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

Boom on the Bosphorus

Lots of young people, eager to shop and play online: no wonder Turkey’s internet industry is crowded.


MUSLIM farmers do not keep pigs. This is as true of those who play at virtual agriculture as of those who fill physical food-troughs. So there are no pigs in the Arabic version of “Happy Farm”, published by Peak Games, a young firm based in Istanbul. For the same reason “Happy Farm” has no vineyards, and female farmhands wear the hijab. Local tastes matter.

Peak Games has found rich soil. It already employs 200 people and has developers in Jordan and Saudi Arabia as well as Istanbul and Ankara. More than 35m people play its games at least once a month, many of them on Facebook. Half of the players are in Turkey; the rest are in the Middle East and north Africa. Rina Onur, one of its founders, says that she and her colleagues saw a gap in the online-games market that companies catering to Western tastes could not fill. So Peak Games offers people in Turkey and nearby countries games with a regional twist, like “Happy Farm”, as well as online versions of traditional amusements. Okey, a Turkish game played with tiles, is most popular.

Turkey is bursting with internet companies, many of them selling things to the young. It is not hard to see why. The country is big, youthful and embracing the internet eagerly. Half of its 75m people are under 30. Around 44% of Turks use the internet, up from just 14% in 2006 and 3% in 2000. They comprise Facebook’s seventh-largest national audience. Turks are also happy to use credit cards, which are handy for buying things online: the country has three of them for every five people, says GP Bullhound, an investment bank, more than the European average. And the market still has a lot of room to grow. Penetration rates are well below those in western Europe (see chart).

Several companies have attracted foreign money. Peak Games has raised $20m. In September General Atlantic, an American investment firm, and others put $44m into Yemeksepeti, through which Turks order meals for delivery from local restaurants. In 2011 Naspers, a South African media company, paid $86m for 68% of Markafoni, an online fashion club; eBay raised its stake in GittiGidiyor, an auction site, to 93%, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Tiger Global Management, both based in America, invested $26m in Trendyol, another fashion site.

Typically, Turkish internet companies have borrowed business models from abroad and given them Turkish tweaks. Mustafa Say, whose iLab Ventures owns the other 7% of GittiGidiyor, says that buyers pay into an escrow account, from which money is sent to sellers only when goods turn up. That, he says, has helped to build trust. Yemeksepeti’s customers pay nothing extra for delivery and can pay in cash on the doorstep. This still accounts for 37% of sales, says Nevzat Aydin, a founder and its chief executive. Not only money and ideas have come from abroad. So have people: returning Turks, most of them equipped (like Mr Say and Mr Aydin) with American education and experience.

The size of the Turkish market is a “double-edged sword”, says Numan Numan, a former Goldman Sachs banker now at 212, a venture-capital firm which takes its name from the telephone code for the European side of Istanbul. Scale at home is a boon, but start-ups in smaller countries, such as Israel or Estonia, have more incentive to look beyond their borders from the outset. Of the six Turkish firms in which 212 has invested, Mr Numan expects “a minimum of four to go regional at least”.

Turkish internet firms think they have a good base from which to expand, especially into the Middle East and north Africa. Peak Games is perhaps the best example, but others also have ambitions. Because Turkish television and culture are popular in the region, endorsements by Turkish celebrities can help to sell clothes and shoes. General Atlantic’s money will partly finance Yemeksepeti’s move abroad.

Lots of others are hoping to follow the successes. In November, in a hall at Bilgi University in Istanbul, 20 young Turkish companies coached by Bootcamp Ventures, the event’s organiser, presented their plans to prospective investors.

Events like this, Bootcamp’s fifth in Turkey, have become common. “When we started here six years ago,” says Didem Altop of Endeavor, a non-profit organisation which seeks to encourage entrepreneurs in countries from Brazil to Jordan, “there used to be three events a year. Now there are three a day.”

Turkey has so far been short of “angel” investors who will sprinkle money on a seedling company without demanding most of its equity. That is changing, as the first generation of founders become investors and mentors for the next. In Galata Business Angels, Istanbul has a network of such people including Mr Numan and Sina Afra, co-founder of Markafoni. Incubators are being set up: at Enkuba, in Istanbul, Piraye Antika, a former local head of HSBC, a big bank, and her colleagues have taken on Bu Kac Para Eder, which values antiques online, and torpilli, which helps students preparing for university-entrance exams.

The government’s policies have been a bit disjointed, says Ms Altop, but are becoming more concerted. Young companies can already get grants for research and marketing; those in “technoparks” are excused some taxes. More encouraging is the prospect of tax breaks to accredited angels, which are due to come into effect soon. Most start-ups will fail, as they do everywhere: fashion and daily deals, in particular, look horribly crowded. But more of them may get the chance to emulate those already on the road to success.

Source: The Economist