Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report


The Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:



Turkey's candidacy for EU membership, agreed in December 1999, is the focus of this Report. Prejudices, which are particular to Turkey's candidacy, shape attitudes both in the EU and in Turkey. Turkey's candidacy is welcome in principle, and concerns within the EU about cultural and religious difference, and longstanding historical animosity, need to be set aside. On the Turkish side, there is a need to overcome mistrust of Europe and to encourage more widespread understanding of the EU. Turkey's size and large population and its borders with several countries of concern give rise to reasonable hesitation within the
Turkey must meet objective political criteria before it can begin to negotiate for accession. Despite a number of legislative reforms, the human rights situation on the ground in Turkey has improved little. The prevalence of torture can only be tackled by changing attitudes and by improving forensic skills. Issues of minority rights, freedom of expression and capital punishment are highly politicised. Outsiders must exercise great sensitivity when demanding reform in these areas, which is nonetheless essential. The role of the military in domestic Turkish politics has not always been negative, but it is incompatible with EU membership. It does not bode well for Turkey's prospects of EU membership that this role is unlikely to change substantially in the short term.
Financial assistance to Turkey from the EU has been substantially less generous than that to other candidates, and needs to be reassessed. Turkey's inclusion in the Convention on the Future of Europe is welcome.
The idea that reform can be encouraged by setting a date for accession negotiations is problematic. A settlement of the Cyprus problem before the end of 2002 would be highly beneficial to Turkey's hopes of EU accession.
Turkey is an extremely valuable ally in the ongoing war against terrorism, which is likely to assume an important role in maintaining security in Afghanistan, but which is deeply concerned about the possibility of a US military intervention in Iraq. Turkey has little in common politically with its Asian neighbours, but it has a limited role to play in bringing together Europe and the Islamic world.
The United Kingdom is in a particularly good position to encourage progress in Turkey's candidacy. British visa operations in Istanbul have been subject to unacceptable delays, but these are now gradually being tackled. Ways of improving British-Turkish understanding include the possibility of a visit to Turkey by the Prime Minister.

Background to the inquiry

1. Turkey is of great importance to the United Kingdom. It is a long-standing strategic ally and fellow member of NATO. It is the only secular Muslim democracy in its region. It is a major trading partner. Since December 1999, Turkey has also been a candidate for membership of the EU, and is by far the largest of the current candidates both in terms of geographical size and population. It is a welcome candidate, but also a problematic one. For all these reasons, we resolved in November 2001 to inquire into "the United Kingdom's relations with Turkey, with reference to Turkey's role in European defence structures and its prospects for accession to the European Union". In the course of our inquiry, many of the complications relating to Turkey's role in European defence structures were resolved. Consequently, Turkey's EU accession prospects are the main focus of this report.

2. On 5 February we heard oral evidence from a panel of independent experts: Dr William Hale of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Dr Philip Robins of St Antony's College, Oxford, and Mr William Park of the Centre for Defence Studies, King's College London. A week later, we took evidence successively from Mr Michael Leigh of the Enlargement Directorate in the European Commission, Mr David Barchard, an analyst with many years' experience of Turkey, and from Dr Heidi Wedel and Mr Tim Hancock of Amnesty International. On 4-7 March we visited Turkey, calling on a wide cross-section of those involved or interested in Turkey's EU application, both in Ankara and Istanbul.

3. On 21 March we held our final oral evidence session of the inquiry, hearing from the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, accompanied by Mr Peter Ricketts and Mr John MacGregor from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). We also visited Cyprus on 24-27 March, meeting leading figures from both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, as well as from the United Nations. A full programme of both our visits is annexed to this report. We have received substantial written evidence, which is published at pages Ev 1-Ev 125. We are extremely grateful to all those who have helped us in our inquiry.

Turkey's EU candidacy


4. Turkey's EU candidacy is best understood in the context of the country's recent history. The idea of the Turkish nation state is relatively new, and is a direct consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman empire after the First World War. The mistrust that often underpins Turkish attitudes towards western Europe dates back to this time, and to the Treaty of Sevres of 1919, under which the territory that now makes up Turkey was to have been partitioned between a number of European countries, among them the United Kingdom. The Turkish state owes its existence to a successful military campaign led by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk), following which a new Treaty was signed at Lausanne in 1923, recognising the state almost to the extent of its current borders.

5. The ideology on which Atatürk founded his state has become known as Kemalism. Turkey was and is a unitary state with a strong national identity, and it is secular, with state and religion strictly separated. The army is entrusted with the protection of the state, not only from external enemies, but also from internal threats, both to the country's territorial integrity—the "indivisible unity of the Turkish state" is enshrined in the Turkish constitution—and to the Kemalist nature of the state.[1]

6. Although Europe was and is an object of mistrust for many Turks, Atatürk also equated Europe with modernity, and believed that the Ottoman Empire had collapsed because of its failure to modernise. He therefore looked westward, and sought to turn Turkey into a modern European state. As Dr David Shankland writes: "Turkey is a Muslim country, but it is one formed in Europe's image."[2]

7. In a speech in 1924, Atatürk said "The decline of the Ottomans began when, proud of their triumphs over the West, they cut their ties with the European nations. This was a mistake which we will not repeat."[3] It was this context that drove Turkey to be among the first countries to apply for membership of the European Economic Community, signing an Association Agreement as long ago as 1963. However, Turkey's progress towards membership has been slow. The Customs Union envisaged in the Association Agreement was put in place only in 1995. Turkey's rejection as a formal candidate for membership of the European Union at the Luxembourg European Council in December 1997, when many countries were accepted as candidates which until only a few years before had been communist dictatorships, engendered much anti-European feeling in Turkey. Turkish leaders claimed that Turkey's candidacy was being blocked on religious grounds, following comments by the Chairman of the European People's Party that "the European project is a civilisational project. Turkey's candidature for full membership is unacceptable",[4] and reports that the then German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, had described the EU as "a Christian club".

8. This negative atmosphere altered at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, when Turkey was accepted as a candidate to join the EU. The results of this acceptance were an improved relationship on a number of levels, including co-operation in tackling illegal drugs smuggling,[5] and the commencement of a legislative programme designed to bring the Turkish constitution and legal codes into line with the Copenhagen political criteria.[6] Turkey can only begin formal accession negotiations once these criteria have been met. The difficulty is that Turkey's vision of itself as a nation under threat from both within and without is often believed to require a strong army with a role in preserving domestic stability, and limits on individual rights and freedoms—neither of which is acceptable under the Copenhagen political criteria.

9. Before examining in more depth Turkey's efforts to meet these criteria, it is worth asking two fundamental questions about Turkey's candidacy. On the one hand, there is concern in Turkey that the EU may be bluffing, that it may have no real intention of allowing Turkey to become a member. On the other, Turkey's own commitment to take the steps necessary to become a member of the EU is sometimes uncertain,[7] as when the Secretary-General of the National Security Council recently suggested (perhaps as a counter-bluff) that Turkey should be looking to ally itself with Iran and Russia, rather than pursuing its EU candidacy.[8] Is the EU serious about Turkey, and is Turkey serious about the EU?


10. The political and economic criteria set out at Copenhagen in 1993 need to be fulfilled by Turkey before it can become a member of the EU.[9] But a country does not become a member of the EU on the objective judgement of the European Commission alone. Its accession must be agreed unanimously by the Governments and the Parliaments of the current members of the Union. Some of these may have reasons for not wishing Turkey to be a member of the EU, even if it does succeed in fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria. We will consider in turn possible barriers to Turkey's membership: concerns about cultural and religious difference; concerns about geographical position, size and population; and traditional enmity.

Cultural and religious difference

11. When we asked a representative of the European Commission about statements by certain European leaders that the EU is an exclusively European, Christian organisation, from which Turkey should therefore be excluded on principle, we were assured that "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"—a statement which we welcome.[10] We find objectionable the idea that Turkey should be excluded from the EU because 98 per cent of its population is Muslim, or because it is somehow culturally different from its southern European neighbours.[11] There are large Muslim communities in this country and in other European countries, who are already active citizens of the EU. If Cyprus becomes a member of the EU, as it is shortly expected to do, the EU will include—at least notionally, and hopefully in practice—a largely self-governing Turkish Cypriot Muslim community. We conclude that Turkey's cultural and religious traditions will make a positive contribution to the diversity of the EU. Pursuing Turkey's candidacy evenhandedly 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.

12. We heard in Turkey that the country's accession hopes may be stalled if Edmund Stoiber is elected German Chancellor in September. Some in Turkey believe that he opposes Turkey's candidacy altogether, partly for cultural reasons, and partly because he fears the effect of Turkey's accession on the size of Germany's own Turkish community. These would be bad reasons for opposing Turkey's candidacy, and we believe that the British Government can play an important role in ensuring that they are not allowed to prevail. We welcome the Foreign Secretary's statements to us that "We want to see Turkey in ... We are completely committed to them joining if they fulfil the Copenhagen criteria."[12] We recommend that the Government speak out forthrightly in defence of Turkey's EU candidacy whenever it is opposed on the grounds of culture or religion.

Geographical position, size and population

13. Turkey physically borders two of the three states on President George W Bush's 'axis of evil'—Iran and Iraq—as well as Syria, which has a long history of promoting terrorism abroad. It also borders on the Caucasus, another region of instability. It could be, as David Barchard has suggested,[13] that Turkey's accession to the EU would have a stabilising influence not only on Turkey itself but on the region more generally. Member states, however, are unlikely to be comfortable with the idea of the EU sharing land borders with such troublesome


14. According to the OECD, Turkey's population in 2000 was approximately 66 million (about 18 per cent of the current population of the EU), projected to increase to 83 million in 2020, by which date its population is expected to be larger than that of any other individual EU member state or candidate.[14] Meanwhile, its per capita GDP, at 6,400 PPS[15] (a little more than a quarter of the EU average), is lower than all of the other candidate countries except Romania and Bulgaria.[16] We can only agree with David Barchard that "Turkey's size and large population means that the task of 'digesting' it in the EU will be a formidable and prolonged one and both sides have to be realistic in recognizing this fact and coping with it".[17] Such 'digestion' is considered particularly important in the case of Turkey because it has a very mobile workforce, which might seek work en masse elsewhere in the EU, if the domestic economy were not sufficiently strong to provide a comparable standard of living locally after the expiration of any transitional period on freedom of movement of labour.

15. Turkey's accession would also affect the balance within the EU between small and large member states, and might therefore necessitate a further round of institutional reform. As a large state, Turkey would expect to be able to send at least one Commissioner to Brussels, but following the accession of the 27th member state (Turkey is likely to be the 28th), the number of Commissioners will be fewer than the number of member states. Turkey's accession would therefore probably deprive one of the other member states of its right to appoint a Commissioner.

16. With the accession of twelve other candidates likely before Turkey's turn comes— candidates which will, according to the Foreign Secretary, increase the population of the European Union by 20 per cent, but its GDP by just 4 per cent—it would hardly be surprising if EU member states were inclined to stop to take breath before seriously considering Turkey's accession.[18] Added to this is the further complication of institutional adjustment. The Foreign Secretary has told us that "if the European Union ends up by being able to cope with the accession of these [other candidate] states, it will be able to cope with Turkey's accession".[19] Nevertheless, member states and the Commission are unlikely to be keen to hurry the process along. We conclude that Turkey's geographical position, size and population, and its comparative poverty, may well delay the eventual date of its accession. We recommend that the Government, while it should remain committed to encouraging Turkey in its candidacy, should also temper this encouragement with the pragmatic advice that accession is certain to be some years away.

Traditional enmity

17. Relations between Greece and Turkey have improved greatly in recent years, not least because of the efforts made by the two countries' foreign ministers, George Papandreou and _smail Cem. There remain two potential stumbling blocks to this new climate of friendship, however: disputed maritime boundaries in the Aegean, and Cyprus, both of which are discussed more fully below.[20] Any EU member state can veto the candidacy of any other country, and the accession of any candidate can be vetoed either by a member state's Government or by its Parliament. It is feared in Turkey that the Greek Parliament, if not the Greek Government, might exercise this right of veto. There is an even greater fear that in the absence of a settlement on the island the accession of Cyprus would lead to a double veto which would prevent Turkey beginning accession negotiations, let alone becoming a member of the EU.[21]

18. Turkish politicians often complain that Turkey is not on a level playing field with the other candidate countries. We have no doubts about the impartiality of the European Commission and its abilities to judge Turkey objectively according to the Copenhagen criteria. But in one sense it is true that Turkey is not on a level playing field. The other candidates have no enemies who might veto their accession. Indeed, Cyprus has the support of Greece to the extent that Greece would be prepared, it is reported, to veto the entire enlargement project rather than see the first wave of enlargement proceed without its chosen protegé.[22] Turkey has no such friend. The European Commission may judge that Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria entirely, but if the Government or Parliament of one member state opposes Turkey's accession, Turkey cannot accede. We recommend that the Government do all it can to ensure that Turkey's progress towards EU accession is judged according to the objective Copenhagen criteria, and that it is not unreasonably obstructed by individual member states.


Insecurity about European motives

19. All of those that we met in Turkey—politicians, journalists, academics, commentators and businessmen—claimed to support Turkey's EU candidacy. It is clear, however, that not all factions within the Turkish state are fully committed to carrying out in practice the reforms required for Turkey to meet the criteria for EU accession. This lack of commitment is exacerbated by doubts that the EU will ever accept Turkey. During our visit to Turkey, even the Chairman of the EU Secretariat-General, Ambassador Volkan Vural, whose task is to co-ordinate Turkey's EU candidacy within the Government, and Ambassador Özdem Sanberk, Director of TESEV, an NGO dedicated to promoting Turkey's candidacy, expressed concerns on this score.

20. It is obvious that insecurity runs particularly deep in Turkey about Europe's true intentions towards its candidacy, and that this needs to be borne in mind in any statements made by the British Government. We welcome the Foreign Secretary's clear statement to us that "I very much hope and the United Kingdom Government hopes that Turkey will become a full member of the European Union, and we are giving every encouragement we can to them. The question of rejection does not arise".[23] This is precisely the sort of statement that deserves repeating frequently and with some force for the benefit of the Turkish authorities and public. We recommend that the Government make regular statements both publicly to the Turkish media and in private to the relevant Turkish authorities, restating the Government's commitment to Turkey's eventual membership of the EU and reassuring the Turkish public that Turkey's candidacy is being treated on the same terms as every other candidacy.

21. It was suggested to us on a number of occasions in Turkey that a clear indication from the European Commission of a date on which formal accession negotiations will be opened—a 'green light'—would help greatly to allay misgivings about the EU's intentions, and would give the reform project added impetus. We consider in greater detail below, in our analysis of Turkey's efforts to meet the Copenhagen political criteria, whether such a green light would be either feasible or useful.[24]

1   Ev 109, para 5 [Malcolm Cooper] Back

2   Ev 92, para 3 Back

3   Quoted in 'Dialogue with the Deaf', Wall Street Journal, 21 February 2002 Back

4   Quoted in Andrew Mango, "Turkey and the Enlargement of the European Mind" Back

5   Q 16 [Dr Robins] Back

6   These are the political conditions required of applicant states before they can assume the obligations of membership of the EU. They were established by the Member States at the Copenhagen European Council 1993. The political criteria are: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. Back

7   Q 70 [Mr Leigh] Back

8   'A general speaks his mind', The Economist, 16 March 2002 Back

9   The Copenhagen economic criteria are: the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union; the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union; and the conditions for its integration through the adjustment of its administrative structures, so that European Community legislation transposed into national legislations is implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures. Back

10   Q 51 Back

11   Ev 31, para 8 Back

12   QQ 176, 178 Back

13   David Barchard, Building a Partnership: Turkey and the European Union, Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, October 2000 Back

14   OECD Projections (1997) Back

15   Purchasing Power Standard (PPS) is an artificial currency of which every unit can buy the same amount of goods and services in every state in a specific year, allowing income comparison between countries. Back

16   Eurostat news release No 129/2001 Back

17   Ev 35, para 26 Back

18   Q 183 Back

19   Q 183 Back

20   See paras 85-92 Back

21   Appendix 1, Ev 83 [Professor Sonyel], for example Back

22   eg 'Turks and Greeks break ice', The Guardian, 13 February 2002; 'Meeting boosts hopes of Cyprus deal', Financial Times, 17 January 2002 Back

23   Q 186. Back

24   see paras 80-84 Back

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