Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 49 - 59)




  49. Mr Leigh, we welcome you to help us in our inquiry into Turkey, particularly in its relations with the European Union. Let us begin in relation to the overall position. We know that there is likely to be a big bang in respect of a number of the applicant countries, perhaps in 2003-04, so that they will be ready for the elections to the European Parliament at that time. We know that two of the countries, Bulgaria and Romania, accept that they will not be in the first wave but rather hope that they will be ready and acceptable by some two or three years after that, 2007-2008, and those dates presumably have been pencilled in by the Commission. Have any dates been pencilled in in respect of Turkey?

  (Mr Leigh) Turkey would like a date to be fixed and has on numerous occasions requested that a date be fixed. Our reply is that the first step is for Turkey to satisfy the political criteria for membership. We always point out that these political criteria, decided in Copenhagen in 1993, have been applied equally to all candidates. This is something which Turkey has always sought, to be treated on the same basis as other candidates. We remind Turkey that in the past, in the case of Slovakia, for example, we did not fix a date or open negotiations because the political criteria had not been satisfied yet. Therefore, until now we have not been in a position to fix a date. We have rather insisted on the need to satisfy the political criteria, which we are monitoring closely, together with Turkey, but we know that Turkey has the ambition that this year a date should be fixed and would like to see that decided, perhaps at the Seville European Council, which I think is most unlikely, or in any event at the Copenhagen European Council at the end of the year. But on our side we have made no commitments at all in that respect.

  50. Are you saying that in no circumstances, unless and until the political criterion has been satisfied, will a date be set?
  (Mr Leigh) It is hard for me to speak on behalf of the 15 Member States, but this would be the practice until now. Of course we do not know what the atmosphere will be at the end of the year. If Turkey were to make steady progress during the course of this year towards satisfying the political criteria, if there were to be positive developments in other areas, under the enhanced political dialogue of the Cyprus question, border disputes, improvement of relations with neighbouring countries and so on, there might be a more positive climate at the end of the year—and, as we noted, the conclusions of the Laeken European Council were already more forthcoming than any previous European Council in this respect. Therefore it is very hard for me to prejudge what the Member States might decide at Copenhagen at the end of the year, but I think the former position has to remain, that it is necessary first to satisfy the political criteria.

  51. It is the working assumption that once the political criteria have been satisfied, there will be no remaining barrier. Because there have been suspicions in the past that there is among some Member States a vision of a re-creation, if you like, of a Holy Roman Empire; that an Islamic state, by its nature, could not be acceptable within that revived Holy Roman Empire. Is that still a sentiment amongst some nations?
  (Mr Leigh) That has certainly always been a fear in some Turkish minds, that the European Union was not sincere in its commitment to Turkey, possibly for reasons of the sort that you are mentioning. However, I think our Heads of State and Government, the European Parliament, all official bodies of the European Union have always made absolutely clear that the European Union is based on common values, common principles and not on a particular culture or a particular religion.

  52. It is a fear, to be fair, which has been fuelled by statements made by certain leading European Christian Democrat statesmen.
  (Mr Leigh) One of the things that we always point out to the Turks is that when you live in a democracy, whether in the European Union or in Turkey itself, you have to expect all currents of opinion to be represented, including the one to which you are referring—and it is absolutely beyond doubt that there are those in the European Union who share the sentiments to which you have referred. But I always draw the Turks' attention to the official position taken by our Heads of State of Government, the European Parliament, which in 1997, after a certain Christian Democrat meeting, was unmistakable in the resolution that it adopted along the lines that I have just mentioned. So I think one should pay more attention to the official position than to currents of public opinion which inevitably exist.

  53. How then do you answer this, that some claim that Helsinki rather took the Commission by surprise and that there has not been a sufficient response in terms of building up staff resources under you.
  (Mr Leigh) As to Helsinki taking us by surprise, I would point out that the Commission was intimately involved in the negotiations at Helsinki, and Mr Verheugen, the Commissioner, together with Mr Solana, made a mission to Ankara in the middle of the proceedings of the Helsinki European Council to explain the position to the Turks. So the Commission has been intimately involved in this from the very beginning. As to the Commission's capacity to handle EU-Turkey relations, since then the Turkey team, for which I am responsible, in the Commission has been considerably enlarged in terms of staff resources (particularly well trained people have been selected, there is a high competence in economic matters, even in knowledge of Turkish language and so on) and I think the Commission is quite well able to handle our end of EU-Turkey relations.

  54. How many officials do you have serving under you?
  (Mr Leigh) I have in the Turkey team itself some 18 officials.

  55. How does that compare, for example, with the Romanian team?
  (Mr Leigh) It is about the same size as the Romanian team.

Ms Stuart

  56. May I take you a bit further on, to Turkey's readiness to become a candidate country. I thought it was very interesting that Turkey is given a place in the Convention even though it is not an applicant country in the strict sense. Nevertheless there is a real sense that Turkey is being asked to perform things which countries like Bulgaria and Romania are not. You yourself made reference to steady progress. Could you be a little bit more specific—let us say, if Turkey came to you and said, "Name me three things which in the next 12 months we would like to see happen."
  (Mr Leigh) You know we do have an accession partnership with Turkey which was approved by the Member States in March of last year. There we set out, under each of the Copenhagen criteria, priorities: short-term and medium-term priorities. The most important in the political sphere, first of all, are those covered by enhanced political dialogue; ie, improvement of relations with neighbouring States, in particular Greece; Turkey's support for the efforts of the United Nations Secretary General to solve the Cyprus problem; and, within Turkey, improvements in the human rights' situation, particularly concerning freedom of association, freedom of expression. Other matters referred to concern the death penalty, civilian control of the military, education and such matters. I would say these are the top items, the priorities on which we asked Turkey to focus under the political criteria for membership.

  57. And these are things which Turkey could possibly deliver in that short time.
  (Mr Leigh) A really striking feature is that, since the accession partnership was drawn up Turkey has responded with its own National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis in which it takes upon itself to adopt various pieces of legislation to meet these priorities, and the most striking developments since the adoption of this document have been the constitution amendments, which were adopted in Turkey towards the end of last year, which do aim to expand the fundamental freedoms, including those to which I have referred, and most recently a legislative package of reforms which also is intended to implement some of the constitutional amendments in the areas that I have mentioned to you but which fall short of our expectations.

  58. The Chairman referred in his remarks to the re-creation of the Holy Roman Empire—and, I suppose, to give some comfort to Turkey, there are a couple of countries like Great Britain that were not part of the Holy Roman Empire! But there is an argument to be made that maybe the Member States within the EU could do more in terms of our diplomatic efforts and public efforts to enable Turkey to be ready in a shorter time space. From your point of view, are there things which we could do to make that easier?
  (Mr Leigh) I think that bilateral assistance, programmes from the Member States in parallel with what the EU as such is doing, is very useful, preferably in a coordinated way, to make sure that we are not overlapping unnecessarily. I do think that there are many areas (particularly, for example, the provision of expertise on constitutional law, advice and support in the drafting of legislation and then many technical areas related to the Acquis) where they are trying to adopt new laws but where they need specialist support. To some extent we try to coordinate the provision of this support through EU programmes, for example through the Technical Assistance Information Exchange Office in Brussels, but I think the Member States and the United Kingdom in particular could develop their own programmes in parallel with ours to help Turkey prepare.

  59. Could you be more specific where you think we could be more helpful. I know, for example, that the Germans, when they changed the nationality laws also brought some changes in intellectual property law which enabled relationships to improve. Is there something in particular which Britain could bring to the table which other Member States could not, which would speed up that progress?
  (Mr Leigh) I think in the technical area one would have to look through the various priorities under the Acquis and see which areas we are addressing in our programmes and where the main gaps would remain. I think in the area of constitutional law, the strengthening of democracy, human rights, Britain is extremely strong and could provide support to the Turks. I think one would really need to sit down and go through the list of priorities, see which are being addressed through our own bilateral aid programme, which goes up to a certain point but is of course limited, and identify gaps and see where one could imagine that British programmes could complement them. But I think one would have to sit down and do that in a rather systematic way, which I cannot on the spur of the moment.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 30 April 2002