Ex-Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher dies, aged 87

We are deeply saddened to learn that Baroness Thatcher has passed away. She has many great, inspiring quotes but here is a special one on Turkey and UK, from her visit to Ankara in 1988: “… We well understand that you see Turkey’s application for full membership of the European Community as a further step in your progress—in Ataturk’s words—”in the direction of the West” as part of the momentum of your history. The Commission of the European Communities are now preparing their opinion—which is the normal procedure—and that will become the basis for the Community’s collective decision; I cannot predict what that will be but I can assure you that in any event Britain will continue to give full weight to the long history of our relations with Turkey through our many common interests and the fact that we are already partners in so many common endeavours, a partnership that we wish to sustain and indeed to strengthen.”

Full text of the speech can be found here.

EU welcomes new Turkish law on foreigners

The European Union has welcomed a new Turkish law on foreigners and international protection, hailing the move by the Turkish Parliament as a “clear sign” of Turkey’s efforts to establish a sound legal and institutional framework for migration and asylum.

A joint statement released by EU commissioners Stefan Füle and Cecilia Malmström on Friday said the European Commission welcomes the adoption by the Turkish Parliament of the law on foreigners and international protection. It added that this law and the institutions that it provides for indicate Turkey’s clear commitment to build an effective migration management system in line with EU and international standards.

According to the law, foreigners and those who have international protection cannot be sent back to places where they could be subject to torture, inhumane treatment or humiliating punishment, or where they would be threatened due to their race, religion or membership in a certain group.

The law stipulates that foreigners who are subject to comprehensive investigations while entering the country can be forced to wait for only four hours. Another article of the law allows Turkish authorities to ban a foreigner for only five years but if that person is seen as a serious threat to public order and security, his or her ban can be increased to 10 years. Foreigners with expired residence permits will be given only a year’s ban if they appeal to a governor’s office.

The law stipulates that foreigners who stay in Turkey for more than 90 days should apply for a residence permit. The residence permit will become invalid if not used for six months.

According to the new law, authorities will have the right to investigate marriages of foreigners to Turkish citizens in the case of “reasonable suspicions” of fraudulence. Foreigners who have stayed in Turkey with a valid residence permit for eight years uninterruptedly can be given an unlimited residence permit.

The commission also said in the statement that it welcomes the advanced steps taken by Turkey in the area of respect for human rights.

“It is also worth noting that the adoption of these key reforms takes place amid substantial and commendable efforts deployed by Turkey to provide assistance and protection to a very high number of people fleeing the conflict in Syria,” the statement said.

Since the revolt in Syria began two years ago, more than 1.2 million Syrians fleeing violence and persecution have registered as refugees or await processing in neighboring countries and North Africa, the UN says. They include 261,635 in Turkey, mostly staying in 17 camps, many of them overflowing.

The commission said it is confident that, once properly implemented, this law will also address several issues identified in the Commission Roadmap for visa liberalization which will constitute the basis for the visa liberalization dialogue once this begins.

“The Commission is ready to extend its support with all necessary instruments to Turkey in its quest to reshape its migration and asylum management,” the commission concluded.

Source: Today’s Zaman

Photo: Anadolu Ajans, Mehmet Kaman

UK lawmakers support strategic ties with Turkey, raise human rights issues

British Prime Minister David Cameron (R) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a meeting in 10 Downing Street, in London, on March 31, 2011. The UK House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee supported the government’s policy of seeking closer ties with Turkey. (Photo: EPA)

A UK parliamentary committee has given its blessings to the government’s policy of supporting Turkish membership in the European Union and establishing a strategic partnership with Turkey, but highlighted concerns about human rights abuses that it said make it difficult for the UK to advocate closer links with and EU membership for Ankara.

 

“Turkey possesses assets, characteristics and influence that potentially add value to UK foreign policy,”  the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report assessing UK ties with Turkey and Turkey’s regional role. “It is also a rising regional economic power with which there is significant potential to expand the UK’s economic and commercial relations, although the competitiveness of the market should not be underestimated,” the report said of Turkey.

The British government is thus “right to continue to support Turkey’s accession to the EU” and “to be seeking to strengthen the UK’s relations with Turkey, as a ‘strategic partner’ for the UK.” But Turkey’s human rights record remains a problem for the strategic partnership with the UK and for Turkey’s EU accession process, the report warned, highlighting problems in regard to freedom of the press in particular.

“Shortcomings in the Turkish justice system are damaging Turkey’s international reputation and leading to human rights abuses, in ways that make it harder to advocate close UK-Turkey relations and Turkey’s EU membership. The current climate in Turkey is limiting freedom of expression and the media,” it said.

The British government is a staunch supporter of Turkish membership in the EU but the process has come to a virtual halt amid disputes over Cyprus and reluctance in some European states to welcome Turkey as a member.

During a visit to Turkey in July 2010, British Premier David Cameron accused France and Germany, the two EU heavyweights that are opposed to Turkish membership, of double standards for expecting Ankara to guard Europe’s borders as a NATO member while closing the door to EU membership.

The Foreign Affairs Committee report said the government’s pro-Turkish membership position is justified, but said there should be restrictions on the right to free movement from Turkey to the UK after any accession by Turkey to the EU. “Turkey’s accession would be likely to boost the EU’s economic growth and international weight,” the report said, but lamented that the EU accession process is “effectively hostage to the Cyprus dispute.”

“Neither Turkey nor the EU is likely formally to suspend or abandon the accession process in the foreseeable future. However, by undermining the force of EU leverage, the stalemate in the accession talks is having consequences in Turkey that are detrimental to UK objectives there, as well as to Turkish citizens looking to the EU as an anchor for liberalizing domestic reforms. This is especially regrettable at a time when Turkish democracy may be in a critical phase,” it said.

By helping to create uncertainty over the timing, if not the fact, of Turkey’s EU accession, the stalemate is also discouraging both the EU and Turkey from starting to address some of the most difficult issues that would be involved in Turkey’s EU membership.

Middle East role and visa

The UK lawmakers also dismissed suggestions that Turkey is moving away from the West by implementing a new, more assertive foreign policy that seeks closer links with its Middle Eastern neighbors.

“We have encountered no evidence that Turkey has made an overarching foreign policy re-alignment away from the West,” it said. “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) should not underestimate the extent to which the increased independence and regional focus of Turkish foreign policy may generate differences between Turkish and UK perspectives and policies. However, as long as its foreign policy efforts are directed towards the same ultimate goals, Turkey may add value as a foreign policy partner precisely because it is distinct from the UK.”

It further said that the Arab Spring protests across the Middle East and North Africa have brought Turkey closer to its Western allies, including the UK, “demonstrating the utility of Ankara’s strong relations with the Arab League.”

“Turkey has a welcome influence in the Middle East and North Africa as an example of a predominantly Muslim secular democracy, albeit one that remains a ‘work in progress’,” the report said.

The committee also criticized the British government’s visa policy towards Turkey, saying it remains an obstacle for closer links with Turkey, calling on the Foreign Office to explore ways to make it easier for Turkish nationals to obtain British visas, particularly for frequent visitors.

Source: Today’s Zaman