[Relevant Document: The Twelfth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2010-12, on UK-Turkey relations and Turkey’s regional role, HC 1567, and the Government response, Cm 8370.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2013, for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—
(1) further resources, not exceeding £1,218,567,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1919 of Session 2010-12,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £53,850,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £1,152,371,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Angela Watkinson.)
I am delighted that the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, “UK-Turkey Relations and Turkey’s Regional Role”, which was published in April, has been chosen for this debate, and I start by paying tribute to the staff of the FAC who worked hard and long through the night to help the Committee produce the report.
Turkey’s role on the world stage is influenced by its geography. To the west, it looks to the long-established nations of Europe that are swept up in economic turmoil and that note its economic performance with envy, while, to the south and east, it looks to an unstable region with an uncertain future that can only dream of the democracy that Turkey enjoys.
The Arab spring, with its tidal wave of anti-Government protests, has unleashed forces of violence and instability, and Syria, whose Government are standing their ground, is sinking further and further into a bloody civil war, yet its neighbour and former ally, Turkey, has not looked on in silence. The force of events has obliged it to abandon its policy of zero problems with neighbours and make an outspoken condemnation of Syria’s brutal response.
Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish jet has raised the stakes, and Turkey is now on red alert, with six F-16 fighter jets positioned near its border with Syria. Given that Turkey has, until recently, been a long-term friend and ally of Syria, this is a remarkable development. I am sure we all welcome President Assad’s announcement yesterday in which he reportedly expressed regret for the downing of the Turkish plane.
The Foreign Secretary attended a meeting of an action group on Syria in Geneva last weekend, and, as colleagues might have noticed, there was a significant development. For the first time, all the permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, reached a consensus on positive steps to support the Annan peace plan. It might turn out to be a turning point in the conflict. In responding to this debate, I would be grateful if the Minister set out what he understands to be Turkey’s intentions with respect to Syria and the risk of armed conflict between the two.
How the crisis will unfold is uncertain, but it is clear that Turkey has an important role in securing democracy, illustrating its importance as a strategic partner for the UK in the middle east. It is no surprise that the Prime Minister visited Turkey shortly after taking office, having placed it after only France, Germany, Afghanistan and the US for his early visits, and we share his view that Turkey is an inspiration that other countries can follow. This has particular resonance since the outbreak of the Arab spring.
The response to the Arab spring has brought Turkey closer to its western allies, and, at the same time, it has maintained strong relations with the Arab League. Having started its democratic path in the 1950s with the army sitting on its shoulder, Turkey has increasingly emerged as a strong democratic force, with the army focusing on security rather than politics, particularly since the 2011 general election.
I want to take my hon. Friend back to the issue of neighbour relations. Is he aware that the European Commission’s 2011 progress report on Turkey’s accession to the European Union concluded that no progress had been made in the previous year on the normalisation of relations with Armenia?
I am aware of that and if I my hon. Friend will allow me, I will discuss extensively the EU accession point in just a minute.
The past 10 years have seen a shift in Turkey’s balance of power. It has moved from the Ataturk-style, secular military regime that suppressed Islamist political groups to a much more healthy partnership, involving an army that can live with a moderate Islamic Government under the Justice and Development party—sometimes known as the AKP—led by Prime Minister Erdogan. Now, Turkey is a good example of a secular democracy in a predominantly Muslim country, and the Foreign Office is quite right to treat it as an inspiration. It is an example that can be followed in the emerging democracies in north Africa and the middle east, and no more so than in Egypt, which has just elected its first non-military leader since 1952. Both countries have Sunni majorities and a long history of military dominance, and we can now welcome Mohamed Morsi, from the Freedom and Justice party, as Egypt’s new President. In conducting its parallel inquiry into the Arab spring, my Committee had the privilege of meeting Dr Morsi, and we wish him well in his task of continuing the transition towards democracy in Egypt. The closer we work with both Egypt and Turkey, the better for Britain and the west.
The current climate presents a great opportunity for Turkey to lead by example in the middle east. Western responses to Prime Minister Erdogan’s Government have often mistakenly been influenced by his party’s so-called Islamist roots. However, we were quite struck by the situation when we visited Turkey last autumn, and our doubts were removed. There was very little evidence that the AKP Government were seeking to Islamicise the Turkish state. The AKP is best seen as akin to a socially conservative Christian Democrat party continuing to govern within a secular state. Furthermore, there was no evidence that Turkey has made an overarching foreign policy realignment away from the west. We 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 can add value as a foreign policy partner precisely because it is distinct from the UK.
The Government are right to continue to support the case for Turkey’s membership of the EU. Turkey’s accession would boost the EU’s economic growth and international weight, and at a time of long-term change across the Arab world, its influence could be invaluable. However, Turkey’s application to join the EU has had a troubled history, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) has just pointed out. Progress is slow, but the problems can be overcome. Two major stumbling blocks exist: the opposition of other EU countries, predominantly France, and the continued lack of a settlement on Cyprus.
Given that Cyprus has assumed the EU presidency this week, is it not extraordinary that Turkey continues not to recognise the Republic of Cyprus and, in practical terms, does not abide by the customs union by continuing to refuse to allow ships and planes from Cyprus to enter its ports and airspace? Surely, at this time, Turkey needs to show in a practical way that it wants to enter the club by recognising that important agreement.
I am grateful for that intervention. In truth, the argument cuts both ways, and I will come to just that point shortly.
Former President Sarkozy was unequivocal in his opposition to Turkish membership. There are signs that President Hollande might be more open than his predecessor to the idea. Turkey’s ambassador to the EU has hinted that France will lift its block on the talks, and I also understand that President Hollande met Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit last month. Prime Minister Erdogan described the meeting as very good, and President Hollande has agreed to visit Turkey. The omens are promising, although a note of caution should perhaps be struck before we get too enthusiastic.
What sort of Europe would Turkey be joining? My Committee’s impression was that our Turkish partners felt that they could not contribute to discussions about the EU’s future direction unless and until they join it. In my opinion, Turkey should be involved in the discussion of matters that will affect it intimately. The Minister for Europe, who will reply to this debate, told the Committee, when he gave evidence to us, that Turkey was unlikely to join the EU before 2020, and Turkey has made it clear that it would like to be a member by the centenary of the republic in 2023. However, all bets are off on exactly what the EU will look like in 2023. I would be grateful if, in responding to this debate, the Minister gave us his assessment of the extent to which the change of leadership in France is likely to make any difference to Turkey’s accession process.
The hon. Gentleman is making great play of the change of Government in France, which may indeed be relevant, although what Monsieur Hollande said in the election was that Turkish membership was not on the cards before the next election—that is, in five years’ time—so he put it off. However, are not the political elites in Germany, Austria and a number of other countries in Europe just as implacably opposed to Turkey joining?
I think it is wrong to say that they are just as implacably opposed. Germany would like a looser relationship than full membership; Austria, I think, is just following in its wake at the moment. In truth, it is France that has led the fundamental opposition to Turkey.
Let me turn in some detail to the dispute with Cyprus. Because of the long-running dispute, Cyprus continues to block Turkey’s EU accession process in many areas. When Cyprus became an EU member, an additional protocol was signed obliging Turkey to extend its customs union with the EU to Cyprus. However, Turkey has not implemented it, giving as the reason the EU’s continued isolation of northern Cyprus. Cyprus has just taken on the presidency of the EU Council, from 1 July, and in theory is responsible for presiding over accession negotiations with Turkey. However, Ankara has stated that its relations with the EU Council cannot continue as normal under the Cypriot presidency. As a result, we have a deadlock. EU Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon endeavoured to resolve the matter before Cyprus’s presidency, but failed. [Hon. Members: “EU Secretary-General?”] I beg the House’s pardon: UN Secretary-General.
The Cyprus deadlock is certainly regrettable. We believe that the Government should think creatively about whether the international community could do anything differently that might help the two sides on the island to reach an accommodation. The alternative seems to be continued drift. The Foreign Office could, for example, support the use of prospective revenues from potential gas reserves off Cyprus to facilitate a settlement. However, Turkey is now threatening to boycott energy companies co-operating with the Greek Cypriots, and the situation is getting worse, not better. That has consequences for us all.
Having just been back to Cyprus and on to Turkey and having had conversations on this issue, I do not think we should be too pessimistic or fatalistic. Once the six-month presidency is over and the elections have taken place in Cyprus, there will still be enough good will in Turkey and the Turkish community—in the Turkish republic, so-called, of northern Cyprus—that if the Cypriot Government were willing, there could be significant steps forward next year, with the help and encouragement of our Government and, indeed, a solution. I think that is also the view of the UN Secretary-General’s special representative, Mr Downer, who was in London last month saying similar things and who will be back this month, I hope saying the same things again.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I share his assessment of the situation; I do not think that the process is dead. There was optimism that the question might have been resolved by the end of June, but given the need to work to such a tight deadline, that has proved impossible.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, before we talk about blockages by Turkey on issues such as energy or the recognition of Cyprus, it is important to acknowledge that a blockage to better relations between NATO and the EU is being created when, every time the subject crops up in the EU, it is blocked by Cyprus, which is not prepared to welcome Turkey into EU operations?
I note what my hon. Friend has said. The report is careful not to take sides in the dispute between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus, but I am sure that the House will have heard his point.
I was talking about how the situation with regard to gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus was deteriorating, rather than improving. Turkey is a rising regional economic power within reach of about 70% of the world’s gas and oil reserves. It forms part of the southern gas corridor, which is critical to reducing the EU’s dependence on Russia as a supplier of gas. Frustratingly, the stalling of Turkey’s EU accession process seems to be losing the EU influence over Turkey’s energy policy decisions. I would be grateful if the Minister addressed that point.
Cyprus is not the only major obstacle to Turkey’s EU accession. Let us turn to the sensitive matter of human rights. Shortcomings in the Turkish justice system are damaging the country’s international reputation. During our visit, we were struck by the country’s economic dynamism and international ambition, but we were taken aback by Turkish legal procedures and by the detention of large numbers of military figures, officials, elected politicians, journalists and activists. Such practices do not accord with the human rights standards that we fight for in the west. We were astonished to hear that, at the time of our inquiry, more journalists were in detention in Turkey than in China. The opaque nature of the system seemed to be part of the problem. Information about legal cases is hard to obtain, and we formed the view that the climate in Turkey was limiting freedom of expression and the media.
Improvements are in progress, however, and we are grateful to the Turkish ambassador for keeping us up to date. Only on Monday, the Turkish Parliament passed an important judicial reform package, which should reduce pre-trial detention and lead to some actions against journalists being dropped. It is clear that the situation is fast moving, and the Foreign Office should help in practical ways to achieve further improvements. That should be done gently and sensitively, however, with quiet reminders that we could support Turkey’s inspirational role in its region more strongly if it improved its democratic and human rights practices.
I acknowledge the package of legal reforms that my hon. Friend has just mentioned, but does he also accept that much more needs to be done in Turkey to prevent violence against women and girls, and to protect the rights of children?
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for the rights of women and children. The report does not focus specifically on that aspect, but I am sure that the House will have heard the point that she has raised.
Turkey has committed to drawing up a new constitution, which presents a significant opportunity to advance reform. It could signal, at home and abroad, a decisive break with the country’s more authoritarian past, but reform is threatened by the continuing confrontation and conflict between Government and opposition, and between the Turkish state and the Kurdish PKK.
There have been civilian casualties on both sides of the Kurdish conflict, and cross-border violence into and out of northern Iraq continues. However, there are grounds for optimism. I understand, for example, that Prime Minister Erdogan held a meeting at the weekend with the leading Kurdish activist and MP Leyla Zana. I would be grateful if the Minister gave us his assessment of the latest prospects for progress towards a settlement for Turkey’s Kurds.
One issue that came up constantly during our visit was that of visas. Although there are considerable challenges, if we want a strategic partnership with Turkey, there are matters within our own gift to help achieve it. The UK’s visa regime for Turkish nationals is a big obstacle to UK-Turkey ties. It is commonly cited by businesses as inconvenient and humiliating. UK trade and academic exchanges suffer from the visa problem. We welcome the fact that the Foreign Office appears to recognise this and is exploring possibilities of easing the acquisition of UK entry visas for Turkish nationals.
An encouraging development is Turkey’s initialling of its long-awaited readmission agreement with the EU, under which it will take back illegal migrants who enter the EU from its territory. We also welcome the Schengen countries’ decision to start a process towards the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish nationals, although this may throw an even stronger spotlight on the UK’s own visa regime. I would be grateful if, in his reply, the Minister reported progress and gave us a sense of the feedback he has received on the new processes being trialled for Turkish applicants for British entry visas.
There is much than can and should be done to improve Turkey’s reputation and profile in the UK, and vice versa. The role of the British Council is critical. We urge it to use its contacts with the young Turkish population to further their awareness of the UK. Rather than risk becoming just an English language-learning operation, the British Council needs to engage the two nations through the soft power of cultural diplomacy. In the year of the London Olympics, for example, the British Council should exploit the fact that Turkey is bidding for the 2020 games—something that we know the British Council is already taking forward.
We remain concerned about the Foreign Office cut to the budget of the BBC World Service, and the service reductions that resulted from it. World Service Turkish radio broadcasts stopped in March 2011, with the loss of 450,000 listeners—a fifth of the World Service’s total audience in Turkey. On the brighter side, however, the World Service says that television and the internet are far more important. About 45% of the Turkish population has access to the internet, and the World Service’s online Turkey service is accessed by almost 500,000 unique users each week.
My Committee also welcomed the increase in the size of the Foreign Office’s diplomatic presence in Turkey. Of the 14 additional staff that the Turkey network is gaining, three are UK based, and they will be required to speak Turkish. This will send a strong signal that this Government are serious about developing strong links with Turkey, although we remain concerned about the deployment of language skills in the embassy generally.
The future shape and direction of the Arab region during a period of huge volatility is hard to predict. We must remain committed to supporting Turkey and its rapidly maturing democracy. We must make its EU accession a top priority and make the most of the opportunities it offers as a strategic partner of growing importance.
The Chairman of our Select Committee, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), made it clear that during our visit to Turkey we were impressed by the progress it had made in recent years, not just economically but in dealing with long-standing issues of human rights and internal democracy, many of which persist. We were, however, concerned about the legal system, the long delays in the bringing of people to trial, and the continuing difficulties of many people in the Kurdish community.
It is clear that there is still a long way to go before Turkey meets the standards required to join the European Union. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) and others pointed out, fundamental difficulties will remain for as long as certain EU countries take their current attitude to Turkey’s potential membership. According to an opinion poll which is quoted in the report, only 35% of the Turkish population now believe that their country will become a member of the EU.
That presents us with a fundamental challenge, because Turkey is growing rapidly, both in terms of its economic growth of 7%, 8% or 9% per annum and in terms of its political and regional influence. Syria has already been mentioned, but Turkey also has borders with Iran, Iraq and other countries. Geographically, it should be a strong partner, and potentially—this is the position of both the Government and the Opposition—a member of the European Union.
I shall say something about NATO in a moment.
The position taken by the countries in the EU that are resisting Turkey’s application is, of course, easier for them to take because of continuing difficulties over the resolution of the conflict involving Cyprus. I am disappointed that, although the Greek Cypriots elected a President who was, unlike his predecessor, committed to this process and although the Turkish Government have not opposed it, there has been no resolution. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter), my friend from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said earlier that the position could be viewed more optimistically in the light of Cyprus’s presidency of the Council of Ministers. I hope so, but I myself am not very optimistic, because I think that some of the deep-seated issues are still not easy to resolve regardless of whether Cyprus has the presidency.
We need to look to the future imaginatively. Who knows what the current debates about the future architecture of the European Union and the inner core of the eurozone and the other developments will lead to? It is possible that in five, seven or 10 years’ time, we shall be looking at a completely different structure of European foreign policy and political relations. If that proves so, it is tragic that people in this country should want Turkey to join the European Union while a substantial number of Government Members want the UK to leave it. It seems perverse to want Turkey to be in the EU while we ourselves want to leave it. That revolving-door approach to international relations strikes me as totally illogical and absurd—
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Turkey is a proud nation, and being part of the European family does not necessarily mean having to be part of a European political union, so we should give the Turkish people impartial advice rather than keep pushing them in only one direction?
I am sure Turkey receives lots of advice, both partial and impartial, from lots of different quarters. It is my understanding that the position of the hon. Gentleman’s Government is the same as that of my party’s last Government, which is to support Turkey’s membership of the EU. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has a different view, however, and he can explain that when he speaks, if he catches your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Switzerland and Norway are smaller countries than Turkey. The Turkish people are very wise and they will make their own decisions in their own national interests, but it is helpful of us to say that it is in the UK’s interests for Turkey to be part of an enlarged EU, and that that will promote democracy and stability as well as our influence throughout a very difficult part of the world.
Ad interim, having the status of a Switzerland or a Norway would be useful. Switzerland is a member of Schengen, and I think Turkey would love to join Schengen; and Norway implements more EU directives than we do, so if Turkey were to follow the Norwegian course, it would be far more a part of the EU than the UK is.
Turkey has an important regional role to play. There are currently some interesting developments in relations between the Kurdish regional Government in Iraq and Turkey. There is growing economic investment from Turkey in infrastructure and other projects in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The Iraqi-Kurdish community wants to have good relations with Turkey because there is a Kurdish community within Turkey. The role of the terrorist organisation, the PKK, greatly complicates the situation, of course, but it is also interesting that relations have improved in recent years despite the PKK’s activities. Those of us who want a stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq should recognise that Turkey has an important role to play in bringing that about. As the Kurdish region in Iraq exports its oil and gas via Turkey and has greater economic ties with Turkey, we must do all we can to ensure that that is not perceived in Baghdad as somehow leading to a division or break-up of Iraq. This is a very sensitive issue because there are also Kurdish minorities in Syria and Iran, as well as a large Kurdish community within Turkey.
The Turkish Government have shown great restraint so far in the face of terrible unwarranted military action by Syrian Government forces, including the shelling of refugees in Turkey and the shooting down of aircraft. Such actions are totally unacceptable and have rightly been condemned. Turkey would be justified in taking much stronger action than it has taken so far. The fact that it has not done so reflects its wish not to be drawn militarily into what might be a civil war in Syria, but the time will come when Turkey has to intervene. If the number of refugees continues to rise and the conflict within Syria spills over and presents security problems for Turkey, then Turkey might deem it necessary to act, in which case it will have to be shown solidarity and support by the international community. I hope that will occur not through a unilateral action but through discussion within NATO and the North Atlantic Council. If necessary, and if the Assad regime continues to behave provocatively and outrageously, we should be prepared to invoke article 5 of NATO’s charter to support Turkey and offer it our solidarity if it feels it wants that international umbrella of legitimacy and support in taking action to defend itself.
I hope that Turkey will continue to play a constructive role in assisting peace and security in the region. Interestingly, the Government’s response did not refer to one of the conclusions in our report, paragraph 129, which makes it clear that good relations between Turkey and Israel are in the UK’s interests. Perhaps the Government did not respond to that paragraph because we did not recommend anything, but I hope that the Minister will refer to it in his response and set out the Government’s position.
Unfortunately, Turkey’s relations with Israel have deteriorated significantly, mainly because of the Mavi Marmara incident and its mishandling by the Netanyahu Government. We had conversations in Turkey about that and the Turkish Government and their representatives felt that a proper apology was not given either when the incident happened or afterwards, even though they were led to believe that there would be a full apology. That would have led to the restoration of improved relations, which did not happen.
In conclusion, I want to mention the so-called Turkish model and its influence in the region. Our report suggests than rather than talking about Turkey as a model for the Arab world and the Arab spring, we should talk about it more as an inspiration. Reference was made to the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi in Egypt. It is significant that when Prime Minister Erdogan visited Egypt last year, there were initially huge crowds of Muslim Brotherhood people at the airport as well as demonstrations of support for him. After he said that they should be moving towards not an Islamic state but a secular state, such as that in Turkey, led by a Muslim party, there were very few people to greet him and praise him when he left the country. The message did not go down very well with some of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have now won the presidential election. It will be interesting to see how the development of one form of Islamic-led democracy influences another country that has just elected a Muslim Brotherhood president.
Turkey is an important player in its region and a growing power economically in the world. Turkey gives us an ally with whom we should be working in NATO and at some point, I hope, in an enlarged European Union.
I congratulate Ministers on the Treasury Bench on singling out the topic of UK-Turkey relations and Turkey’s foreign policy when considering the estimates for the Foreign Office.
Turkey is a delightful country. I think you know that, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I think you have been there on a number of occasions. I was reminded of it only yesterday when I got into a taxi in Belfast with a number of colleagues. The taxi driver asked where we were going for our holidays and then told us that he was going back to the same hotel, in the same town in Turkey, as he had for the past 19 years. He and the hotel owner were on such good terms that he no longer had to pay for the hotel room, and just for his flights; I do not know how much Guinness he drank when he got there. I, too, shall spend time in Turkey over the summer recess. As many colleagues know, my wife is Turkish, but my interest in and commitment to supporting Turkey’s role in European institutions long predates my marriage.
Turkey is a fascinating country, and there are similarities with our own history. We lost an empire; Turkey lost its empire about 50 years before we lost ours. Turkey’s greatest area of influence, political, economic and cultural, is in the former Ottoman empire, and we ignore that at our peril. Conservative estimates suggest that the EU neighbourhood policy costs in the order of €1.4 billion a year. When we add the cost of the new EU External Action Service, we can see that the EU spends an awful lot of money on our neighbourhood. Our political and economic effectiveness, however, is dwarfed by Turkish foreign policy in that very same neighbourhood.
A key argument to embrace Turkey and its foreign policy is our joint approach to our common neighbourhood; most of Europe’s neighbourhood was, in fact, part of the Ottoman empire. In areas of conflict and of post-conflict reconstruction, Europe has benefited from Turkey’s influence. In the Balkans, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, Turkish influence is not to be underestimated, and we should recognise that. In the Maghreb—the countries of the Arab spring—Turkey was the first back in, in terms of influence, and it had influence that predated us in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. In the middle east, Turkey’s influence on its near neighbours—Iraq, Iran, Palestine and Syria—is something on which we should capitalise, and which we should not ignore.
It is not just in areas of conflict or post-conflict that Turkey has influence; it has economic influence in the Balkans, the Maghreb and the middle east, as well as the Caucasus and central Asia, particularly the Turkic-speaking nations of central Asia. Europe’s neighbourhood is Turkey’s neighbourhood. The Ottoman empire, to which I referred, significantly predated the British empire. In the middle ages, it dislodged Byzantium. By the mid-19th century, it was in serious decline. It was Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who coined the phrase that Turkey was the “sick man of Europe”. He thought that Britain and France would stand by while he took control of the Crimea, but he was mistaken. We reacted, not because we wanted to prolong the rule of the Ottoman empire but because we wanted to limit Russian influence, which has very much been part of our foreign policy ever since.
The final demise came in world war one, when Turkey backed the wrong side. The treaty of Sèvres in 1920 effectively destroyed the unity of the Turkish state and partitioned the Ottoman empire between the allied powers. Many educated Turks—and this is key to modern Turkey—were totally dissatisfied with that. The war of independence, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, who we now know as Ataturk, the name given to him by the Turkish Parliament, resulted in the 1923 treaty of Lausanne and the modern Turkish state.
Ataturk is somebody we should focus on. He was the man who wanted to create Turkey and reinforce it as a modern European state, a secular state. In the early years he set about banning the fez and the turban, and later the veil and the headscarf, all the paraphernalia of a religious state. Arabic script was banned and replaced by a Latin alphabet. Religious schools were outlawed. Women were given equal rights and universal suffrage. Islamic law was replaced by a civil code based on the Swiss model and a penal code based on the Italian model. This is the basis of modern Turkey.
The question which I know some of our colleagues in Germany and France still ask is, “Is Turkey a European country? Should it be a member of the EU?” We have already heard that it is a member of NATO, a founder member of the OECD, a member of the Council of Europe and a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It was an associate member of the Western European Union, and it participates in European Union battle groups, EU military operations and is also a participant in the European Court.
Turkey applied to join the European Union in 1963. That was also the year of the first French veto against our membership, but we joined eventually in 1973 and Turkey is still trying to join. In 1995 the customs union was concluded with the European Union, and 59% of Turkey’s exports go to the European Union—some 10% to Germany and 6% each to France, Italy and the United Kingdom. It is the fastest growing economy in Europe. It grew by 9% in 2010 and by 8.5% in 2011. Growth is slowing this year, but Turkey is still the fastest growing economy in Europe.
Politically and economically, Turkey brings so much to the table that we delay her membership at our peril. There are those who say that Europe is a Christian club and Turkey is a Muslim country. I suspect that Turkey would not have succeeded in joining the Holy Roman empire, but this is the modern Europe. It is a place for all cultures and we should not be discriminating on the basis of the predominant religion in that country. Our own nation is a good example of that, as are many others. European Union membership for Turkey is not without its problems, but Turkish membership is in our interest economically, politically and strategically. Turkey has always been a strong ally of Europe and should be recognised as such today. Europe should recognise her contribution and grant her membership as soon as possible.
I, too, have a taxi story, following the one from the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter). My taxi story started in Diyarbakir in the south-east of Turkey some years ago, when I was going to the very south-east of the country to look at the Ilusu dam area and the flooding of Batman and other areas which are of historic importance to Turkey and particularly to the Kurds. My taxi driver said to me, “I’ve sold my only cow.” I looked at him in amazement and he said, “To buy a satellite dish.” At that time he could see television programmes only in the Turkish language, and he wanted to see programmes in the Kurdish language. Things have moved on quite a bit since then,
I am pleased to say I have a long association with Turkey and want to see it in the European Union, and I can say strongly that this country is a friend of Turkey and also wants to see it in the European Union.
My friend the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, gave a comprehensive account of the areas the Committee has looked at and the recommendations it has made. I still have many concerns about human rights in Turkey. When I chaired the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s committee on the human rights of parliamentarians —you know it well, Mr Deputy Speaker—which is based in Geneva, we always had delegations from Turkey at its conferences twice a year because of complaints about the way members of the Turkish Parliament were being treated.
I see myself as a critic of Turkey and also a friend. When it needs a pat on the back, I am pleased to do so, but I will also kick it when that is necessary to get some action on human rights. There have been great changes in Turkey, and I have to say that the AK party Government have contributed much towards that. The change has not been as fast as some of us would like it to be, but nevertheless there has been considerable progress on human rights.
I still have concerns about the treatment of the Kurds in the south-east of the country, to which my friend the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) also referred. Few people have visited the south-east and seen for themselves where the majority of Turkey’s Kurdish population live and the strong feelings they have about the use of their own language. They want the right to speak in Kurdish whenever they want to do so. Of course, in the past that was very difficult and many have been put in prison for using Kurdish, which the Turkish Government have very strong views about.
I want to talk briefly about a friend of mine, Leyla Zana. I first met her nearly 20 years ago when I visited her in prison in Ankara. She had been a member of the Turkish Parliament, one of the first Kurds to be elected to it, and when she was sworn in she took her oath in Kurdish and wore Kurdish colours in her hair. It was not long before she found herself in prison. She was put in jail for 10 years because it was believed that she was strongly associated with the PKK. Of course, some of the PKK’s aims include language rights for the Kurds. I went to see her in jail and took her a birthday card, because it was her birthday. I had written the card in Welsh, which the Turkish authorities of course could not make out, and so was able to deliver it and wish her a happy birthday. The prison governor allowed me to stay with her for about an hour and a half, and afterwards he said to me, “You know, she shouldn’t be here.” I knew that she should not have been there.
Unfortunately, in the past few weeks Leyla Zana has been sentenced to another 10 years in jail, but because she is a member of parliament she has immunity, but there is no certainty that that immunity will remain. There are concerns that she could still face another 10 years in jail, which would be a disgrace. It is interesting that in the past few days Prime Minister Erdogan met Leyla Zana and they had a discussion, and she made some comments after it. The Prime Minister told journalists that it had gone very well and I believe that it was very productive. After the meeting, Leyla Zana spoke to the press and called on the Government to restart talks with militants, meaning the PKK. It is important that those talks take place. There have been awful incidents on both sides, and many people on both sides of the argument have died. Many in the military have been killed, but PKK personnel and innocent civilians have, too.
Ms Zana said that security-based policies had not worked, and she made the suggestion, anathema to many Turks, that Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader serving a life sentence, could be transferred to house arrest. She also praised the Prime Minister for meeting her, saying:
“He showed his sincerity on the need to open channels of dialogue. When I decided to meet with him, I based it on my reasoning, political experience and insight.”
Their meeting was dismissed by the PKK, which said:
“They have entered into a military-solution process. The AKP government lost the war it staged against the Kurds and Kurdish freedom movement in the last year.”
Interestingly, however, Leyla Zana could take over as leader of the PKK, and, although it is described as a terrorist organisation, we in this House all know how many times we have described organisations as terrorist and then sat down to talk with them. Such talks are beginning to take place, and I commend the Turkish Government on initiating that dialogue, which I very much hope will continue.
I am concerned also about the treatment of journalists in Turkey, as I know our Government are, and in our report we made several comments on that, stating:
“We recommend that the FCO should suggest that the Turkish government encourage prosecutors and judges to exercise restraint in the use of arrest and pre-trial detention, pending more thorough-going reform of the justice system.”
When I was in Istanbul I met journalists and journalist associations. They are afraid of saying anything that is sensitive to the Turkish Government, and too many of them are in jail. Our Government have welcomed recent steps to address those issues, because freedom of expression is a very necessary freedom, which any potential EU member must support, but Turkey need not be as sensitive as it is, because it has made substantial progress.
Indeed, I have paid tribute to Turkey for that progress over the years, because my first visit to the country took place when the military were in charge. I went on behalf of Amnesty International to a trial at a prison in Istanbul, where people who were the equivalent of members of CND were on trial, and that was a horrible time in Turkey’s history. Things are changing, however, and with a bit more initiative they will improve even faster.
Some time ago, in talks with the Foreign Office, I suggested that we invite Turkish MPs to this country to see bilingualism in practice and to show them that it does not mean separation. We now have bilingualism in Wales, and it was hard fought-for, but the Turks could learn a little from the process. All the Turkish MPs whom I have met have seemed very keen on the idea of coming to see how bilingualism works in practice, and, if they were convinced of it, the Kurdish problem in Turkey could be solved.
One of the reasons why Turkey is such an exciting subject is that it is an exemplar not just for the whole middle east, but for British foreign policy. Turkey is a strange place for us. We have a huge great embassy—now the consulate general—in Istanbul, and it would impress hon. Members. It is more magnificent than this Chamber and even than the other place, with wooden parquet floors and beautiful marble courtyards.
Only 20 years ago, that all seemed a bit out of date and out of proportion. For all the reasons my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) pointed out, the embassy was conceived when the Ottoman empire was at its height and when Lord Palmerston, based in this House, was charging around frenetically, shelling the coast of what was then part of the Ottoman empire to seize Acre and play incredibly complicated games with Russia and France—and, indeed, Afghanistan and Persia on the Turkish borders.
By a decade ago, we could see that the Foreign Office had almost given up, and that is a real parable in what goes wrong in long-term British foreign policy planning. Ten years ago, the desk officer for Turkey, in London, said very confidently that there was absolutely no point in the Islamic department of the Foreign Office doing Islamic communication or anything in Turkey because in 2001 we were absolutely confident that Turkey was a secular state and that in Turkey there was absolutely no interest in Islam. Almost immediately after the desk officer made that comment, a Government with strong conservative Muslim roots, and a leadership with a history of political Islam, were elected to office in Turkey.
Even two years ago, the situation in our embassy in Turkey was still one of pretty extreme crisis. As the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has pointed out, we were shifting towards the system that eventually came about, involving the closing down of the BBC Turkish service and the British Council in Turkey hiding at the back of a large shopping mall with almost no evidence of Britain on display. It has an energetic, dynamic and dedicated Turkish staff who, understandably, struggle to communicate British culture to a Turkish audience, given that a significant number of them have never visited the United Kingdom.
As the report makes clear—last year the Foreign Office gave us the figures—we have 25 extensive Turkish speakers in the British diplomatic network, of whom exactly one was in the embassy in Turkey. That is the top level of Turkish language. We also had 23 operational Turkish speakers—and again, exactly one of them was to be found in Turkey. That is comparable with having 46 fast-jet pilots trained at great expense to the UK taxpayer and only two of them flying aeroplanes.
In addition, the focus has been taken from political work towards other forms of work. Why does that matter? It matters for all the reasons on which others in the Chamber have so eloquently held forth. Turkey is now a major exemplar for the region, a place of interest and importance to the United Kingdom and somewhere we ought to be able to exercise some influence.
Politically, of course, Turkey represents something that confounded our fears and predictions. Many commentators, looking at Turkey in 2001, were terrified, just as we were terrified about Islamic movements in Egypt, by the possibility of some kind of Islamist movement in Turkey which reliable commentators described in 2001 and 2002 as some form of new Taliban or even new al-Qaeda. Indeed, that was swept up by secular voices in Turkey, that focused on the worst-case scenario in terms of what the AKP would be. The reality is that those fears were not confirmed; in fact, that change is perhaps the strongest example worldwide of a democratic transition from a military Government—considerably more impressive even than the transition achieved in Indonesia.
As others have so eloquently pointed out, on the economic side the Turkish economy, in per capita GDP terms, is now larger than that of Bulgaria or Romania. It has grown considerably faster in the past decade, and the Istanbul littoral—the 20 million people around Istanbul—have a GDP per capita larger than that of Poland.
As regards the AKP’s conduct of foreign affairs, despite the opposition party complaining that it would be an unruly, destabilising force, we have found that although it has taken an independent policy on Israel and an unexpected policy on Syria and on Iran, it has not proved to be a dangerous force in the region at all. In fact, in Libya the AKP has proved to be an extraordinary example in being more generous and flexible than many other NATO members, and it has got considerably more credit from the Libyan people as a result.
Of course, this does not mean that everything is sunny in Turkey. As many people have pointed out, there are serious problems. From a foreign policy point of view, there is no point in our treating Turkey as though it were a superpower, because it remains a middle-ranking power. We cannot vest in it all responsibility for the middle east. We cannot imagine that it has the key to the solution in Afghanistan or in Syria. Despite Turkey’s extraordinary development over the past 30 years, there remains a significant gap in terms of human, financial and institutional capital that prevents it from occupying that kind of role. Economically, as the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) pointed out, there are considerable problems in eastern Turkey, where people have a GDP per capita that is one sixth that of people in Istanbul; in other words, they often have per capita incomes of about $4,000 to $5,000 a year. Turkey is not a wealthy country.
In terms of politics, we need seriously to consider the fact that despite the great advances and the extraordinary tightrope action of the AKP Government in the way that they improvised with the constitution, negotiated challenges with the judiciary, and took certain moves that were on the risky side, we have ended up—despite all the progress made with the military—with the scandal of what is happening with the terror laws. Turkey should, and can, be an example to the region, but that ought not to involve locking up peaceful dissidents, journalists and academics. That is not a necessary part of a counter-terrorism policy.
I think that 10% or more of the cases in the European Court of Human Rights emanate from Turkey. My hon. Friend and others have spoken about the steps that Turkey has managed to take in improving human rights. Will he tell the House what further measures he thinks necessary? The Minister could then tell us what steps the Government are taking to encourage those measures.
The central element is to focus on making sure—we in Britain have experienced this and people have gone through it in Spain—that the terror laws are not applied to peaceful protesters such as academics and journalists but targeted at people who are genuinely involved in armed struggle. Perhaps Britain, which has built up a good relationship with Turkey through taking a friendly attitude towards EU accession, has more leverage over that issue than countries such as France.
What can Britain do, though? The core question is not “Whither Turkey?” but “Whither Britain in Turkey?” What is the Foreign Office supposed to do? What sort of reforms are we supposed to introduce? How are we supposed to change our attitude towards the country to get more out of the relationship? The first thing we need to do is very difficult. It is all very well the Foreign Office saying that it has designated more speaker slots in Turkey, but the unfortunate reality is that if a slot has been designated for a Turkish speaker, there is no way of compelling anyone to fill it. Therefore, across the diplomatic network we have a number of slots designated for Arabic speakers or Turkish speakers that remain unfilled. If we are serious about making sure that out of 25 Turkish speakers a quarter, say, are in Turkey, we have to change the human resources procedures of the Foreign Office. We have to move from a situation where everybody is allowed to bid for posts towards one in which a manager can tell people that they should be going to Turkey given that the taxpayer has invested considerably in training them in the language.
That also necessitates difficult HR changes to the core competency framework that governs promotion within the Foreign Office. Currently, the second secretary for political affairs at the embassy in Ankara does not have a direct interest in continuing in political work. Despite good sounds coming from the Minister and the Foreign Secretary, saying that political work is increasingly important, and despite all the good messages about the diplomatic excellence initiative, the brutal reality remains that one’s career in the Foreign Office is determined by management expertise.
All the incentives are driving ambitious young people out of political work and into getting management experience. I can name two cases in the diplomatic network in Turkey of people who have chosen to go into UK Trade and Investment management roles because they do not believe that they will be promoted on the basis of political roles. The core competency framework, which governs promotion, does not take into account linguistic expertise or deep country knowledge in any way; it measures people purely—and is only allowed to measure people—on the basis of their management skills. That must be changed if we are fundamentally to change the culture of the Foreign Office. It is not enough for us to say that these things matter; we must promote people on the basis of them.
To deepen this further, we might need to change the criteria on which people are rewarded. We should have indicators of how many Turks, for example, somebody in the embassy meets. We should have indicators of how often they get outside Ankara and Istanbul to remote areas of the country. That should be part of the criteria for their assessment and promotion.
Finally, on commercial opportunities and UKTI, it is all very well our saying that we want to double UK trade and investment with Turkey, but how is that going to happen? Where are the people and where is the drive? It is difficult to make that happen. Italy is currently outperforming us twofold in Turkey—Italian trade to Turkey is nearly twice that of British. Sixteen flights a day go from Italy to Turkey, almost all of them from Milan. Big Italian infrastructure companies are building roads and getting involved in dams, and small and medium-sized Italian companies are outperforming British small and medium-sized enterprises on the ground.
I propose, modestly, that it might be worth looking at seconding 25-year-olds from major UK financial and consultancy companies, with proper incentive structures and targets, to try to achieve the difficult aim of boosting UK trade and investment. I do not want to pick out a particular company, but I would imagine that McKinsey would be quite happy to second somebody at the age of 25 to UKTI for two or three years, with a decent incentive structure, to see whether they could meet those targets.
All this is necessary because Turkey matters. It matters to Britain, and Britain’s leverage in Turkey is still potentially large. If we introduced those kinds of reforms in Turkey and other countries, we could achieve something extraordinary. The danger is that, having been worried 20 years ago that the great palace on a hill that we occupy was too large for Turkey and that Britain’s interests were elsewhere, we run the risk of being that other great building in Istanbul, which is of course the great representation of Venice—a palace even larger than ours, stuck up on the hill. That now seems out of date for a different reason—because Turkey is too big for Venice. Let us make sure that that does not happen to us.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). I loved his idea that diplomats should get out and walk across the dusty plains of Anatolia. Perhaps one of them might write a book about such an excursion or go off and become a political commissioner, giving out political instruction and wisdom to others. I concur with his lament about foreign languages. It is terribly heartening to hear a Conservative Member say that a language other than English is spoken in the world. He spoke about the notion that promotion in the Foreign Office should depend on linguistic ability. Heaven forfend that that should be applied to Ministers. He was right to be lyrical.
I dispute the hon. Gentleman’s view that nothing had happened in Turkey until the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which he is a distinguished member, made its visit. I recall a most distinguished diplomat, Sir Peter Westmacott, who is now our representative in the United States, spending a great deal of time acting, with great linguistic ability, as the most effective bridge between any European state or any NATO member state and the Turks during his time in office there. I recall him working with Mr Erdogan and the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had invested an enormous amount of time cajoling, persuading, bullying, nudging—all the things that he was rather good at—his fellow European leaders to accept the opening of full negotiations with Turkey. That was touch and go. When I was Europe Minister, I remember being there right through to 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning as Mr Blair, Mr Erdogan and Sir Peter formed a troika that got Turkey to the start of discussions with the European Union.
I differ somewhat from the view expressed by the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), a distinguished Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who seemed to finger France as the main problem. It was General de Gaulle who, in 1963, insisted that the European Economic Community should open a relationship with Turkey. He thought that the Europe that he dreamed of—the “Europe des patries”, as he called it—would have to be as large as possible and that to exclude a great, important and historic state such as Turkey simply did not make sense. On the whole, French political leaders have been quite good friends of Turkey from that moment on. President Chirac certainly supported Turkish admission, and the former Prime Minister Michel Rocard wrote an excellent book two or three years ago—in French, and sadly it is not available in English, although perhaps it is in Turkish—on the need for Turkey to join the EU and why France should support that.
President Sarkozy pandered to the part of the electorate that exists in all our countries that sees anything foreign as a bad thing. He pandered to the idea that any immigrants coming to France were a bad thing and that, as long as the gates of a nation are shut to incomers, that country will somehow be strong again. I am glad that in the presidential election President Hollande rejected such hostility to immigration and the idea that there is a need to place a cap on the number of immigrants coming into France. As we know, President Sarkozy’s reactionary anti-immigrant language was defeated.
I have been going to Turkey for nearly 30 years, first to small left-wing trade union meetings in the 1970s and then to the trial of Orhan Pamuk in 2005, when I was pushed to the ground and kicked by a few nasty right wingers. I keep going there as often as I can, and after each trip I come back more impressed but more perplexed. I am more impressed by the vitality and excitement—it really is one of the most exciting countries in the world to visit—but more perplexed by my failure to work out how the Rubik’s cube of Turkey is put together. I do not speak Turkish, and I do not think I am going to learn that language.
On one level Turkey is all the things that hon. Members have said it is. It is dynamic and growth-focused, and it has brought an enormous number of people into middle-class prosperity. Istanbul has some of the youngest and most exuberant art in the world. The last time I was there, I had dinner with Orhan Pamuk, who had won the Nobel prize and was threatened with death by Turkish nationalists and imprisonment by Turkish judges. We went to a restaurant on the Bosphorus and he was accompanied by a bodyguard. He was stopped by somebody and had a little chat. I asked, “Who was that?” He said, “Oh, that was the state attorney-general, who a couple of years ago was trying to put me in prison permanently. He said to me, ‘Orhan, you’re down to one bodyguard, are you? You see, we are making progress.’” I think that is true.
The Foreign Affairs Committee’s report is absolutely first-rate, and I commend its detail and thoroughness and the work of the Committee’s Chairman and members. I have some brief points to make about it. We need to reconsider our visa regime. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border talked about people learning Turkish and Turks getting to know Britain. It is a travesty that it was easier to visit the Soviet Union in the old days than it is for many Turks to get a visa to come to the United Kingdom. We have to grow up—we cannot say that we are open for business and be closed to foreigners. I am sorry if that language does not sit well, but it is the truth.
On page Ev 80 of the evidence published in the Committee’s report, Migration Watch UK states:
“The Poles are Catholics of European heritage…the bulk of Turkish immigrants in this country, and elsewhere in Europe, are poorer, less educated Muslims of Middle Eastern heritage who form the majority of Turkey’s population.”
That is the evidence presented by this wretched organisation, Migration Watch UK, to the Committee. One hundred years ago, we passed the Status of Aliens Act 1914, using exactly the same argument about Jews coming from the poorer parts of eastern Europe. Until we grow up and stop the Islamophobic dislike of people from outside Britain coming here, we will not have the influence we need.
I fear that the right hon. Gentleman inadvertently conflates two totally separate issues: first, his value judgment of the language used in the French elections; and secondly, the fact that the French legislature and courts made a value judgment on the systematic denial of the Armenian genocide of 1915. That is a separate issue and still going through the French courts. He should not conflate the electioneering language with an issue of principle.
The electioneering language from then President Sarkozy and right-wing politicians in France was simply hostile to Turkey, as it is in Germany and Austria. And believe me, if we want to list the politicians, newspapers and political cultures that are hostile to Turkey, we should look across the Rhine rather than in Paris. I wrote an article in Le Monde, which I am happy to send to the hon. Gentleman, condemning the absurd notion that the French Parliament would decide what was genocide and what was not. That is a matter for history, not politicians.
We need to ask one or two serious questions of Turkey. It demands absolute solidarity, which personally I give, in its fight against the PKK and its wretched killer terrorist leader, Ocalan, but when exactly the same type of organisation, Hamas, insists on its right to kill Jews and Israelis and to blow up people in the region, and the Israelis take the necessary action to protect their state from Hamas, Mr Erdogan supports Hamas while demanding condemnation of the PKK. Turkey must be asked to support not only friendly relations 360° around the compass, as its Foreign Minister said, but absolute geopolitical consistency. If we are to support Turkey’s campaign, action and language against the PKK, Turkey must ask itself why it supports terrorist organisations elsewhere in the region.
Mention has been made of Cyprus. The European Council first committed itself to opening trade links with northern Cyprus but then reneged. That said, Turkey does not need to maintain two full military divisions of 35,000 men stationed in the tiny area of northern Cyprus. It can withdraw any number of them, while still leaving an adequate security presence, and show to the world it is looking for a new relationship with Cyprus. Turkish-Cypriot relations are bitter and poisonous. I do not agree with the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who said he thought, after a visit there, that it would all get better next year. There needs to be a huge sea change on both sides. My own view is that in any of these conflicts, the bigger, the more powerful and the more dominant nation—and, in 1974, the invading nation—should be the one to find the confidence to come to a better accord with the people it cannot find a solution even to talk to.
Absolutely. Turkish foreign policy is innovative, flexible and open. We remember President Gul’s state visit to London last year or perhaps 18 months ago. It was an important triumph, and he is a very distinguished statesman. There are many, many highly competent Turkish diplomats and business men, and the stronger the relations, the better, particularly with Greece. I agree strongly with that, but Greece spends 50% more of its GDP on defence than we or the Turks do. Greece has imported more weapons in the past 10 years than Israel. Why? Because Turkey will still not give an unqualified security guarantee to all the territory of Greece. There are overflights and rows on this and that—not a full-scale invasion—but I cannot meet a Greek who, when I say, “Why are you spending all this money on defence? You’re not going to go to war with Turkey,” does not shiver and shudder. Turkey could help to stabilise the Greek economy by signing a total non-aggression pact with Greece, saying that it will respect all Greek property and territorial frontiers.
Although Turkey opened its frontiers with Syria—now, however, it finds itself in the midst of the Syrian storm—it refuses to open its frontiers with Armenia because of the Nagorno-Karabakh situation and its relationship with the Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan. Again, I can half understand that, but closed frontiers are the curse of all modern economic development and political advances.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) referred to the problem of journalists, specifically Leyla Zana. As we speak, 205 people are on trial near Istanbul. The publisher Ragip Zarakolu, who was first condemned by the Turkish judicial system in 1971 for having secret links with Amnesty International, is again standing trial. That is not necessarily the Turkish Government’s fault; rather, the Turkish judicial system needs to rethink. If we want to increase parliamentary links, Labour Members should explain to the CHP—the nominally social democratic party—that Turkey’s penal code, with its legendary clause 301, which makes it a crime to insult the Turkish nation and gives the judicial system and prosecutors carte blanche to arrest and lock up anybody they want, is a real problem.
Those are the slight questions that I have, based on decades of visiting Turkey. I would like Britain to make a special effort on Turkey. The Minister is committed to doing so, but he is hamstrung by two great problems, the first of which is the attitude of the Home Office and its hostility to foreigners coming in to Britain. The other great difficulty is that, although we proclaim ourselves across the House to be the champions of Turkey joining the European Union, the rest of Europe listens to the Prime Minister talking about referendums and saying there is no terror for Britain outside the EU. The rest of Europe therefore thinks that we are on the way out. Turkey wants to come in—we may be on the way out. We need to rethink our approach to the European Union, but I am not sure that that will happen on this Government’s watch.
I always think myself unlucky to follow the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) in foreign affairs debates. To follow him and my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) is downright unfair. Both have displayed huge personal knowledge and experience of the issues the House is debating, and made incisive comments. I agreed with much of what both colleagues said. My perhaps more modest and limited remarks may serve as an opportunity for other colleagues to shine later.
I want to join those who congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on its excellent report, the significant amount of work that clearly went into it, and the understanding that he and his colleagues from across the House brought to the issue in informing Government policy on it. I was struck by his saying that Turkey is at the crossroads of the old world. To its north-west, Turkey sees Europe, which is experiencing difficult times economically, has an increasingly ageing population and, some would say, is experiencing a period of stagnation. To its south-east is the boom of the Arab spring—dynamic countries with much younger populations who are trying to thrust forward and create a destiny for themselves with self-determination. In the north-east, of course, Turkey has Russia on its periphery, with all the challenges and concerns that brings. Turkey operates in quite a complex security environment. It is that aspect of our strategic relationship that I would like to dwell on for a few minutes.
The whole House will want to acknowledge the contribution that Turkey has made to ISAF—the international security assistance force—in Afghanistan. At one point during operations there Turkey was the third largest force contributor. Turkey is responsible for the security of Kabul and has about 1,300 service personnel deployed there. That is Turkey’s active engagement on the ground in Afghanistan, but it is also a key ally for the United Kingdom in maintaining the air bridge, so that we can get our men and matériel into Afghanistan, to keep them effectively supplied to prosecute the operation there. When I had the great privilege of visiting Afghanistan and talking to some of the British and other international forces on operation there, it was clear that the relationship among all the NATO allies was effective on the ground. In particular, the people in the RAF I spoke to valued the co-operation of the Turkish authorities in maintaining the air bridge so effectively.
Equally, Turkey is a major contributor to the European Union force operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have to recognise and applaud Turkey for that. It is one of only two non-EU nations to be engaged in that level of activity. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border referred earlier to the extent of Turkish involvement in the Libyan campaign. I am sure that the whole House will also want to acknowledge and pay tribute to the Turkish authorities for their courageous and far-sighted decision to support NATO operations in that theatre.
We therefore already have strong and cohesive security links with Turkey, and it is right that the report sets out ways in which we and the Foreign Office can build on them. In particular, when we look to the medium term and the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons—by the Iranian regime, for instance—we see a ready willingness in Turkey to work with the United States, us and other countries to provide missile defence protection. Given the unwelcome uncertainty that we are experiencing with nuclear proliferation, that is something we should welcome. It cannot be an easy decision for Turkey to take, but it is one that I welcome.
As for Syria, the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who is not in his place, talked about Turkey’s remarkable restraint despite severe provocation, including shelling across the border and the destruction and shooting down by Syrian forces of a Turkish air force jet. However, there is clearly a limit beyond which Turkey will be drawn, and there may come a point when it decides that it is in its security interest to take action on its border. I would therefore ask the Minister to say what assessment of potential involvement through article 5 has been made and what discussions are continuing with the Turkish authorities.
I would hope that everybody in this House wants to see a prosperous, democratic, diverse Turkey being welcomed into the European Union. It has huge potential to act both as a driver of growth in the European economy and as a bridge from the European economy into the emerging markets in north Africa and the middle east. It has always been my belief that for us to secure the political change that we have seen in the region, we will have to cement economic advancement for the peoples of the region too. I think Turkey has the potential to be a hugely useful bridge for Europe into those other markets.
It is clear, however, that we need to see a resolution to the Cyprus question and, as the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said, to the issues relating to the political persecution of journalists and the persecution of women. I would add that Turkey’s record on the treatment of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minorities is not great. The report highlights many of the issues on which we must continue to press the Turkish authorities, but, crucially, we need Turkey’s attitude towards Cyprus to lead to a resolution of that issue in due course. I am not over-optimistic that we will see progress on that in the next year, however. The Cyprus presidency could make it an explosive issue—that is perhaps not the best use of the word “explosive”—but we need to see a willingness on both sides to come together and resolve their difficulties in due course.
I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who has recently led the creation of the British Mena—middle east and north Africa—Council here on the parliamentary estate. It is now the largest caucus of parliamentarians, with more than 200 Members of this House and the other place having expressed an interest in working on a cross-party basis to develop parliamentary relationships between the United Kingdom and the countries in those regions. I know that he remains interested in Turkey, as do I, and I am sure that the development of that new parliamentary body will pay dividends in the long run.
Turkey adds to religious diversity and brings economic dynamism and cultural and historical depth to the table, as well as providing a meeting point for cultures and continents, and it should remain a strategic partner of our Government. It is absolutely right that the Foreign Office should take that approach, and I hope that it will take the very best of the report and build on the relationships that are, as I said, already very strong.
I welcome this debate, which has been initiated as a result of the hard work of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and which provides an opportunity to talk about relations between the United Kingdom and Turkey. There is consensus across the House on the importance of having a positive relationship with Turkey, given its strategic position. In that context, we have heard references to Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and beyond. Given Turkey’s geographical location between east and west, between Europe, north Africa and the middle east, it makes perfect sense for us to have a constructive relationship with it.
Turkey’s economic importance has also been mentioned. We need to focus on its vibrant, dynamic economy, and I welcome our Government’s efforts to promote and make progress on the bilateral trade relations between our two countries. Allied with the Foreign Office’s remit in those areas is its remit to encourage improvements in the fields of democratisation and the adherence to human rights. Such improvements are vital not only for Turkey’s relationships with other countries but for the people of Turkey and the wider region.
I count myself as a friend of Turkey. I often speak to members of the Turkish-speaking diaspora in my north London constituency, but it is easy to place too much emphasis on the Government of that country, and on whether one is a friend of that country. I have heard people making strong criticisms of Turkish Government policy, but that does not mean that they cannot be a friend of Turkey. I judge my friendship on the basis of the people of the country, particularly those I meet in my constituency, who make an enormous contribution to this country. I want to be a friend, but perhaps also a critical friend, of Turkey.
I have chaired the all-party parliamentary group on Turkey since the beginning of this Parliament, and I am proud to do so. Given the hon. Gentleman’s desire to continue his friendship with people in his constituency who are originally from Turkey and with the Turkish people more generally, would he consider joining the all-party group, if he is not already a member of it?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the debate. I am indeed a member of the group. I was recently invited to an all-party group visit, but if the hon. Gentleman is looking for names, I am not sure that I will be able to attend. My family is going to visit Turkey later in the summer.
In waxing lyrical about the positives of this latest report, there is a but. It relates to Cyprus. I do not ask for your leniency, Mr Speaker, in concentrating on Cyprus, as I see it as very much key to UK-Turkey relations. The report’s reference to Cyprus was minimal. I take the Chairman’s point that the Select Committee did not want to get too intervention-focused on issues surrounding Cyprus, but if we are considering UK-Turkey relations, Cyprus is very important. As paragraph 195 of the report states:
“Turkey’s EU accession process is effectively hostage to the reaching of a settlement on Cyprus.”
I understand that point, but the word “hostage” creates the impression that Turkey is a victim. The victims of the whole Cyprus issue are the people of Cyprus—both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and, indeed, other communities on the island. Those victims should be our focus, particularly when this country has historic responsibilities and is a guarantor power with legal responsibilities. It is important that Britain steps up to the plate. Over nearly four decades, this Parliament has seen some seemingly intractable problems in divided countries and countries at war, yet they have been solved. Cyprus, however, is still divided and is not settled. As parliamentarians, we must do all we can to raise the issue of Cyprus and not sidestep it. We must see it as central to making further progress towards positive relations between Britain and Turkey.
It is not just a matter of Cyprus alone, as the manner in which we abide by international agreements, Security Council resolutions and so forth also matters. How Turkey responds to judgments of the European Court of Human Rights matters, too. Such judgments go beyond, and have resonance beyond, Cyprus.
Reference has been made to Turkey’s record on human rights. One has to acknowledge that particular and significant progress has been made, but concerns remain about the free press and freedom of expression. We have heard about journalists who have recently been detained and we have heard about the disproportionate number of Turkish cases that have gone through to the ECHR.
A number of relatives of missing persons lost in the Cyprus conflict will come here next week. They come here every year. They can be seen on the green outside Parliament, usually with pictures of their lost relatives. What has also been lost is basic information and truth about their loved ones’ whereabouts. Progress has been made in Cyprus on a bi-communal basis to find the bones of the lost and to gain some element of truth. Unfortunately, however, there is a barrier, as they cannot get to the truth in areas under the control of Turkish forces. They cannot get information relating to relatives who went over to Turkey. The ECHR has said clearly that relevant information should be given to these relatives. Some of these people are citizens and constituents of mine and of other hon. Members. Year in, year out, they demand some element of truth, some information about basic human rights: they need to know what happened to their loves ones. The House has set up inquiries into missing persons, but in this case we are talking about people who have been missing for nearly four decades. Their relatives need to know the basic truth.
I am chair of the all-party Cyprus group, which will shortly conduct an inquiry to see whether we can support the good work going on under UN auspices in Cyprus to speed up this process. Turkey can help by abiding by the Court’s judgment and allowing relevant information to be given to relatives and to the authorities.
Another inquiry I have been involved in seeks to emphasise the positives in Turkey. I chaired an inquiry into the persecution of Christians in Iran for Christians in Parliament, which revealed the appalling abuses of brave people who had had to leave the country because of the persecution of themselves and their families. A number have been given refuge in Turkey. We should welcome that, and acknowledge its importance for Iranian Christians, some of whom I hope to meet when I visit Turkey. We should also note that Syrians have sought refuge there.
Let me return to the issue of Cyprus. We must not tolerate the intolerable. The status quo is unacceptable—unacceptable to us, given our relations with Turkey. We in Europe should not have allowed the existence of a divided capital and a divided island for so long. An area in the north of Cyprus is the most heavily militarised in the world, which is extraordinary. We should not accept that for the duration of the six-month presidency, saying “We shall just have to park it for six months, and see what the Irish can do when they have the presidency.” It cannot be right that Turkey does not recognise Cyprus as a sovereign nation. Britain does not have a remote responsibility; as I have said before, it is a guarantor power, and Cyprus has every right to take up the presidency which affirms its membership of the European Union and the sovereignty of the whole island.
As has been reported in the press, the Turkish Government recently said:
“no ministry or organisation of the Turkish Republic will take part in any activity that will be presided by southern Cyprus.”
I would expect our Government to agree that that is intolerable and unacceptable. Turkey wants to join Europe—it wants to join the club—but it must accept the rules which include a rotating presidency. Britain supports Turkey’s accession, but Turkey must not only recognise the Republic of Cyprus but fulfil its obligation under the Ankara protocol to allow Cypriot ships to use Turkish ports.
I want to be positive. The need for creativity has been mentioned, and both the report and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) referred to the opportunities presented by the hydrocarbon reserves. They are a new dynamic, and they are being explored in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone for the benefit of the whole island and all its communities. That is crucial. The reserves are a natural resource for Cyprus alone, not for the guarantor powers. As the report says, that natural resource could facilitate a settlement and could enable Cyprus to rely less on the financial sector, which is increasingly fragile and volatile, on the recent EU bail-outs, and on the good will of Russian banks and interests.
It is also important to understand the wider dynamic: yes, a dynamic to support a settlement, but also one relating to the wider region which involves Turkey and Israel. There are agreements between the Republic of Cyprus and Israel, but the dynamic needs to be wider. There is an opportunity to provide a big source of energy for the region, and a source of security as well. We should welcome that development, and, given our expertise in this country, I hope that we can make real progress in supporting that resource for the benefit of Cypriots.
We also need to recognise that Turkey should not threaten Cyprus’s sovereign rights to explore and exploit hydrocarbon reserves in an exclusive economic zone. That is unacceptable, because that is threatening the very independence of the resource and Cyprus’s legal rights within the exclusive economic zone. We must not say that we have been fatigued by the Cyprus problem for so long that we will leave it to be solved by Cypriots. That should indeed happen, but we must exercise our responsibilities.
Another opportunity is presented by the Greek-Cypriot Varosha section of Famagusta, a small town on the east coast of Cyprus. Anyone who goes there will see the barbed wire. Varosha was frozen in time after being overrun by Turkish forces in 1974. It was sealed off, looted, became uninhabited, and has been decaying for nearly 40 years. However, we have the opportunity to accept United Nations Security Council resolutions 550 and 789, which call for Varosha to be under the control of the UN. If we can support Turkey in resolving this issue so that people can return to Varosha, it will create confidence and help greatly. If human rights are respected, information on missing people is given, the return to Varosha is supported and the natural gas question is addressed, we might be able to reunite Cyprus, which would be good for Cyprus, good for Turkey and good for UK-Turkey relations.
There are not many benefits to being a Back Bencher, but one is that we can sometimes ruffle feathers and say what we think and, above all, challenge the received wisdom. I accept that the majority view in this debate is that the accession of Turkey to the EU would be a good thing. I agree that, in many ways, that is indeed the case, and it would be churlish and remiss of me not to acknowledge the very important point that Turkey is a major trading partner, with the 17th or 18th largest economy in the world and growth that is five times the EU average—although that is not particularly difficult to achieve nowadays.
Turkey has made progress in many key areas, and it was the eastern outpost of NATO command through the difficult years of the cold war. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who is no longer in his place, made clear, it has been a loyal supporter of both the UK and the United States over many years. The strategic importance of Turkey is not in doubt either, as it stands at the juncture of the west, the near east and the middle east.
I can well understand why Turkey still harbours strong ambitions to join the EU. The fact that that is in our strategic interests is based on two presuppositions, however: that we should filter out issues other than the economic progress of Turkey, and that we accept, to a certain degree, that our strategic geopolitical interests are the same as those of the US. It has always been in the US strategic interest for Turkey to be a bulwark against potential Islamist difficulties, whether in the form of violence or the exertion of influence in the sub-region.
I accept all that, and that Prime Minister Erdogan is making a good fist of reform in the country, but it is important to strike some notes of concern on human rights, free speech, crime, justice and immigration, as well as on an issue that should not be dismissed lightly— as it was by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane)—which is the continuing affront and offence of the systematic denial of the world’s first modern genocide. That word was invented in 1943 to describe what happened in the Ottoman empire, beginning in April 1915, to between 600,000 and 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. The fact that there is still that systematic denial causes great concern to many people across the world, most recently in France.
I am also mindful of the fact that insufficient work has been done in examining the possible ramifications of Turkey’s accession to the EU. I commend to the House the comprehensive Home Affairs Committee report of last July, “Implications for the Justice and Home Affairs area of the accession of Turkey to the European Union”. It made some very important points, but before I discuss them, let me point out that there are other areas of the criminal justice system that should cause us concern. One of them is the ill-treatment of prisoners in Turkish prisons. The Amnesty International 2012 report stated that allegations of torture persist and that there are ineffective investigations into alleged human rights abuses by state officials.
As has been made clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), no progress has been made in protecting the rights of children in the judicial system. There are 47 states whose citizens can apply to the European Court of Human Rights, and at the end of 2011 Turkey applied for 10.5% of the 151,600 cases pending, requiring a judicial decision.The Foreign Affairs Committee’s report highlights concerns about Turkey’s domestic judicial capacity and the major backlog of cases, with 1.4 million criminal cases and more than 1 million civil cases pending at the end of 2010.
Serious concerns have been expressed over many years about the media and freedom of expression. In addition, women’s rights and equality remain a persistent concern, particularly, even though the numbers are decreasing, in the context of honour killings, domestic violence, sexual assault and forced marriage. The Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, like my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), rightly refers to religious freedom in Turkey, and states:
“We recommend that the FCO should remain vigilant on issues of religious freedom and discrimination and should ensure that its Turkish partners are clear about its stance in this respect.”
Not so long ago, Human Rights Watch said:
“As the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government focused on promoting Turkey’s regional interests in response to the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements, human rights suffered setbacks at home. The government has not prioritized human rights reforms since 2005, and freedom of expression and association have both been damaged by the ongoing prosecution and incarceration of journalists, writers, and hundreds of Kurdish political activists”,
particularly through the misuse of the overly broad terrorism laws that, to give him his due, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), the Chairman of the Committee, has mentioned.
No, I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, as he has not been present for the whole debate.
I have concerns about justice and home affairs. I find it quite astonishing that the Home Office—or any Government Department—has not looked in any systematic way at how many people would be likely to move from Turkey to other European countries if the freedom of movement directive applied and after any transition period that was put in place. Figures ranging between 500,000 and 4.4 million are often cited.
Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, has stated that Turkish criminal groups are significantly involved in various forms of organised criminality, including the trafficking of heroin and synthetic drugs and the trafficking of cocaine to Europe from South America via Turkey and the Balkans. It has described “very high” levels of human trafficking to Turkey and high levels of trafficking through the country, as well as people smuggling and other criminal activities including fraud, firearms trafficking, money laundering and copyright offences.
Turkey has become a prominent stepping stone in irregular flows of migrants coming from further afield who aim to enter the European Union. The Turkish ambassador to the United Kingdom recently told the Home Affairs Committee that nearly 800,000 illegal immigrants have been apprehended while attempting to cross Turkish territory over the past 15 years. By October 2010, 46% of all irregular immigration detected at the EU external border took place at the land border between Greece and Turkey and the authorities estimated that up to 350 migrants were attempting to cross the 12.5 km land border near the Greek city of Orestiada every day.
EU accession would have implications. The length of the external land border with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran and Syria would put great stresses and strains on the EU’s external border, given that the EU has already been critical of the Turkish border security capacity. The Minister may wish to comment on the fact that there has been no impact analysis of Turkish accession on future migration trends. We need to take a serious look at that, even though accession may be many years away.
It is appropriate to mention the Armenian genocide, which is an issue of great hurt and offence to Armenian people across the world. It began on 24 April 1915 and, with the systematic deportation and murder of up to 1.5 million people, it is the first modern example of genocide. Armenians perished as a result of execution, starvation, disease, the harsh environment and physical abuse. A people who had lived in Turkey for nearly 3,000 years lost their homeland and were decimated in the first large-scale genocide of the 20th century. I concede that that was 97 years ago, but it is difficult to accept the fact that the Turkish Government refuse to countenance the idea that it is an incontestable historical fact.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. For many years, historians have tried to define genocide. He is trying to condemn the Government of the modern Turkish state post-1923 for a crime that was, or was not, committed by the Ottoman empire, of which both Armenia and the Turkic peoples were part.
I yield to no one in my enormous respect for my colleague in the Inter-Parliamentary Union and his great love for Turkey and affinity for the country. I bear no malice as a candid friend to the wonderful, decent people of Turkey but I quote Leo Kuper, who was an eminent academic at the University of California, Los Angeles and said:
“The Armenian genocide is a contemporary current issue, given the persistent aggressive denial of the crime by the Turkish government—notwithstanding its own judgment in courts martial after the first World War, that its leading ministers had deliberately planned and carried out the annihilation of Armenians, with the participation of many regional administrators.”
My point is not that that series of events did not happen at the end of the Ottoman empire in Anatolia, which is now part of modern Turkey, but that a key issue in assessing the suitability and fitness of a country seeking to be part of a club founded on the bedrock of legality, fairness and equality is the fact that it should acknowledge past mistakes and crimes that took place almost 100 years ago. In that respect, just as the Turkish Government have to move on the issue of Cyprus and countenance the right of the Cypriot people to self-determination, democracy and freedom, they must accept that the Armenian genocide happened. They have to apologise and move forward, as happened in Northern Ireland, South Africa and elsewhere, with a truth and reconciliation process to put to rest that disastrous, despicable, appalling series of events almost 100 years ago.
We have had an interesting debate. I do not agree with everyone who has spoken, but these issues are of such great importance and clarity historically that they must be raised.
I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate, which is on an interesting subject. It has been an honour to listen to many speeches, not least from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who introduced the debate and presides over a Committee that does some really good work, which should be recognised.
I have been to Turkey—mainly Istanbul, which is a vibrant, exciting city. I went there several years ago, partly because some friends of mine were moving their business interests there. I found it fascinating to watch how they were integrating with the Turkish business community and how Turkey was becoming quite an exciting place in which to invest. I did invest, incidentally, in a fez. The only useful thing that did was to alert all other traders to the fact that I was a tourist and should be approached immediately to see whether I would buy anything else.
I have also visited Cyprus and there I took note of the partition of that country between Greece and Turkey. I know that it is an important obstacle to Turkey’s eventual membership of the European Union, which I hope will be a reality some time in the future.
We have heard a little about the Ottoman empire, and quite right too. One thing to remember about the Ottoman empire is that its rise, its life and above all its fall were interesting to the rest of Europe. We should recognise that we are influenced by what goes on there, and we should be attempting to influence that area now. On that premise I shall make a number of points, not just about foreign policy, but about the economic situation in Turkey, which I have already mentioned. A country as big as Turkey, with a relatively vibrant economy—even a decline in growth rate will still give it a growth rate higher than ours for some time—is one that we should be cultivating as a potential partner in the European Union. We must develop trade and it is important that we focus on doing that.
I agree with some of the speakers who emphasised some of the difficulties that that process entails. This morning I was at a breakfast discussing trade with China. There we heard about the importance of our diplomats and our embassies in promoting trade, and we learned just how powerful and determined the Americans were at promoting business in other countries. The American diplomatic service is robust and determined to promote businesses. We even heard that ambassadors were present at various meetings for banks in competition with other banks, including one based in Britain. It is important that we recognise the strength and the power of our diplomatic corps in promoting business, and that certainly applies to Turkey.
As one or two other Members have pointed out in connection with energy, the European Union has another interest in Turkey because of energy development and other industrial and entrepreneurial activity. It is critical that we do not lose the opportunity to bind Turkey into the European Union at a time when that is feasible. Feasibility can be judged on several criteria, one of which is human rights. I recognise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) that 10% of all cases currently before the European Court of Human Rights are from Turkey. The highest number of cases are from Russia, to which Turkey is second. That is a strong signal that Turkey must improve its human rights record, and we need to make sure that it is one of the tools that we bargain with, in order to encourage Turkey to think about human rights so that it can join the European Union at some time.
A change of Government in Turkey has altered the tendency to think western rather than eastern. We should recognise in our deliberations about Turkey that the new feeling in the Turkish Foreign Ministry is that, although it would be a good idea to join the European Union, there are other options. We should bear that in mind as we consider how we might tackle the issue. Many speakers in the debate mentioned that France in particular and Germany are slightly concerned about Turkey’s membership of the European Union. Germany, with its tradition of guest workers, will clearly have to think carefully about that, not just because of the history of that tradition, but because of the number of Turks currently in Germany.
France is an interesting case. I think that we should take a leaf out of Edward Heath’s book—oddly enough—because he recognised that getting Britain into the European Union depended not on persuading the Germans or any other country, but on persuading the country that was least keen on it, which was France. That is why he was so right to visit President Pompidou and ensure that he squared that off before going to the other nation states, unlike Harold Wilson, who did it in exactly the opposite direction, which inevitably ended in failure.
Turkey has some really interesting foreign policy issues that we need to think about swiftly and carefully. The first is that it has changed its mind about two key countries in its region. It used to be a pretty strong supporter of the Assad regime and the Syrian Government in general, but obviously now it is not. It is learning what to do, reacting to changes and is itself a change agent. Likewise, Turkey’s attitude to Israel has changed in recent years, demonstrating that it is thinking about its position in the region, which is something that Britain and the European Union as a whole need to understand, because Turkey will not sit there idly while the rest of us watch and wait. That is yet another reason why we should be very sensible in how we judge and calibrate exactly what we do and say to Turkey with regard to foreign policy.
One thing that is critical, but which has not really been mentioned in the debate in the context I am speaking about, is the fact that Turkey currently has an Islamic Government, but a moderate Islamic Government. Therefore, we should have a relationship with Turkey to influence the rest of the region through a Government who have some semblance of democracy and some interest in the west as well as the east. In other words, Turkey is a conduit to the places where we need more influence than we currently have. It seems to me that we should recognise that description of Turkey and apply the logical consequences. If we feel that it is a friendly Islamic country, we should be cultivating our friendship with it. That is one of the most important reasons why we should be talking about Turkey in a constructive way.
I will draw these threads together, because it seems to me that there is something very potent about recognising that human rights, economic interest and, in effect, good governance can be tied together. We can then demonstrate that the European Union, when it can request, prove and then expect all those things to be saluted for membership, is making progress. However, we can also take those three things and say to Turkey and the rest of the region, “These are the things we want and that are better for you, with regard to economic development, political stability and the recognition of states.” Of course, the situation in the middle east is the obvious and important example of that. It is just like the Helsinki accords in 1975, which effectively allowed in eastern Europe the recognition of human rights, economic interests and good governance, and the key driver then turned out to be human rights. That was the key driver motivating the signatories to the Helsinki accords, and the ones who were least confident and least free, with regard to their political rights, were the ones who ended up using them to get their freedoms eventually.
Through a combination of recognising that Turkey has economic interests that are akin to ours, that is has regional interests and is a moderate Islamic state that we can talk to and use as a conduit, and that there is enormous economic potential not just in Turkey but in the vicinity, we should think carefully about how, in the long run, Turkey can become a member of the European Union. It will not happen overnight or within a few years, but we should work for it, because it will mean good foreign policy in the long run.
I commend the Foreign Affairs Committee on its report and, indeed, the measured and sensible way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) has introduced today’s debate. We do not debate these subjects enough, and we need to discuss our relationship with foreign states—particularly those that have a long record of friendship with, and are allies of, the United Kingdom—a lot more in this Chamber.
As we have heard, Turkey is a bridge, and a bridge in a number of directions. We saw its intervention in Libya and in other parts of the middle east—I think for the good; we see its influence growing in parts of what was the southern Soviet Union, where there are a number of Turkic states; and we see its influence through its relationships with Europe.
Europe has a problem, however, because we have tended to take the Turks too much for granted. They were staunch, solid allies of NATO for decades, and we would have been glad enough to have them side by side had we been in conflict with the Soviet Union; now, we are a little more fussy and critical of our relationship than we were when the Turks were very much our allies in the cold war.
One can argue whether Turkey should or should not join the European Union, but the promise has been made, and on occasions it has seen other states fast-tracked into the EU, while for decades it has expected to join but has not yet been given that opportunity.
I do not pretend that it will be easy for a large and still largely Muslim country to come into the EU, but the promise has been made and at some point the EU has to deal with the situation straightforwardly, otherwise we may end up with extremists in that country reacting against engagement with the European Union.
Turkey is a young and fast-growing country, it is certainly growing much faster than those in the eurozone and it is one of the main beneficiaries of the fact that its near neighbour, Greece, has the euro, because many Brits now go to Turkey and enjoy the benefits of a very cost-effective holiday. There is a great deal to benefit this country if we increase our trade and engagement with Turkey, but I do not mean playing at it; I mean having a long-term dialogue with the Turks.
I was pleased when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, after he was elected, went to Turkey, and that President Obama, after he was elected, realised how important Turkey was and went to address its Parliament, but we cannot just pop up and make the odd speech; we need long-term engagement with the Turks, because there is still a lot of common ground and there is great potential for exports. Turkey is more likely to be a force for good than for harm. Of course it has to make progress on human rights, but its history of democracy and of human rights is rather more recent than ours, and, although it is improving, it will take a while yet.
This has been a worthwhile debate, and the Committee has produced a worthwhile report, which I commend to many in the House. We need to do a lot more to engage with states such as Turkey, which are good allies, good friends and could be good customers, promoting and sustaining many more jobs in the UK, as they grow at a much faster rate than our near neighbours in the European Union.
I am proud, as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to be associated with its report.
Turkey is a country that we should focus on a great deal more than we have in recent years—a country that has been a staunch ally as a member of NATO, and a country that we have always had good relations with in modern times. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) said, we have in recent times taken it somewhat for granted. However, as a friend of Turkey’s, we should give it the honest advice that it needs during these developing years. It applied to join the European Union some time ago, but it has not yet been accepted. I was part of a delegation visiting Turkey last October and the clear message that I picked up, from speaking to many people, was that they wanted to join the European Union for reasons of acceptability, to be part of the family of European nations, and not necessarily for economic reasons; it is, of course, already part of a customs union.
We must be candid friends to Turkey. We must ensure that, whatever decision it makes about the European Union—and it is its decision whether to join—it is given the advice of a friend who has been a member of that organisation for many years. I hope that Turkey will continue wanting to be part of the family of European nations and carry on its tradition of wanting a secular society and western values.
I hope that we will respect the wishes of the people in Turkey. I think that there is a feeling there that they have, in some ways, been pushed aside by us in Europe and that we have not given them the respect that they deserve. We accepted the country’s support during the cold war, of course, but now it feels slightly disjointed. The British Government and all Governments in the European Union need to understand that.
I commend the Foreign Affairs Committee report and its findings. I reiterate my steadfast support for Turkey as it continues to navigate successfully towards a bright future as part of the family of democratic nations in the European region of the world.
I welcome today’s debate on UK-Turkey relations and Turkey’s regional role. I congratulate the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I was briefly a member, on its excellent report on the issue.
Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides have made thoughtful contributions. The Select Committee Chair gave a comprehensive overview of the report. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) underlined the need to resolve the Turkish question, and the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) stressed that Europe’s neighbourhood is Turkey’s neighbourhood. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) reminded us that we can be both a friend and critic of Turkey’s. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) demonstrated, as ever, that he is the Foreign Office’s keenest human resources critic.
We also heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) and the hon. Members for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for Poole (Mr Syms) and for Romford (Andrew Rosindell).
Turkey is vital to the UK, geographically, strategically and economically. Geographically, it is at the crossroads between east and west and it remains one of the most important transit countries for the movement of goods and people anywhere in the world. It is as important now as when the merchants of the silk road travelled the country exchanging goods, philosophy and culture between Europe and the east.
Strategically, Turkey is its region’s rising power and it is vital to the UK, Europe and the United States. It is a key NATO partner, given not only its geography but the size of its military. It has the second largest army in NATO in terms of personnel, second only to the United States. Turkey is a democratic, secular Muslim country that offers hope and inspiration to countries in the region—especially those going through radical transformation as a result of the Arab spring. In the middle east, Turkey is central to securing stability across the region and, crucially, to solving the conflict in Syria and securing a nuclear-free Iran.
Economically, Turkey is a rapidly rising force. In the past 10 years, its economy has grown, on average, by more than 5% a year. Its gross domestic product has tripled. Trade and direct investment have increased dramatically. By 2050, it is set to be one of the world’s top 10 economies, with a vibrant, young and growing population, more than 50% of whom are under 30.
Turkey is already an important member of the G20 and its influence is growing. Its economic rise is impressive, especially given the dark economic days that it suffered in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Turkey’s democratic development is also impressive given the military dominance of the past century, with four coups in the past 50 years. The so-called deep state has now been successfully dismantled.
Given Turkey’s ever-increasing prominence and importance, we fully support the continued strengthening of the UK’s bilateral relationship. Labour Members are proud that in 2007 the then Prime Minister agreed the first UK-Turkey strategic partnership. In 2010, British exports to Turkey totalled over £1 billion. About 2 million British nationals visit Turkey every year. There are over 150,000 Turkish nationals and about 500,000 people of Turkish origin in the UK. In cities across the UK, we can see evidence of the contribution that these Turkish communities make to the fabric of British society. There continues to be a strong cultural exchange between our countries. We therefore support the Select Committee’s assertion that the Government are correct to seek to strengthen the UK’s relations with Turkey as a strategic partner. This partnership covers agreements on a range of issues including education, defence, regional stability and culture—from managing migration flows to the development of low-carbon technologies.
We welcome the Foreign Office’s commitment to increasing its diplomatic presence in the country. We also welcome the recent military co-operation treaty agreed and signed by the Government and the Turkish Government. The Select Committee is right to note that the strategic partnership is a means of measuring the success of the Government’s policy on our bilateral relations with Turkey. Two years on from his Government’s launch of the renewed strategic partnership, I look forward to hearing the Minister reflect on the key achievements to date and the key objectives for the years to come.
Alongside Turkey’s economic rise, its regional and international prominence has also been significantly enhanced. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay in saying that Labour Members commend Turkey for its ongoing commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. Turkey has supported many NATO, UK and EU foreign policy objectives. Today, crucially, Turkey is central to resolving the horrific conflict in Syria. We welcome Turkey’s involvement in the Friends of Syria group; it hosted the group’s second meeting in April. We welcome the steps that Turkey has taken to encourage dialogue between opposition leaders by hosting talks in Istanbul. Turkey has accepted over 36,000 Syrian refugees and, crucially, it has offered a safe haven for defectors from the Syrian military. As a fellow member of NATO, we welcome Turkey’s moderation in its reaction to Syria’s unprovoked and unacceptable attack on a Turkish aircraft on 22 June. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South emphasised, Turkey’s restraint in this matter was exemplary.
On Iran, Turkey has been proactive in trying to find solutions to securing a nuclear-free Iran. It recently hosted a P5 plus 1 meeting in Istanbul and this week it has been hosting a meeting of technical experts.
Turkey’s wider role in the region is also important. The hon. Member for North Dorset stressed its influence in the Balkans. The Kosovan Foreign Minister recently praised Turkey for its positive role in the region in recognition of its efforts in helping to establish better relations between Serbia and Kosova—a relationship that we and, I am sure, the Government will want to be improved.
Following the dramatic transformations triggered by the Arab spring, Turkey played a leading role in supporting democratic change. The Turkish Prime Minister was the first international leader to call for President Mubarak to stand down. The Select Committee is right to underline the importance of a democratic, secular and Muslim state such as Turkey acting as an inspiration to moderate political forces in north Africa and the middle east.
Finally, let me turn to Turkey’s EU membership. We welcome the continued cross-party consensus in this House in favour of Turkey’s EU membership. The Select Committee rightly focuses on this issue in the second part of its report. When Labour was in government, we were a strong advocate of Turkey’s accession, and we are pleased that the current Government have continued this policy. However, as several right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, we must recognise the difficulties in this area, not all of which relate to the acquis communautaire. It is regrettable that for the next six months the negotiations will be suspended. It is encouraging that relations between Turkey and France seem to be on a better footing since the election of François Hollande in May. President Hollande has accepted the invitation of Prime Minister Erdogan to visit Turkey, which will be the first such visit by a French President for 20 years.
There are also problems with regard to the acquis communautaire, as was highlighted by the European Commission’s recent progress report. Turkey has a great deal of progress to make on human rights, as has been pointed out by several hon. Members, in particular with regard to the freedom of expression and the reform of the judiciary. I welcome the Select Committee’s recommendations in that area, in particular that the Foreign Office should ensure that Turkey is left in no doubt that the shortcomings in its justice system are damaging to the country’s international reputation. We also agree with the recommendation that the Foreign Office should suggest that the Turkish Government encourage prosecutors and judges to exercise restraint in the use of pre-trial detention while the reforms to the justice system are being carried out.
We are concerned about the Select Committee’s finding that some improvements in human rights have been reversed, especially with regard to the limiting of media freedoms and freedom of expression. To echo the comments of the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay, there are also concerns about LGBT rights. In its recent accession report, the European Parliament urges the Turkish Government to ensure that LGBT rights are guaranteed by the law effectively enforced and respected by the police.
The Select Committee is right that a settlement on the relationship between the Turkish state and Turkey’s Kurdish community is vital. It is of great concern that over the past year the level of violence in that decades-long conflict has increased. It is estimated that over the past 30 years 45,000 lives have been lost. As recently as last month, 34 people were killed at a military border post. However, there are also encouraging signs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South outlined, there is a greater level of co-operation between the Turkish Government and the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, including plans to build an oil pipeline between the two areas. I echo the question put to the Minister by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee: what do the Government think the prospects are for a settlement on this issue in the months and years to come?
I have not heard the whole of my hon. Friend’s speech, but she has not touched on the Cyprus problem in the last part of it. I know that the matter has been discussed in the debate, but she has not mentioned it. Will she say something about Cyprus?
I thank my hon. Friend for his late intervention. There has been quite a lot of discussion of the Cyprus question. It is clearly an obstacle to progress in Turkey’s accession negotiations. I referred to it somewhat obliquely when I talked about political problems, rather than problems relating to the acquis communautaire, in Turkey’s membership negotiations.
In conclusion, today’s debate has underlined the many reasons why Turkey is an important strategic and economic partner to the UK. As I touched on earlier, as a result of the Arab spring there is a high degree of hope for a democratic future in the middle east and north Africa, but also a high degree of uncertainty. The ongoing crisis in Syria and the problems with Iran serve only to exacerbate that instability. Turkey is a vital ally in that key region and beyond. It is a stable, democratic, secular, Islamic state, a beacon of democracy and an inspiration for countries such as Egypt and Tunisia. For all those reasons, it is clear that Turkey is a strategic partner of growing importance to the UK. I look forward to hearing how the Minister and the Government will continue to strengthen our bilateral relationship with this important country.
I first pay tribute to the Foreign Affairs Committee for a report that, even by its ordinarily high standards, is exceptional in its breadth and significance. It ranges across many aspects of both the UK’s bilateral relationship with Turkey and Turkey’s growing self-confidence and influence in her region and the world. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) and the other members of the Committee on the report and on securing the debate.
I welcome, too, the Committee’s recognition of the Government’ efforts to deepen our already strong bilateral relationship, building on the strategic partnership that the two Prime Ministers signed in 2010. President Gul’s state visit last November was a great success, and eight months on, when we look at the scale of co-operation between the United Kingdom and Turkey across the board—from trade and investment to justice and home affairs to our approach to the conflict in Syria—it is clear that our relationship has never been stronger.
In the time allotted to me, I wish to try to respond to the various points that Members have raised. I start with foreign policy, because the report and the debate have highlighted the truth that, today, Turkey matters on the world stage to an increasing extent. She is a vital foreign policy partner for the UK, increasingly driving forward international co-operation in regions that are critical to this country’s interests, notably the middle east. As a prosperous, modern democracy with a largely but not entirely Muslim population, Turkey continues to act as an inspiration to countries affected by the Arab spring.
In Syria, Turkey is playing a vital role within the international community to exert pressure on the Assad regime to end its violence. The support of the Turkish Government for opposition groups based in that country can play an important part in the transition to a peaceful and fully democratic Government in Syria. We support the active role that Turkey is playing, including its decision to host a ministerial meeting of the core group last month in Istanbul. Although it was not mentioned in the debate, it is right to commend the care that Turkey is providing to more than 35,000 refugees from Syria who have fled the violence in their own country.
As my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee pointed out, the shooting down of a Turkish aircraft on 22 June highlights the risks posed to all Syria’s neighbours by the continuing crisis there. In her response to the incident, Turkey has shown considerable restraint. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has condemned the Syrian regime’s actions in the strongest terms, as has NATO, and all NATO allies stand together with Turkey in solidarity and will continue to work closely with her in the months ahead. To answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), there has been no discussion of invoking article 5.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) pointed out, Turkey has increasing regional influence, and an alliance with Turkey can therefore provide extra diplomatic reach to the United Kingdom and Europe as a whole. Although Syria has been our immediate focus, we continue to build our foreign policy co-operation with Turkey on areas such as Afghanistan—my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay rightly paid tribute to Turkey’s role in ISAF—Iran, the western Balkans, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) said, and Somalia. We will look for all opportunities to deepen such co-operation over the coming months, both bilaterally and within the EU, where we welcomed Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s attendance at the March Foreign Affairs Council.
The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) asked me about Turkey’s rather fraught relationship with Israel. We must acknowledge that this is a sensitive issue for both countries, but the UK believes strongly that both should take steps towards reconciliation, because it is in both their interests and would be an important contribution to greater regional stability and the broader middle east peace process.
The general point about the need for an effort to improve relations also applies to Turkey’s relationship with Armenia. As my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), pointed out, there is a history of grief and appalling human rights abuses in the early part of the 20th century. Modern Turkey and Armenia need to find a way to live together as neighbours and friends as soon as possible.
Commercially, Turkey has a great story to tell—a growing economy, good demographics, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and an increasing openness to international partnership and investment—and there are growing opportunities for British businesses, which we will look to exploit. The Prime Minister has committed the Government to doubling trade with Turkey by 2015. To this end, we have set up a joint economic and trade committee that meets annually and serves as an official forum for Ministers and officials from both countries to explore how to enhance that commercial relationship.
At the same time, we have established with the Turks a chief executive officer forum to bring together business leaders to discuss how to increase trade and investment flows. Finally, we have set up a knowledge partnership, launched by my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary when he visited Turkey last September, the purpose of which is to promote science, innovation, entrepreneurship and investment between the UK and Turkey. All three forums will meet later this year.
The trade statistics so far demonstrate that we are on target to reach our goal. Bilateral trade with Turkey exceeded £9 billion in 2011—up nearly 40% from 2009—and last year our exports to Turkey increased by 20%, reaching £3.7 billion. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) was interested in some examples. Invensys has succeeded in its bid for an £800 million rail upgrading project in Turkey. Diageo is, I believe, one of the leading raki manufacturers in Turkey, and Rolls-Royce, Thales and Ultra Electronics have been successful in the field of defence contracts.
Recent visits to Turkey by the lord mayor of London, by my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, the Minister for Universities and Science and my noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Green, are all helping to intensify our economic ties. The first joint UK Trade and Investment-CBI mission to Turkey, specifically aimed at medium-sized businesses, was led by Lord Green and John Cridland in April. We chose Turkey as the first global destination for this type of trade mission because of the opportunities Turkey can offer to UK business.
Energy brings together both political and economic interests. Turkey can be an important energy transit route, bringing non-Russian gas from the Caspian to Europe—something that is in Europe and the UK’s strategic interest and of direct benefit to British Petroleum, its being the major energy investor in Azerbaijan. We also welcome the agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan, dated 26 June, on a trans-Anatolian pipeline. The opportunities that Turkey provides in the field of energy make it even more frustrating that the energy chapter in Turkey’s EU accession negotiations remains blocked, given that our deepening bilateral relationship is underpinned by continuing firm support for full Turkish membership of the European Union.
The Turkish-EU accession process and her relations with the EU were rightly a major theme of the Committee’s inquiry. We firmly believe that a stronger and closer relationship between the European Union and Turkey will support the security and prosperity of the United Kingdom and the EU. At the same time, we believe that the process of accession negotiations can be the most important driver towards economic, democratic, judicial and political reform within Turkey—reforms whose acceleration many Members on both sides of the House have been calling for in this debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, quite fairly, raised questions about migration and organised crime. Migration would have to be tackled during the accession negotiations and in the context of the stage of administrative, political and economic development that Turkey had reached at that time. On looking at other EU candidates or new EU members, the track record is that progress against organised crime is most likely to be accelerated when those countries are engaged in the detail of the accession process, with the requirement that that brings for serious action against corruption and organised crime.
We acknowledge that recent progress in the formal accession negotiations has been disappointing, and we have therefore strongly supported Commissioner Fule’s positive agenda for EU-Turkey relations. There is some sign of encouragement from the comments made by President Hollande in France, but we are right to remain cautious. This remains a very sensitive political issue within France.
I am not going to dwell at length on the issue of Cyprus, which the House will have other opportunities to debate. However, I say in direct response to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, that we welcome President Christofias saying that the gas reserves should benefit all the people living in Cyprus. We hope that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus will take further steps to demonstrate to Turkish Cypriots that they have a clear interest in the development of these reserves. There has never been any doubt about the United Kingdom’s support for the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop the reserves that lie within its exclusive economic zone.
The only other thing I would say about Cyprus is that we remain committed to a settlement based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation of Cyprus, with equal rights for all communities and citizens, and in compliance with the relevant United Nations organisation. We continue to support the Cypriot-led process, facilitated by the United Nations, to bring that about. A comprehensive, permanent political settlement in Cyprus is in the interest of Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Europe and the United Kingdom, and would add hugely to the stability and prosperity of the whole eastern Mediterranean region.
I have very little time left, so I will write to those Members who made points about human rights if I do not have time to deal with them now. I do want to respond.
One of the most important aspects of the accession process is the role it has played in supporting Turkey’s reforms in areas such as civilian control of the military and the independence of the judiciary. There is, as many Members have said, a long way still to travel, but at the same time it is right that we acknowledge the transformation that has taken place in Turkish life since the military ran that country. Even as recently as last month, laws were passed to establish an independent human rights institute and an independent human rights ombudsman. This week, the Turkish Parliament voted through measures to speed up court procedures and institute other judicial reforms, and a draft law on trade union rights is now before the Turkish Parliament.
Those achievements over the past decade have been compelling, but as Turkey recognises, further improvements are needed in areas such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion and women’s rights. We urge Turkey to accelerate the pace of reform in those areas, including through the introduction of further reform packages and an inclusive constitutional reform process. As the United Kingdom Government, we have offered, and continue to offer, technical assistance on a range of issues, including freedom of expression, women’s rights and judicial reform—
Debate interrupted, and Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).
The Deputy Speaker put the deferred Questions (Standing Order No. 54).