Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60 - 79)




  60. Are you satisfied that the financial assistance which is offered by the Union is sufficient?
  (Mr Leigh) This is another bone of contention between the EU and Turkey because the Turks consider that it is not sufficient.

  61. Presumably because they compare the sums available to them with the sums which have been made available to Eastern European countries.
  (Mr Leigh) Exactly.

  62. How big is the disparity?
  (Mr Leigh) The figure for grant assistance post-Helsinki is something of the order of

180 million euro a year.

  63. For Turkey.
  (Mr Leigh) For Turkey.

  64. How does that compare with, say, grants available to Eastern European countries?
  (Mr Leigh) If you take a country you mentioned earlier, Romania, the amount is more than twice as much for Romania under the Phare Programme, ISPA and SAPARD taken together. So it is definitely the case that the countries in Central and Eastern Europe are getting more grant assistance than Turkey is. To complete the picture, one has to say that Turkey also has access to five facilities of the European Investment Bank and was able last year to receive disbursements from the EIB in the order of

400 million euros, which is quite considerable, in addition to the grant assistance.

  65. Other applicant countries also have access to the EIB, do they?
  (Mr Leigh) I think one has to see Turkey at the beginning of this process. Turkey, in a way, is in the same position that some of the east European countries were at the beginning of their pre-accession strategy. I mean, we have only just adopted last year the instruments that the east European countries have enjoyed for the last five, six, seven years, depending on which country we are talking about. For example, one of the main principles of our financial cooperation is decentralisation; that is to say the candidate country itself is expected to implement a lot of the aid programmes, for example by launching tendering procedures for projects and so on. For this they need to put into place certain administrative structures in order to be able to absorb the assistance properly; for example, a central financing and co-ordinating unit (CFCU as we call it in our jargon) which launches tenders; they need to have a national authorising officer for aid programmes; they need to have an aid co-ordinator. The east Europeans have had in place these administrative structures for absorbing assistance from us for many years now. The Turks are only just beginning to put this into place.

  66. As they put those administrative structures in place, is the EU prepared to increase the financial resources available?
  (Mr Leigh) You know that as far as the financial resources are concerned we are subject to the financial perspectives agreed by the Member States for the period through to 2006. For the moment, no additional resources have been foreseen for Turkey. We depend mainly on the Meda funds for the Mediterranean countries to assist Turkey and there are now many additional calls on these funds. So we stand by our commitment.

  67. But you are not prepared to provide additional resources.
  (Mr Leigh) The line that we take with Turkey is: Let us make a success of the funds that we have, which until now have been absorbed very slowly indeed, let us see that Turkey is able to come up with good projects designed to meet specific targets related to the Acquis, let us have a year's experience in our programming successfully and implementing projects, and then we will see. My own view is that it is likely that when the first enlargement takes place, and if we have had a positive record of aid absorption with Turkey in the intermediate period, that the Member States might then be open to consider possible increased resources for Turkey. But I think a good track record in using existing resources is perhaps the most persuasive argument in favour of more assistance.

Mr Hamilton

  68. Can I come back, Chairman, on something that you said, Mr Leigh. You said "Eastern European countries". Turkey is now in the position that many of the Eastern European countries were five or six years ago, yet Turkey has been trying to join the EU since 1959. Why is it so far behind? Is there not any resentment in Turkey that countries that were, 12-15 years ago, communist countries have now overtaken them in terms of their preparedness to join the EU?
  (Mr Leigh) Turkey was recognised as a candidate for EU membership in the combined judgment of our Member States, in whose hands we are, in December 1999 at the Helsinki European Council, scarcely more than two years ago. So in fact the period for preparing Turkey for membership along the lines of the other applicant countries is now scarcely more than two years old. Having been involved in this enlargement business in the Commission myself since 1989, I think we have made far more rapid progress with Turkey in this two year period than we did with the other candidates earlier on. We have been able to learn from the experience of the other candidates, but this experience is only two years old in the case of Turkey. As to the reasons for that, you have to go back into history, and of course there are many considerations on the part of the different Member States as to why Turkey was only recognised as a candidate at Helsinki in 1999, but this is the fact of the matter.


  69. In terms of capacity building, one of the major instruments used in the Central European countries by the United Kingdom was the Know-How Fund. There is no such fund from the United Kingdom in respect of Turkey. What is the view of the Commission in respect of that? Should there be one?
  (Mr Leigh) I think, yes, that sort of initiative would be very useful. We have experience in Central and Eastern Europe that the Know-How fund has really complemented what the EU as such has been able to do. So, by all means, I think an initiative along those lines would be useful.

Mr Chidgey

  70. I want to come back to the issue of the way that Turkey perceives the intentions of the EU. You have touched on it earlier and I think it is quite fundamental. I would like to know whether you believe the suspicion in Turkey that the EU is not particularly serious. I want to know whether you feel that has had any real impact in dragging back the progress that Turkey might otherwise have made, or perhaps reducing the affinity element of the quite fundamental institutional changes that the EU requires, to meet our common principles. Has it had an impact on Turkey's enthusiasm for its application?
  (Mr Leigh) To answer your question I think it is only fair to point to certain doubts and hesitations on both sides. Just as in public opinion in the European Union there are different currents of belief about Turkey as a candidate country, including those to which the Chairman referred earlier, in Turkey as well there are mixed opinions as to the desirability from Turkey's own point of view of joining the European Union. At the moment you have a coalition government with three parties whose degree of commitment and interest in EU membership varies. You hear voices raised in public opinion in Turkey as well, raising questions about whether this is the right course for the country. Against the background of public opinions which are mixed to some extent on both sides, I think that the Turkish government and the Turkish administration has mobilised resources and organised itself as best it can for the time being in preparing for membership. What one sees, in the post-Helsinki period especially, is that deputy prime minister Yilmaz and the European secretariat under his responsibility, of which Volkan Vural is secretary general, have given a major push to the administration. You do see a kind of ginger group amongst these individuals in pressing the different ministries and organisations in Turkey to speed up their efforts. So I think you have a kind of hard core of senior administrators, of co-ordinators among the different ministries and one or two prominent figures at political level who are very committed to this process, backed up by academic, media and business circles, and they are the pressure group, if you like, in favour of speeding up preparations for membership and doing the maximum, but they find themselves face to face with others who are more doubtful or more hesitant. Therefore I think it is a continuous effort for those in Turkey who see this as a priority to persuade some of their compatriots to move in this direction. Indeed, those who are hesitant in Turkey would tend to cite voices in the European Union who are sceptical as proof, so to speak, that the EU is not sincere.

  71. This hesitancy, would it be in any way linked to a fear—however unjust, nevertheless a fear—that entry into the EU would encourage greater regionalisation and devolution and therefore might threaten the sanctity of the Republic of Turkey's borders—and I am thinking particularly of south-east Turkey. Is there a concern that this may encourage this devolution which could in the event lead to the borders of Turkey changing?
  (Mr Leigh) I think that the predominant concern—and this is really speculation, I am seeing it from a distance—I mean, one in a way should have a Turkish witness—I think the main grounds for hesitation among those who do so, is their own belief that certain aspects of the Kemalist tradition may not be compatible with EU membership and they themselves are not ready to make this sacrifice. In particular, I would say, the question of civilian control of the military. The military in Turkey are a very prestigious institution and many in Turkey look to the military as the final guarantee of the territorial integrity of the country and of the secular Kemalist tradition. Of course civilian control of the military is one of the principles of western democracy and it is among the priorities for Turkey to prepare for membership. It must be said that there are those in Turkey who think that Turkey is not perhaps ripe for this or that it is so important to maintain the ultimate safeguard in the form of the military that it might be paying too high a price for Turkey to conform with our political criteria. This is not majority sentiment. You are asking me, in a way, to second-guess the views of those who are sceptical and I think this kind of consideration is in their minds. But, to counterbalance that, one does have to see that in public opinion polls, and certainly in business circles (if you look at the statements of the very strong business representatives Tusiad, IKV and others), the media, academia—let us say informed public opinion, as well as a majority backing for the government in the parliament—these doubts and hesitations are not the ones that win the day.

  Chairman: Thank you. That is very interesting.

Mr Hamilton

  72. What I want to ask refers now to Cyprus. The EU has more or less said that the Republic of Cyprus will join the EU even if the dispute with Turkey is not resolved. What incentive is the EU giving to the Greeks to resolve their dispute with Turkey?
  (Mr Leigh) Perhaps I might begin by briefly recalling that the position you have referred to was part of the same conclusions of the European Council of Helsinki which decided on Turkey's candidacy. One recalls the conditions in which that decision was taken. It is often said amongst Turkish Cypriots and Turks that the Greeks and the Greek Cypriots do not have this incentive for the reason you have given. I can only say that the declarations of the Greek foreign minister Papandreou—and not only his declarations but his acts—and particularly those of President Clerides most recently in Cyprus, give every indication that the Greek Cypriots are indeed very serious in seeking a solution. If you ask why this is—and, again, perhaps you should have a Greek Cypriot witness rather than a Commission witness—I think that the Greek Cypriots are aware that it is more desirable for them to enter the EU without a running conflict. We have always said that we wanted to export stability rather than import instability, and they do not want to be the ones, as it were, to import instability. It is also pretty well understood that as part of any Cyprus settlement there is likely to be a territorial readjustment—this is one of the chapters from which the Greek Cypriots will benefit—and, above all, the Greek Cypriots say that in terms of their own feelings of security they will not feel secure as long as there are 30,000 Turkish troops on the island and clearly the question of security and new security arrangements will be part of any settlement. Therefore, if you put the question to a Greek Cypriot I think you would get this kind of answer: Let the facts speak for themselves: President Clerides' commitment and efforts to reach a solution, and, underlying that, the kind of considerations I have just mentioned show why, notwithstanding the EU's commitment to the accession of the Republic of Cyprus even in the absence of the settlement, there are still strong incentives to reach a settlement for the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

  73. Assuming that there is a settlement of the dispute before or immediately after accession, do you think that Northern Cyprus is ready to accede?
  (Mr Leigh) We have covered the situation in the northern part of the island in our most recent report published in November last year. It is clear that the northern part of the island is lagging behind very significantly in terms of economic development, where the GDP per capita is only something like 20 per cent of the EU average whereas in the part of the island controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus the GDP per capita is up to four times as much, depending on how you measure it. It is also clear that the northern part of the island has lagged behind in terms of direct foreign investment, institution building and many of the other features necessary to function as part of the European Union. Therefore, in the event of a settlement, a special effort will have to be made to overcome regional disparities. This is quite clear.

  74. Can I be clear on something you said. I think you just said that there is up to a 20 fold difference between northern and southern Cyprus.
  (Mr Leigh) Four fold.

  75. You said northern Cyprus was 20 per cent of the EU average, one-fifth, but that the Republic of Cyprus is up to four times greater than the EU average GDP.
  (Mr Leigh) No, 80 per cent of the EU average GDP, some four times higher than the north.

  76. I am sorry.
  (Mr Leigh) So these regional disparities are very great indeed.

  77. That is still a huge disparity.
  (Mr Leigh) It is, but I think one has to be aware that immediately following a settlement the situation in the north would change very significantly. To begin with, the judgment of the European Court of Justice, which has made it difficult for the north to export some of its products, would become moot upon a settlement. The north would open up to investment. Its tourist industry, which is scarcely developed for the time being, has enormous potential, plus the Commission, in its recent information note to the Council on the costs of enlargement, has pencilled in figures for support for the north following a settlement and following accession which is very significant indeed, reaching some

100 million a year by 2006. I also think it quite likely that following a settlement the Member States would be willing to support a kind of pre-accession programme for the north specially designed. When you consider the population of the north—and there are different calculations, but if you take together the Turkish Cypriots as well as the population that has come from Anatolia over the last few years—we are talking about a population of a maximum of some 200,000 and, even though the north is much less developed than the government-controlled areas, the order of magnitude is one that can be coped with.

  78. Finally, can I ask you how close you think they are to a settlement of the dispute?
  (Mr Leigh) I was in Cyprus last week and I had an opportunity to talk with the different actors involved and they are coming to the end of the first phase of these talks in which they have reviewed the four main chapters for a settlement. My impression is that until now they have not got into the substance of the negotiation; they have simply reviewed the respective positions of the two sides. But even this is considerable progress: the fact that Mr Denktash and Mr Clerides are meeting three times a week in the presence of the United Nations, have reviewed all the issues and are committed to seeking a settlement by June of this year is enormous progress compared with the past. Whether they will succeed is another matter. We very much insist that the parties themselves have ownership of the process and in the Commission we do not seek to become involved; on the other hand, we are there to back up and help their efforts. I mean, it really is difficult to say at this point, but, coming back to perhaps the main theme for your hearing, I believe that strong, continued support from Turkey for a positive position by the Turkish Cypriot leader Mr Denktash is essential for further progress, just as support from Greece for efforts to reach a settlement is also essential.

  79. That sounds very optimistic.
  (Mr Leigh) Guarded optimism.

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