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

Britain and Turkey: a new special relationship

The case for a strong bilateral partnership between Britain and Turkey has never been stronger, writes William Hague on Telegraph.

Last year within three months of becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron arrived in Ankara. When asked “Why Turkey?” and, “Why so soon?” he said: because Turkey is vital for our economy, vital for our security and vital for our politics and our diplomacy.

Turkey is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. A young, energetic and entrepreneurial workforce – over half the population is under 29 years old – is an integral part of the success story. Analysts predict that Turkey will be one of the world’s top ten economies by 2050. As we recover from the current economic crisis, the case for a strong bilateral partnership between Britain and Turkey has never been stronger.

This week’s State Visit to the UK by Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, reminds us that Turkey is a country that is developing a new role and new links for itself, within and beyond existing structures and alliances. The UK and Turkey have a strong relationship across the range of foreign policy and security issues. Over the last 18 months we have laid firm foundations for that relationship through an ambitious Strategic Partnership which prompted the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to say that relations with the UK had entered a “golden age.” Indeed they have.

Since the Partnership was signed, we have established a UK-Turkey CEO Forum, composed of around 25 of the most senior business figures from our two countries to discuss the strategic issues that will deliver profitable business for the future. This week’s State Visit provides a platform for forging deeper commercial partnerships. By the end of this year, trade is expected to reach £9 billion, representing a 40% increase since 2009. British companies concerned about falling demand for their products should extend their reach now to Turkey. Many, such as Vodafone, Diageo and Tesco are already doing so.

Turkey is vital for our security: we work together as NATO allies across the world. In Afghanistan, we share the same objectives. Turkish troops and diplomacy are making vital contributions towards the creation of a more secure future, most recently with the valuable discussions at the Istanbul Conference on regional support for Afghanistan. Closer to home, in the Western Balkans we are working together to secure the gains made in the last 16 years to bring stability to the region

Turkey’s important role in the Middle East and North Africa region is clear. Many of those who have taken to the streets during the Arab Spring for a more just, representative form of government have, in Turkey, a very successful example of modern democracy in a largely Muslim country. I’m struck by the contrast between the anxiety in some quarters about the EU’s future role in the world, and the self-confident approach Turkey has taken in recent months to driving forward international collaboration on issues ranging from Afghanistan to Somalia. On Syria, Turkey has played an important role, pressing the regime to stop the violence and engaging with international partners, particularly the Arab League, to intensify wider pressure on Assad.

It’s clear that the UK and our fellow Member States in the EU will have to contend with rapid change and uncertainty in our neighbourhood, across north Africa to central Asia, in the coming years. Few countries are better placed to influence events in this vital region than Turkey. We already benefit from this. My Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, is making active and astute contributions on issues at the heart of the EU’s foreign policy agenda.

Since the launch of EU accession negotiations in 2005, Turkey has taken important strides towards meeting EU standards on human rights, democracy and governance. Turkey has abolished the death penalty, introduced a zero-tolerance approach to torture, improved rights for women and minority groups and, most recently, taken steps to compensate religious foundations. There is still some way to go, but the Turkish Government has committed itself to further progress through a new constitution that will meet the aspirations and demands of a modern democracy and truly represent the interests of all citizens of Turkey. And we want to encourage our Turkish friends to do even more.

And we want to send a message of a full support for energetic Turkish negotiations with the EU. It is deeply disappointing that these have been grindingly slow. If they continue with the same tempo the risk is that Turkish public opinion, traditionally in favour of entry into the EU, will turn against it and an historic opportunity will have been spurned. This is in no-one’s interest. I call on Turkey to keep its patience and determination to join the EU, and also on our EU partners to keeping working towards a goal that is in our common interests.

Economic uncertainty within the EU and political uncertainty on the continent’s southern and eastern borders should be pulling the EU and Turkey together, not pushing them apart. Turkish accession would bring fresh energy to the Single Market. Europe’s influence overseas needs the leverage that a successful democracy in a largely Muslim country would bring. Together, as I believe this week’s State Visit will demonstrate, the UK and Turkey can help chart a safe course through the current global political and economic storm.

William Hague is the Foreign Secretary.

Source: Telegraph