do so (paragraph 109).

  The Government notes the Committee's conclusion and applauds Turkey's efforts to bring Europe and the Islamic world together. The Government views Turkey as pivotal in its region, a factor for stability and a repository of expertise.

  (rr)   We conclude that the United Kingdom, as a committed but not uncritical member of the European Union, is in a particularly good position not only to show understanding for Turkey where it has concerns about the potential impact of the EU accession process, but also to play an important part in allaying these concerns, where this is possible (paragraph 115).

  The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion.

  (xx)   Turkey is a major regional power and the only working secular democracy in its part of the Muslim world. There are many potential barriers to Turkey's wish to join the EU: human rights shortfalls, the role of the military, Cyprus, and, even if all those bridges are crossed, the economy. The country has some uncomfortable choices to make. Some Turks fear that meeting the EU's criteria will require them to abandon long-held principles on which the Turkish state is established. As is natural in a democracy, Turkey may not always make the choices that outsiders want it to make, and it may take longer than they would like to make those choices. In our view, it would benefit the EU to have Turkey as a member: it would expand its horizons, open up new markets, and show its inclusiveness to the Muslim world. The EU accession process will also bring advantages to Turkey: not only prosperity and stability, but also human rights and civil liberties (paragraph 129).

  The Government believes there is much good sense in the Committee's views. The Government welcomes Turkey's EU candidature.

  (yy)   Turkey needs to take ownership of the political and economic reforms required of it by the EU. Human rights and economic reform are good for their own sake, not just because they are required by the EU or the IMF, and there are many in Turkish civil society, and a growing number in Government, who see this. EU member states for their part need to bear in mind the instability and animosity that will almost certainly result if Turkey turns away from the EU. Turkey's accession in the short term is unlikely, as all concerned know in their hearts. What is crucial is that the door to accession should remain open for as long as it takes. This will require much effort and goodwill on both sides. The prize is great. We are convinced that the British Government can play a crucial role in helping Turkey, and the EU, to achieve that prize (paragraph 130).

  The Government agrees that the door to accession should remain open for as long as it takes and believes that the Seville European Council conclusions showed the EU's determination to encourage the reform process in Turkey: "The European Council welcomes the reforms recently adopted in Turkey. It encourages and fully supports the efforts made by Turkey to fulfil the priorities defined in its Accession Partnership. The implementation of the required political and economical reforms will bring forward Turkey's prospects of accession in accordance with the same principles and criteria as are applied to the other candidate countries. New decisions could be taken in Copenhagen on the next stage of Turkey's candidature in the light of developments in the situation between the Seville and Copenhagen European Councils, on the basis of the regular report to be submitted by the Commission in October 2002 and in accordance with the Helsinki and Laeken conclusions".

Rt Hon Peter Hain MP

Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

29 July 2002

1   Sixth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-02, Turkey, HC 606. Back

2   Paragraph numbers refer to recommendations of the Committee's Sixth Report, HC (2001-02) 606. Back

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