Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report


Turkey in its region

106. It is sometimes claimed that part of Turkey's importance is the role that it can play as a bridge between Europe and the Islamic world. The Foreign Secretary has spoken of Turkey's "pivotal role".[120] In fact, by taking a conscious decision to look westward since the foundation of the Turkish republic, Turkey has in many ways turned its back on the Middle East. Dr Philip Robins was dismissive in his evidence to us of the notion that Turkey could act as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East in more than a geographical sense, telling us:

    "personally I would tend to see the European Union as a bridge for better relations between Turkey and Iran. Turkey has always looked west, is very much oriented towards the West, it has tried to keep out of Middle Eastern politics for many years ... It does not particularly understand Middle Eastern politics or Middle Eastern dynamics ... It is not comfortable operating in those circumstances. I would say that the European Union, or some European Union countries, have better relations with Iran than Turkey has with Iran."[121]

107. Dr Robins was also dismissive of another frequently raised idea, that Turkey is a model of democratic governance for the region.[122] It is certainly true, as the Foreign Secretary has said, that "Turkey has been able to show ... that it is possible for there to be a secular country, which represents 98% Muslims in its population".[123] It was the view of David Barchard that "the difference between Turkey and Syria, or the difference between Turkey and Iraq, or even the difference between Turkey and Iran, is rather like the difference between day and night."[124]

108. Dr Robins, on the other hand, has told us that "Turkey is insufficiently democratic to parade a democratic platform which fuses Islam and democracy, but on the other hand ... insufficiently inclusive in terms of the moderate Islamist forces inside Turkey to have a credibility in the wider Muslim world."[125] However successful the Turkish model may have been in Turkey, other countries in the region have so far shown no signs of interest in adopting it themselves, and there are a number of indigenous factors which make a transfer of Turkish experience unlikely.

109. Following the events of September 11 2001, and the beginning of the global campaign against terrorism, in February of this year the Turkish Government held a conference in Istanbul of Foreign Ministers from the countries of the European Union and of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), with the aim of bringing together leaders from the Western and Islamic worlds. This is precisely the sort of event that Turkey is ideally placed to organise. What the Conference itself achieved is open to question. The Foreign Secretary has said, perhaps sensing scepticism in the air, that "not all conferences are useful, but I think this one is",[126] while an article in the Wall Street Journal on the conference trailed with the by-line "A Muslim-European summit is short on honesty and long on clichés".[127] It seems that a number of bilateral meetings in the margins of the conference were more productive. Providing a forum for impromptu bilateral meetings is often the clearest benefit of such conferences. The strong British delegation, led by the Foreign Secretary, which attended the OIC, was commented on with much approval by those we met in Turkey. 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.

110. According to Dr Malcolm Cooper, Turkey "appears to switch erratically from the pursuit of European integration to attempts to become a regional Asian power".[128] Whether or not Turkey is well-placed to bridge the divide between Europe and the Islamic world, it is certainly the case that Turks have day-to-day personal and trading contacts with their eastern and southern neighbours—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia—to a much greater extent than Europeans do. Turkey also has a special relationship with the new republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia, in many of which languages are spoken which are closely related to Turkish. The one neighbour with which Turkey seems to have truly negative relations is Armenia, mainly because of a long-running dispute over whether a genocide of ethnic Armenians was committed by Ottoman Turks in 1915.[129] We experienced during our visit the extreme emotion that this dispute arouses within Turkey, emotion which is quite incomprehensible to us as outsiders, given how long ago these events took place. We recommend that the Government should encourage Turkey to build good relations with all its neighbours, and to view improved partnerships with both the European Union and Asia as two mutually complementary


Illegal drugs

111. Most of the heroin used in the United Kingdom passes through Turkey.[130] This does not appear to be due to laxity on the part of the Turkish authorities. To a great extent it "is simply the map", a factor of Turkey's geographical position.[131] Dr Philip Robins told us that until recently the British Government was very critical of the Turkish authorities' failure to act effectively against the illegal drugs trade, but that over the last two years there has been a great improvement.[132] Certainly, in its evidence to us, the FCO makes much of British-Turkish counter-drugs co-operation.[133]

112. Since 1994, the British Government has spent more than £1 million on bilateral counter-drugs assistance to Turkey.[134] If this has made it more difficult for heroin to reach Europe, it is hard to think of money that has been better spent. We recommend that the Government continue to place a very high priority on counter-drugs co-operation with Turkey.

113. There is a danger that if Turkey's hopes of EU accession fade, its programme to take action against illegal drugs may lose urgency. Because there is very little use of hard drugs within Turkey, preventing such drugs from entering the country is not a high domestic priority.[135] Philip Robins has told us that Turkish officials are under the impression that successful co-operation against hard drugs may offset shortcomings in other respects as far as Turkey's EU candidacy is concerned,[136] and that there might therefore be a cost in terms of this co-operation if Turkey's candidacy stalls.[137] We conclude that while Turkey's efforts to combat the illegal drugs trade should certainly be taken into account when assessing progress on Turkey's EU candidacy, linking the two too closely could mean that if Turkey's EU candidacy stalls, so might co-operation against illegal drugs. We therefore recommend that the Government should look for incentives which are unconnected to Turkey's prospects for EU accession which could be used to encourage the Turkish authorities to maintain their vigour in acting against the illegal drugs trade.

114. Much of the heroin that passes through Turkey is brought from Iran. Philip Robins has drawn to our attention the low level of co-operation between Turkey and Iran in combatting the hard drugs trade. According to Dr Robins, this is because the Iranian anti-drugs effort is directed at combatting the high levels of heroin abuse in Iran, and therefore at limiting the flow of heroin into Iran, not out of it. We agree with Dr Robins that "there is a lot of potential ... for trying to bring about closer co-operation between the Turkish and Iranian governments to the benefit of both parties and of course ultimately to the benefit of all of us."[138] We recommend that the Government should use its good relations with both the Turkish and Iranian authorities in the fight against illegal drugs to encourage the two countries to co-operate in this field. We further recommend that the Government should consider making funds available to assist in such co-operation.

Bilateral relations

115. It is often, as Dr William Hale recognises, hard to distinguish the United Kingdom's bilateral relations with Turkey from the two countries' multilateral relations within NATO and through the EU.[139] There are some individual areas of bilateral significance on which we have recommendations to make, relating to visas, encouraging Turkish students to the United Kingdom and ministerial visits. But there is also a more general point. The United Kingdom is well placed to assist Turkey's EU candidacy. Many of the concerns that Turkey has about joining the EU are shared or have been shared by the United Kingdom. Turkey is by no means the only country to have had doubts about whether full membership of every aspect of the EU is compatible with its sovereignty and with the sort of country that it aspires to be. Moreover, the United Kingdom, like Turkey, has suffered an indigenous terrorist threat. Both countries have been shaped by this ordeal, and both have experiences that they can share. 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.


116. The entry-clearance office at the British consulate in Istanbul is for many Turks the first contact that they have with the United Kingdom. We were therefore concerned to receive from a number of sources serious complaints about visa issuing processes at the consulate. According to David Barchard, "essentially travel to Britain is now denied to Turks on average incomes unless on official business ... there are numerous complaints about the lack of courtesy of British visa officials".[140] In the view of Professor Norman Stone, "the present visa business makes enemies for us. The system does seem to be unnecessarily harsh and humiliating. Turks from all walks of life dread it, and horror-stories abound".[141] We were told by the British Council during our visit to Ankara that an improvement in entry clearance procedures was the one reform that would make the greatest difference to their work.

117. We discussed the visa operation with the British Consul-General in Istanbul, and we have sought further information from the FCO.[142] The FCO has identified a serious problem with visa applications requiring a second interview and with applications for settlement. The majority—about 78 per cent—of visa applications are straightforward, and of these 99 per cent are processed within 24 hours of receipt. More complicated applications require a second interview. In December 2001 the average waiting time for a second interview was 104 days, as against a best practice target of 10 days. We assume that applications in this category have been the main cause of complaint. Many people apply for a visa to visit the United Kingdom for a specific event within a specific timeframe. Even if they are granted a visa after 104 days have passed, this will often simply be too late for them to use it.

118. A review in January 2002 of the visa operation in Istanbul by the Joint Entry Clearance Unit made a number of recommendations for reform, most of which have now been implemented. In March 2002, the waiting time for a second interview stood at 76 days, a definite improvement on the figure of three months earlier, but still far too long, as the FCO accepts.[143] There also seems to have been an improvement in management of the visa operation, and consequently in staff morale, which we hope will have a positive effect on customer relations.

119. We take very seriously our remit, which includes not only the policy, but also the administration and expenditure of the FCO. Entry clearance officers carry out highly pressured and important work which receives little recognition. One of the reasons why it is so important is that it can effect, for good or for ill, the United Kingdom's image abroad, particularly among the population at large. We conclude that work by the FCO to improve service delivery at the visa operation in Istanbul appears slowly to be having positive results, but that there is still some way to go before targets for second interviews will be met. We intend to keep this situation under review, and we recommend that the Government in its response to this report keep us updated on progress towards meeting these targets.


120. Encouraging Turkish students to come to the United Kingdom is an important way of promoting understanding of the United Kingdom in Turkey. The Government has an "open door" policy for international students, heralded by the Prime Minister in June 1999.[144] David Barchard has called for "more broadly based dialogue with all sections of Turkish society, beginning by trying to have more Turkish students in the UK and perhaps making it easier for Turkish students, who will, one assumes, some day be citizens of the European Union, to study in British universities".[145]

121. We heard during our visit to Turkey that the poor reputation of the British visa-issuing service in Istanbul was discouraging Turkish students from applying to study in the United Kingdom. Hopefully, as the visa operation improves it will leave this reputation behind it. The actual percentage of student applications refused, at 16 per cent in 2001, while considerably higher than the global refusal rate, also indicates that a very large proportion of student visa applications are accepted.[146] The delay at second interview stage is evidently as much a barrier as rejection for Turks hoping to attend English-language courses in the United Kingdom at relatively short notice.

122. Chevening scholarships are awarded by the FCO to outstanding overseas graduates for post-graduate study in the United Kingdom. The amount of money available to fund Turkish graduates has been almost halved in recent years, from £854,360 in 1999-2000 to £450,291 in 2001-02. This is largely a result of the reallocation of funds within the Wider Europe command to Russia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (including Kosovo). While we understand the point made by a witness from the FCO that "this is simply a hard choice we are having to make in straitened budgetary times between a variety of very worthy countries",[147] we regard it as extremely unfortunate that Turkey should have lost out to such an extent just as it became a candidate for membership of the EU. Chevening scholarships help to build personal links between high-flying young Turkish people—possibly the leaders of the future—and the United Kingdom. Given the importance of Turkey, and given that every encouragement of pro-British and pro-European sentiment in that country must be welcome, we believe that shifting Chevening allocations from Turkey to eastern Europe was very much a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. We recommend that the Government find a means of raising Chevening allocations to Turkey to their former level, either by the redistribution of available funds or by applying to the Treasury for an increased total allocation in the next public expenditure round.

123. Turkey will shortly begin participation in the European Union's SOCRATES programme, which will give Turkish students far easier access to higher education in other EU member states. This makes it all the more important, if the United Kingdom is to attract the best and brightest Turkish students, that the barriers to such students coming to the United Kingdom are no greater than they are for other EU member states. We are pleased to see the reassurance from the Foreign Secretary that the Government works in close partnership with the European Commission, and that they aim to have "coherent and mutually reinforcing" programmes.[148]

124. The other side of this coin is of course British interest, or lack of it, in Turkey. David Barchard has written of the "striking poverty of Turkish studies in the UK and paucity of well-informed work about the country".[149] Professor Clement Dodd notes that "six of the ten or so specialists in this field are either well into retirement or on the point of retiring".[150] Dr Philip Robins has suggested "greater funding for Turkish studies in the UK and more money for research on Turkey and for joint projects with Turkish institutions".[151] We are not in a position to judge the extent of this problem, but there does seem to be a startlingly limited understanding of Turkey in the United Kingdom. We recommend that the Government examine ways of encouraging an increased interest in Turkey in the United Kingdom, and of building links between British and Turkish educational institutions to promote mutual understanding.

125. There are about 250,000 people of Turkish origin living in the United Kingdom. They have, as David Barchard notes, "strikingly failed to develop notable spokesmen". [152] Nonetheless, they constitute a resource which should not be ignored in promoting personal, business, cultural and other bilateral contacts. We recommend that the Government consider ways of involving the Turkish population in the United Kingdom in projects to enhance British-Turkish relations at the level of civic society.


126. The Foreign Secretary was evidently proud to be able to tell us in oral evidence (as he did several times) that he had visited Turkey twice within the previous five months.[153] It has been put to us by Philip Robins that "the importance of presentation and symbolism in managing bilateral relations" is particularly true in the case of Turkey.[154] Dr Robins expanded on this convincingly in oral evidence:

    "if we can get our presentation in order ... it will certainly provide a much better context in which we can go at some of these problems together in a low-key and businesslike sort of way. I think a regular stream of high level visitors really did serve the United States extremely well here and that is precisely the sort of thing that has never really happened with the European Union. Jacques Delors never visited Turkey, for instance. I think Robin Cook spent four hours in Turkey during his term as Foreign Secretary. Tony Blair has not visited Turkey even though I think he is interested in Turkey ... High level visits of this kind, even if they are only vacations with a little bit of official business tagged on at the end, would mean an awful lot and would certainly play very well."[155]

127. We are pleased that the Foreign Secretary has visited Turkey, and that he attaches so much importance to the personal relationships that he has forged there.[156] Given the quantity of foreign travel undertaken by the Prime Minister in recent months, much of it connected with the campaign against terrorism, we are somewhat surprised that he has not visited Turkey. Given Turkey's size and importance both as a strategic ally and as a trading partner, given its EU candidacy and its role in the campaign against terrorism, we believe that such a visit is overdue.

128. Committees often recommend that a Government minister should visit a country which they have recently visited themselves, and this can devalue the currency of such recommendations. Turkey, however, is a country in which presentation and personal relationships mean much. The simple fact of a visit by the Prime Minister to Turkey could in our view achieve a great deal—much more than would be possible by a visit to most other parts of the world. We conclude that a visit by the Prime Minister would be well received in Turkey and could be of much benefit not only to the United Kingdom's bilateral relations with Turkey, but also to the multilateral relations which the British Government is keen for Turkey to foster.


129. 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.

130. 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 good will 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.

120   Edited transcript of background briefing given by the Foreign Secretary to British journalists in Istanbul, 12 February 2002 - available at Back

121   Q 26 Back

122   Ev 110, para 3 [Turkish Embassy] Back

123   Edited transcript of background briefing given by the Foreign Secretary to British journalists in Istanbul, 12 February 2002 - available at Back

124   Q 113 Back

125   Q 26 Back

126   Edited transcript of background briefing given by the Foreign Secretary to British journalists in Istanbul, 12 February 2002 - available at Back

127   'Dialogue with the Deaf', Wall Street Journal, 21 February 2002 Back

128   Ev 108, para 1 Back

129   Ev 119 [Christopher Walker]; Ev 119-122 [Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide] Back

130   Ev 59, para 33 [FCO] Back

131   Q 35 [William Park] Back

132   Q 35 Back

133   Ev 59, paras 33-34 Back

134   Ev 59, para 35 Back

135   Q 35 [Dr Philip Robins] Back

136   Q 35 Back

137   Q 16 Back

138   Q 35 Back

139   Ev 1, para 2 Back

140   Ev 32, para 11 Back

141   Ev 102, para 3 Back

142   Ev 76-79 Back

143   Q 219 Back

144   'Attracting more international students', Speech by the Prime Minister, 18 June 1999: text available at www.number­ Back

145   Q 132 Back

146   Ev 78 Back

147   Q 219 Back

148   Ev 74 Back

149   Ev 32, para 10 Back

150   Ev 88, section C Back

151   Ev 4, para 10 Back

152   Ev 32, para 10 Back

153   QQ 175, 180, 228 Back

154   Ev 4, para 7 Back

155   Q 27 Back

156   Q 228 Back

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