Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report



86. The very first of the political priorities in Turkey's accession partnership is to "strongly support the UN Secretary General's efforts to bring to a successful conclusion the process of finding a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem". While all the reforms that we have discussed above are vital if Turkey's EU candidacy is to proceed, progress on Cyprus is a sine qua non. It has been argued by the Turkish Government that the Republic of Cyprus is legally precluded from acceding to the European Union, an argument which the British Government does not accept.[99] In the view of many Turks, the EU is showing extreme bias by allowing the Government of the Republic of Cyprus—composed currently entirely of Greek Cypriots—to apply for membership of the EU, without the participation of Cyprus's Turkish community. We can understand why, seen from the Turkish perspective, this appears unjust, but nonetheless 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.

87. Those we met in Turkey who commented on the Cyprus issue were unanimous on one point. If Cyprus joins the EU as a divided island without a settlement at least being imminent, it will be a serious setback for not only for Turkey's hopes of making progress in its EU candidacy, but in general for reform and for Turkey's European outlook. We also heard from David Barchard that:

    "if southern Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus, is admitted into the European Union in 2003/2004 before negotiations are opened with Turkey, it will certainly use a vote of veto for the foreseeable future to prevent Turkish negotiations being opened. If that happens of course the question [of Turkish accession] would recede into the indefinite future and there would be a climate of extreme bitterness and confrontation."[100]

The Greek Cypriots we met when we visited Cyprus, including President Clerides, denied that they wished to prevent Turkey's EU candidacy from making progress.

88. Our strong feeling, following our visit to Cyprus, is that after so many frustrating years there is at last a possibility that a settlement can be reached between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, bolstered by a certain urgency on both sides. A settlement is very much in the best interests of all concerned, and the obstacles that remain seem, from the outside at least, eminently surmountable. Many of those we met in Turkey and in northern Cyprus felt that the Greek Cypriots had no incentive to reach a settlement, as they would benefit from EU membership in any case.[101] The meetings that we held with Greek Cypriots, including President Clerides, do not back up this fear, understandable though it may be from the Turkish perspective. The Greek Cypriots, for their part, repeatedly claim that the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denkta_ (whom we also met), is not an independent actor, that he cannot act without permission from Turkey. This also is a fear which in our view is misplaced.

89. It is very much in the interests of Turkey that a solution to the Cyprus problem should be found; without one, their own EU application is likely to founder. However, Mr Denkta_ is very much more popular in mainland Turkey than those Turkish politicians who are in Government. The only group in Turkey with any real influence over Mr Denkta_ appears to be the Turkish army. It was apparently on their encouragement that Mr Denkta_ returned to the negotiating table, although it remains to be seen whether they or Mr Denkta_ are committed to a settlement. We recommend that the Government explore—and encourage its allies, including the USA, to explore—the possibility of using its contacts in Turkey, especially those in the military, to promote among Turkish doubters the benefits that a settlement in Cyprus would bring to Turkey, not only in terms of EU accession, but also in terms of regional stability and neighbourliness.

90. We share Dr Philip Robins' assessment that:

    "the Turkish side has woken up to the fact that if they do not do something about it there is going to be the accession of Cyprus short of a political solution ... and a realisation that that will have a massively negative impact on their relationship with the European Union ... The one good thing that one takes from this is that the Turks, whatever they might say, no matter how much they complain and so on, do value the relationship that they have with the European Union and do not want to be in a situation where they are into a dynamic that they cannot affect".[102]

91. Time is short. The Cypriot community leaders, both of them old men with health problems, have set a deadline of June for reaching a settlement. This deadline is not absolute. But with Cypriot accession set for decision in December, and with presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus scheduled for early next year, there is no room to defer this deadline by more than a couple of months.

92. We heard from Michael Leigh that the European Commission is on stand-by in the event of a settlement to provide an emergency "pre-accession programme for the north specially designed", and that member states can easily shoulder the burden of bringing the economy of Northern Cyprus, with a population of little more than 200,000, into line with EU standards, even though it falls far short of the Copenhagen criteria.[103] We conclude that a settlement of the Cyprus problem before the end of 2002 would be highly beneficial to Turkey's hopes of EU accession. If Turkey is prepared to trust the European Union on Cyprus, and to assist in bringing about a settlement, then its own prospects of membership can only be enhanced. However, we recommend that it would be wise for the Government to draw up now a plan of action for the possibility of a divided Cyprus joining the EU, to help minimise the negative repercussions of this in Turkey.

Turkey as a strategic ally

93. At present Turkey is vital strategically to the United States and its allies in the war against terrorism. Turkey's usefulness as an ally is not a criterion in determining its acceptability as an EU member state. Indeed it could be argued that there is a tension between the desire to ensure for strategic reasons that Turkey remains a secular strongly militarised state, and the potentially destabilising effect of implementing the Copenhagen political criteria. Before examining this argument further, we look at Turkey's crucial position in the war against terrorism: as the only member of NATO with a largely Muslim population; as a likely leader of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan; and as an essential base both for the ongoing Operation Northern Watch in northern Iraq, and for any future campaign in Iraq. We also explore the point at which Turkey's strategic role impacts on the EU, through the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).


94. Turkey's commitment to the war against terrorism is, seen from a western perspective, both strategic and symbolic. Turkey has the second largest military force of any NATO member state, it has a relatively stable relatively democratic political system, and the Turkish authorities are viscerally opposed to any internal threat from separatist forces or from political Islam. It 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. Turkey's own struggle against terrorism and its understanding of the problem make it a particularly committed ally. This level of commitment has been much appreciated in the United States.[104] Turkey is important symbolically to the coalition against terrorism because it is a country with an almost entirely Muslim population. Its participation shows that the campaign is directed against terrorists, not against Muslims. 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.


95. After a period of uncertainty, it now appears increasingly likely that Turkey will take over leadership of ISAF in the near future. When we met the Turkish minister for national defence in Ankara on 6 March, he told us that the issues requiring clarification before Turkey would be able to commit to leading ISAF were: financial support; the area of responsibility of the force; total support for Turkey's actions in Afghanistan from the United Kingdom and the United States; and a continued predominance of NATO forces in ISAF. It now appears that all these conditions have been met to Turkish satisfaction. On 1 April the office of Turkey's chief of general staff issued a statement announcing that Turkey had agreed in principle to take over command of ISAF from the United Kingdom.[105]

96. Just because Turks are Muslims does not mean that their role will be appreciated throughout Afghanistan. Turkey is seen by some in Afghanistan—and indeed in Iran—as parti pris, thanks to its long-standing links with and ethnic ties to the Afghan Uzbeks, led by General Dostum.[106] Leadership of ISAF, assuming that it does now go ahead, will be a challenging role for Turkey, although its experience as an international peacekeeper in Bosnia and Kosovo will no doubt stand it in good stead.


97. Since the war in the Gulf, Turkey has been a vital part of US and allied strategy to contain the regime of Saddam Hussein. Operation Northern Watch, to enforce the no-fly zone over northern Iraq, has been carried out from the _ncirlik base in eastern Turkey. Use of this base would also be vital for any future campaign against Iraq. Turkey appears to have two main concerns about an operation in Iraq. The first is that the borders of Iraq should remain inviolable, as Turkey fears that any extension of the autonomy granted to the Iraqi Kurds would increase the demands of Turkey's own Kurdish population for rights and autonomy. The second is that a campaign in Iraq would have a negative effect on Turkey's economy. There is currently a significant amount of illicit trade between south-eastern Turkey and Iraq, to which "there are just a lot of blind eyes being turned" by all concerned, because of the negative economic impact full sanctions would have on both south-east Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds.[107]

98. We heard from William Park that "Turkey is prepared to make resources and facilities available, most especially to the United States, but it is very nervous about Iraq and at every opportunity is reminding the United States of the risks of military involvement with Iraq".[108] These signs of nervousness have been increasing lately in public pronouncements by Turkish government ministers. It is unclear what the real outcome was of a recent visit to Ankara by US Vice-President Dick Cheney. There have been press reports both that the Vice-President was unable to win support for a tougher policy against Iraq,[109] and that there are those within the Turkish army who would be prepared to support a campaign against Iraq, if Turkey had guarantees that it could exploit the fall of Saddam to its economic and political profit.[110] We conclude that it remains uncertain whether Turkey would be prepared to support a US military intervention in Iraq under current circumstances.


99. Turkey is too important to the United States and its allies for them to allow it to fail. Following the economic crisis of 2001 in which the Turkish currency rapidly lost half its value, Turkey is now the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s largest debtor, with one-third of the Fund's total global credit.[111] The IMF's level of investment is such that it too cannot let Turkey fail. Turkey is taking steps to reform its economy, but if it were not, the international community would have little choice but to continue to support it financially. Following the agreement in principle of a further US$10 billion IMF loan in November 2001, the Financial Times reported that "the move was instantly interpreted by many as a political reward as much as a recognition of economic virtue".[112]

100. This causes two potential complications from the perspective of EU accession. First, there is a difference in emphasis between the strategic viewpoint of the US and its allies, which put a strong and stable Turkey far above Turkey's human rights record, and the Copenhagen political criteria, which prioritise reform above stability. Second, there are few levers with which to encourage Turkey to reform. Because of its strategic importance, Turkey will continue to be supported both politically and economically by the international community whether it is on track on for EU accession or not.

101. As we have already stated above, we do not believe that the reforms required by the Copenhagen political criteria will weaken Turkey in any way, although we accept that there are those within Turkey who believe otherwise. We were heartened to hear from the US Ambassador to Cyprus that in the view of the Administration it is not beyond Turkey to "walk and chew gum at the same time" (in other words, both to reform and to maintain the security of the state). But what alternatives does Turkey have to EU accession?

102. According to Dr Hale, "Turkey's likely best option in that situation would probably be to seek a stronger bilateral relationship with the United States". According to William


    "even a Turkey outside the European Union would still trade very heavily with the European Union and would probably be in some sort of security defence arrangement with the European Union and so on ... I am not sure that either membership or non-membership of the European Union would profoundly alter much ... It would shift the emphasis around a little but all of these aspects of Turkey's foreign policy relationships would still exist under any imaginable scenario."

Dr Robins has stated: "I certainly do not think that there is an alternative system or multi-lateral organisation that Turkey could turn to which would be in any way comparable to the European Union." He added, however, that there would be likely to be a cost if Turkey were to turn away from the EU in areas such as co-operation over illegal drugs, over illegal immigration, and possibly even over the issue of Cyprus.[113]

103. Turkey is a vital ally. It is praised and given financial support by the United States and by EU member states because of this—all the more so since September 11—and this can make it hard for Turks to understand why the EU should hesitate to accept such a country as a member. It is important to remember that "there are reasons other than that we like them as soldiers to engage with Turkey."[114] 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.


104. When we began this inquiry, Turkey had not yet agreed to allow NATO assets to be used in operations under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Starting in May 2001, the British Government arranged a number of meetings between the United Kingdom, the United States and Turkey to negotiate a technical text clarifying how ESDP was to be implemented. The terms of this text have not been released, but one of our witnesses summarised his understanding of their content.[115]

105. On 2 December 2001 the Turkish authorities announced that they were content for ESDP to proceed even where it might wish to call upon NATO assets. According to William Park, this "came as some surprise" to the other parties, as nothing new had been on the table for several months.[116] In oral evidence, Mr Park suggested that the motivation on the Turkish side for reaching an agreement could have been two-fold: pressure from the United States, and agreement by the EU that Turkey should have full membership of the Convention on the Future of Europe.[117] Alternatively, he suggests, it could simply have been a matter of brinkmanship: "the Turks dug in, asked for more, recognised by November or December that they were not going to get more, and decided to accept what they had been offered."[118] Dr Hale has suggested that an agreement was possible because there was little face to be lost: "The ESDP tended to drop into the background and I suspect that that was what made it easier for the Turkish to reach an agreement eventually with the EU via the British Government than would otherwise have been the case."[119] 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.

99   Ev 64, para 3. Back

100   Q 120 Back

101   See also Ev 3, para 12 [Dr William Hale]; and Q 72 [Michael Leigh] Back

102   Q 47 Back

103   Q 77 Back

104   Q 24 [Mr Park] Back

105   'Turkey to take over ISAF command', Turkiye news release, 2 April 2002 Back

106   QQ 24, 25 [William Park] Back

107   Q 36 Back

108   Q 24 Back

109   'Cheney pledges Afghan aid to Turkey', International Herald Tribune, 21 March 2002 Back

110   'Ankara marchande son soutien à Bush contre l'Irak', Le Figaro, 20 March 2002 Back

111   Reported to the Committee by interlocutors in Istanbul Back

112   "Between worlds", Financial Times, 20 November 2001 Back

113   Q 16 Back

114   Q 45 [William Park] Back

115   Q 30 [William Park] Back

116   Ev 7, para 17; Q 29 Back

117   Q 29 Back

118   Q 29 Back

119   Q 30 Back

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