To call attention to the economic and strategic role of Turkey in Europe and the Middle East; and to move for papers.
My Lords, modern Turkey is a dynamic secular nation with a strong civil society. It is a country burning for change to reform further its democratic institutions. On 12 September last year, the 30th anniversary of the military coup in 1980, the Turkish Government held a referendum to change the constitution, which was drafted under military rule in the early 1980s. Their objective was to bring the constitution more in line with European Union standards, with more than 20 amendments being presented to voters. Fifty-eight per cent of Turks voted in favour of the amendments, which would curb the military’s power and reshape the judiciary. The turnout was 77 per cent and 22 million Turkish voters supported these changes. The main opposition party and other nationalist groups were opposed to these changes, and it is fair to say that this has led to some polarisation of public opinion.
The EU has welcomed the successful referendum on the package of constitutional amendments, saying the results brought Turkey a step closer to its European objective. The measures will make the Turkish military more accountable to civilian courts, will end the immunity from prosecution granted to leaders of the last coup 30 years ago, and will give the Turkish Parliament the power to appoint several judges. In addition, the reforms will expand the social rights of civil servants as well as strengthen gender equality and child protection.
Mr Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs and chief negotiator with the EU, vowed in an interview that his country would continue with the process of democratic reform. He said:
“Having taken this step, we are going to continue with reforms, and we will take the necessary first steps so that Turkey becomes a country that answers to the European criteria, so that the people of Turkey benefit from a high standard of living”.
Prime Minister Erdogan has pledged a complete rewrite of the 1980 constitution. This is expected to happen after the general election, which is due this summer.
All these events, however, should not lead us to hastily conclude that, as a result of the referendum on constitutional reform, Turkey is automatically closer to the goal of EU membership any time soon. For 40 years Turkey was critical to Europe in the Cold War, guarding its eastern flank. As a result Turkey suffered its own cold war in its lack of development during the 1960s and 1970s, and isolation from the outside world. As a child I spent most of my school holidays staying with family in Turkey. I recall my parents driving across Europe to Turkey and packing cherished western goods such as toiletries and other consumables, which were highly sought-after gifts that were not available in Turkey. Turkey-EU relations are at one of the lowest points in years. In Turkey and even in westernised Istanbul the move towards EU membership has declined, given that there is so little that is positive to report, together with growing cynicism and disaffection towards the EU among the Turkish people.
What are we to make of a statement made only last week by the Austrian Foreign Minister, Michael Spindelegger, who suggested that Turkey’s ongoing negotiations for European Union membership will not be completed before 2024? I share the view expressed by others that by shutting the door the EU is merely strengthening the arguments posed by nationalists and extremists, and further damaging the reform process in Turkey by weakening the arguments of those within the Government who are pushing forward with the reform agenda.
The danger is that it could easily derail these altogether. Offers to accept some form of EU privileged partnership have understandably been rejected. The question also has to be put: just what message is the EU passing to Turkey and to the wider Islamic world beyond that? Germany, with a population of more than 3 million ethnic Turks, is hostile and continues to be unhelpful, along with France. Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel Prize winning writer, wrote in a recent essay that,
“successive generations of the Turkish elite have faithfully taken France as their model, drawing on its understanding of secularism and following its lead on education, literature and art ... so to have France emerge over the past five years as the country most vehemently opposed to the idea of Turkey in Europe has been hugely heartbreaking and disillusioning”.
This Government, like the previous Government, are committed supporters of Turkey and its European Union membership. Last July, David Cameron, on his first visit to Turkey as Prime Minister, said that he had gone there,
“because Turkey is vital for our economy, vital for our security and vital for our politics and our diplomacy”.
He went on to say:
“I believe it is just wrong to say that Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit in the tent”.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, talks of EU membership as “still a rational choice” but complains, justifiably, about double standards and prejudices. Mr Egemen Bagis says that the word on the Istanbul street is resentful. He said:
“My constituents say, ‘We didn’t need the EU in order to triple our national income as we have done. So why bother?’”
In 2007-08, the House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee’s eighth special report on Turkey, ironically entitled, Keeping the Door Wide Open, said:
“All too often it is suggested that Turkey does not ‘belong’ in the EU. However, Turkey has long had a close relationship with the EU and the EEC before it, it is a member of NATO and the OECD, and although the majority of the population is Muslim, it is a secular democracy. We agree with the Government that accession offers strategic benefits to both parties”.
Since this report, the Turkish economy has expanded rapidly. There have been far-reaching structural reforms. There are signs of a new and more honest attitude to the Kurds, with attempts made by the Turkish Government after the referendum to revive dialogue with Kurdish political leaders that go in the right direction. On the Armenian issue, Turkey was one of the first countries to recognise Armenian independence in 1991 and is keen to normalise its relations with Armenia with recent developments and protocols. There is still a long way to go, but that is positive and welcome.
The Cyprus problem remains a major stumbling block, and since 2006 the EU Council has frozen eight of the 35 policy chapters because of Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airspace to Greek Cypriot shipping and aircraft. Four more chapters have been blocked by France and Cyprus has blocked six, including the energy chapter. There are only three chapters left to be opened. It seems that in the absence of any will to reach a breakthrough, Cyprus may well slide towards formal partition if a make-or-break meeting of Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders at the UN this month fails to find a solution. Interestingly, the Republic of Cyprus seems to believe that it is Turkey that “holds the key” to any solution. In my view it is not taking enough responsibility.
I believe the Annan plan to bring a lasting settlement in 2004 was a huge missed opportunity. In the referendum, 65 per cent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour, with 76 per cent of Greek Cypriots rejecting the plan. Many of us were left bitterly disappointed at this missed opportunity for reunification when the Greek Cypriots voted to reject it and, in effect, voted for the status quo; and were thus rewarded by becoming a member of the EU. The resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2004,
“pays tribute to the Turkish Cypriots, who supported the Annan plan by an overwhelming majority, thus opting for a future in Europe. The international community, and in particular the Council of Europe and the European Union, cannot ignore or betray the expressed desire of the majority of Turkish Cypriots for greater openness and should take rapid and appropriate steps to encourage it. The Turkish Cypriots’ international isolation must cease”.
Almost seven years on, this has yet to be honoured. For a country that for many years has been on the periphery of Europe, and is a bridge between Europe and Asia, Turkey will play a bigger role in 2011. It will be Europe's fastest-growing sizeable economy for the second year running; growth in 2010 was close to 6 per cent. Turkey's presence in the United Kingdom is significant: £380 million has been invested by Turkish companies in the UK; more than 3,000 Turkish students attend UK universities; the Turkish-speaking community in Britain is approaching 500,000 people; and the UK is the second biggest export market for Turkey. The number of UK tourists visiting Turkey last year exceeded 2.7 million, a 60 per cent increase in the past four years, UK direct investment in Turkey has increased, and currently around 2,200 British companies operate in Turkey with an investment value of $4 billion. More than 20,000 UK citizens have bought property in Turkey, and there is a large settled British community living and working in Turkey. The annual trade volume between Turkey and the UK reached $9 billion in 2009.
Turkey is a rapidly developing country with a large domestic market of 72 million people and a springboard to markets in central Asia and the Middle East. It also has a young, growing population, an expanding middle class, and significant opportunities for UK companies in a variety of sectors. Turkey's central strategic location at the point where East meets West and its ability to reach and serve its surroundings—Europe, central Asia and the Middle East—are key assets. Turkey has historical, cultural and linguistic links with more than 1 billion people in its neighbourhood, where its market penetration is strong, particularly in consumer goods.
Turkey also has strategic importance when it comes to the vital issue of energy. It is one of the most viable routes for the safe and uninterrupted flow of natural gas and oil resources to the West in what is a very volatile region. In this respect, Turkey is key in ensuring energy security through several projects such as the East-West energy corridor, with its pipeline projects linking the Caucasus and central Asia to Europe.
Turkey's recent focus on the Middle East does not, however, mean that Turkey is about to turn its back on the West. Nor is the shift evidence of the creeping Islamisation of Turkish foreign policy, as some critics claim. After decades of passivity, Turkey is now emerging as an important diplomatic player in the Middle East. Turkey has pursued an active foreign policy. Over the past few years, Ankara has established close ties with Iran and Syria and adopted a more proactive approach toward the Palestinians' grievances.
Since Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish-owned, Gaza-bound aid vessel, “Mavi Marmara”, back in May last year, killing nine Turkish national civilians—some shot at point blank range—relations between Israel and Ankara have been damaged. The collapse of the strategic relationship with Turkey is bad news for Israel, which until the events in May last year relied on Turkey as its strongest ally in the region.
The United Nations Human Rights Council's report into the incident makes damning reading. This has been compounded by the absence of any apology from Israel, which has caused huge anger among the Turkish civilian population. The mood in the EU against Turkey has changed rapidly over the last few years, while at the same time there has been a decline in the EU's credibility outside the EU. As the European public and European politicians have become consumed by doubts about enlargement, immigration and their own economic security, the position towards Turkey has hardened. We cannot deny that, given that it is a predominantly Muslim country, Islamophobia is seen as major influence; it is not welcome in the Christian club.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Mr Erdogan, said last week in a meeting with the Greek Prime Minister:
“If the EU does not want to accept Turkey as a full member, it is obliged to announce it because our patience has its limits”.
This sentiment is now becoming widespread across Turkey. People are rightly calling for an honest approach to Turkey’s chances of EU accession. Last November, President Gul of Turkey was awarded the 2010 Chatham House Prize, presented by Her Majesty the Queen. I was privileged to be present. President Gul was recognised as a significant figure in reconciliation and moderation within Turkey and internationally, and a driving force behind many of the positive steps that Turkey has taken in recent years. Mr Gul has worked to deepen Turkey’s traditional ties with the Middle East, to mediate between the fractious groups in Iraq, to bring together the Afghan and Pakistani leaderships to try to resolve disputes in 2009, and to anchor Turkey in the European Union. Not so long ago, an award like this would have been quite unthinkable.
To conclude, Turkey needs to be at the centre of Europe for the long-term security, peace and stability of Turkey, the EU and the region. It can either be a bridge between East and West or it can become a fault line. The continuing reforms in Turkey need our active support and encouragement. I ask my noble friend the Minister to give his views on this. I thank in advance all noble Lords who will take part in this debate and look forward to hearing all contributions.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on having secured this debate on such an important topic—and perhaps I may follow that with an apology. She made some references to the maritime incident involving the MV “Mavi Marmara” and other vessels. Unfortunately I will not say anything—I do not feel able to say anything—on that subject because, as noble Lords may know, I am connected with the Israeli government inquiry into that matter. So it would be quite inappropriate for me to say anything other than that I hope we will see a report from that committee within the next few weeks. That might deal with some of the points that she raised. I cannot go further than that.
As I said at the outset, this is an important debate, and I congratulate the noble Baroness on drawing attention to this matter. As she says, Turkey is important. It is important because of its size, because of its economy and because of the growth in its population and its economy, the latter having been particularly notable over recent years. It is also important in terms of its geopolitical situation and its relationship with the European Union. As the noble Baroness says, we have long been very supportive of the Turkish application to join the European Union. I have always seen that as a hugely important step forward, if it can be brought to fruition.
As the noble Baroness says, through NATO Turkey has contributed significantly to European security over the years and has achieved a degree of integration into a number of European institutions. Turkey is also a hugely important bridge between Europe and Asia and between the largely Christianised West and the Islamic East and Middle East. Of course people in the latter community will look to see how Europe deals with Turkey as an indicator in that respect, and perhaps I may remark parenthetically on that point. We tend to forget that one of the main drivers of the radicalisation of Muslim minorities in this and other European countries was originally what happened in Bosnia, when Muslim minorities in our own states saw what happened to the Muslim minority in the Balkans, and the palpable failure of Europe to protect it. We tend to forget that that was a significant factor in radicalisation long before anything else came over the horizon. That is a parenthetical remark which I will not follow further at the moment.
One of the problems with being a bridge is that it involves a degree of ambiguity. Bridges link the two communities, or two elements, that we have mentioned in terms of Europe and Asia, Christians and Muslims; but the question arises of which way the bridge is balanced and which way it looks. There we have ambiguities which unfortunately are not being resolved in a particularly helpful way. The existence of the Turkish application to join the European Union, and the way in which Europe has responded to it, is bringing those ambiguities to the fore. The noble Baroness referred to the way that so many of the chapters in Turkey’s application are being blocked, some by the European Commission, some by reference to the problems over Cyprus, some by Cyprus itself, and some by the French. She linked that to the negative statements on this issue that have come from the French and the Germans; and we all know that within the European Union, the French and the Germans tend to be the arbiters of policy. If they are negative, what prospect is there for this negotiation to come to fruition, and what impact will that have on Turkey?
Indeed, what impact has it already had on Turkey? Again we see ambiguities in that what has been happening in Turkey over the past few years can be seen as a turning away from Europe and towards other directions. Let us consider the referendum which was held last year and the constitutional changes which flowed from it. These can be seen, as the noble Baroness said, as a way in which Turkey is accepting the democratic standards that exist in the European Union—which is a positive—but they can also be seen as the AK Government taking further steps to dismantle the elements of the Kemalist state. It is the Kemalist state that is responsible for the degree of secularisation that exists in Turkish society. If the Kemalist state is being dismantled, what is the future for secularism in Turkey, particularly as the AKP is to some extent an Islamic party? The AKP portrays itself as a moderate Islamic party and barrier against more extreme Islamic elements, but again these are matters of interpretation. That is what I mean about ambiguities there.
Even in terms of Turkey’s approach to policy elsewhere in the Middle East, there are ambiguities. One does not object to Turkey being a major player in the Middle East since its location, size and economic position points in that direction, and it is quite natural for Turkey to look to the areas of influence that are available to it there, but again we see elements of ambiguity. The noble Baroness referred to relations between Turkey and Israel. One positive aspect is that, only a year or so ago, the Turkish Government brokered talks between Israel and Syria. At the time it seemed a positive development, and we are delighted that the Turkish Government facilitated the indirect talks that took place. It seemed a positive step on the part of both the Israelis and the Turkish Government, and, one hopes, of the Syrians. The talks did not come to fruition but the fact that they occurred is worth noting. In that respect, Turkey was assisting the political process in the Middle East. On the other hand, when we look at Turkey’s position with regard to Palestinian grievances, Turkey has tended to align itself with Hamas rather than with the Palestinian Authority. That is not going to advance the Middle East political process at all, so there is an ambiguity there.
There is even an ambiguity in another direction. In recent years, Turkish diplomats have reached out towards Armenia, which is a sensitive issue. In a recent visit to the city of Kars, which once had a large Armenian community that was annihilated in 1915, there is some element of reconciliation through the erection of a large statue to humanity. However, Mr Erdogan has made negative comments about it and called for it to be demolished, which leaves open questions about what his position is with regard to that area too.
So we see ambiguities which we hope will be resolved positively. We hope that the position with regard to Europe can be resolved positively, although the outlook is not terribly bright at the moment.
My Lords, we are very short of time in this debate. If all Members could end their speech when the sixth minute comes up on the Annunciator, we would be very grateful.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on securing this vital debate. I am pleased to declare that WMG at the University of Warwick, of which I am the director, admits many Turkish students on bursaries that we fund ourselves. We have a very close relationship with leading Turkish universities and businesses, such as the private university, Sabanci University in Istanbul, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year.
Walking the streets of Istanbul, you see how the western world found its axis there. Think of Belisarius, who reconquered Rome in the name of the Roman Empire, or of the great Ottoman scientists like Ali Qushji.
Our relationship with Turkey should be based on shared interests. Turkey's national interest lies in meeting its citizen's hunger for prosperity. Our interest lies in benefiting from its future growth. The first key to Turkey's prosperity is, of course, joining the European Union. That in turn relies on many things, especially solving the problems of Cyprus. I know that many noble Lords will address those issues today. I wish to focus on the economy, so I merely observe that it is in the interests of all of us to find an amicable way forward. I understand that Turkish leaders in Nicosia are keen for a solution as well.
The second key to Turkey's growth is to become the manufacturing powerhouse of the Near East. We should welcome that. If we want to prevent the Islamic world moving to fundamentalism, we need a successful and educated Turkey, for itself and as an inspiration to the people of neighbours such as Iran. After all, who would rather live in a closed city than an open, vibrant one, such as Istanbul? We should have confidence in the attractions of the free, open, prosperous society.
Of course, the path to prosperity can be a hard road. Turkey suffered greatly from the global economic crisis. Its peak to trough GDP decline was 14 per cent, the highest in the OECD. To take one example, the automotive sector, on which I am very keen, was responsible for a fifth of Turkey's export earnings in 2008. In 2009, those exports fell by a quarter.
Turkish leaders see that their position is exposed to external shocks. The economy is recovering strongly—over 6 per cent last year, as the noble Baroness mentioned—but they know that they must diversify to achieve stable growth. The first element of their strategy is supporting innovation. In 2008, Turkish business expenditure on R&D was less than a quarter of the OECD average.
I recently discussed that with the Minister for Foreign Trade, Zafar Caglayan. There is huge room for growth in the region, but it requires innovation. Take the automotive sector again. There are only 100 vehicles per 1,000 people in Turkey. In neighbouring countries, the number is lower still, though people are getting wealthier, so developing durable, low-fuel consumption vehicles will be crucial to meeting consumer needs. Furthermore, Turkey may move away from the textile trade, on which its economy has depended, to other areas.
That is why Turkey is now focused on increasing R&D. Facilities that employ at least 50 technicians get around half of their investment costs back. Ten of Turkey's 13 vehicle manufacturers are already taking advantage of that support. This is a major opportunity for British business. We have world-leading innovation in the automotive sector to offer.
Next, Turkey has a pressing need to improve its human capital, especially in science, skills, and other education. In the 2009 international education ratings, PISA, Turkey showed some of the biggest improvements surveyed, but that success needs to extend to the graduate and vocational level. The challenge is being taken seriously.
When I visited one of the biggest football clubs in Turkey, Fenerbahce, I found that it planned to establish its own university and asked us to help. Not many British clubs would do that.
Britain's university science sector is excellent. If we offer partnership with Turkish institutions now, we will reap rewards when expanding businesses look to the UK for support. After all, Turkey is not short of investment for entrepreneurs. A lot of the new universities are coming out of private capital.
The flow of money into Turkey has led the central bank to take the unusual step of cutting interest rates to cool the economy and lower inflation. As the EU builds a fence across the border with Turkey to keep out immigrants, Turkey is building fences to keep money from flowing the other way. We should follow that money. If we offer help now, we can be partners with Turkey as it develops and take advantage of the investment available to businesses operating there. If we spurn this chance, others will seek to take that place. I hope we do not betray our own interests by neglecting those of our allies. I trust that this Government, like the last, will see the great opportunity that lies ahead in the Near East.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my colleague and noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece on a stunning opening speech in this important debate. She covered the issues so completely and so well that we are going to spend our time underlining the points she raised.
It might be the case that political developments within Turkey over the past decade or so have not been as some may have wished and that the direction of travel of Turkey’s foreign policy has caused some unease in some quarters. That is all the more reason why we should steadfastly engage with Turkey on the broadest front to secure that country’s rightful place on the eastern flank of Europe as a bridge to advance and defend our common interest in the Middle East, the “Stans” and beyond, as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, mentioned.
It would be crass and probably naïve for Europe to turn her back on Turkey because negotiations to join the EU have become exasperatingly entangled or the shape and progress of Turkey’s development as a secular republic has been less than ideal. Beyond the obligations of the acquis communautaire, there is no “one size fits all” for the EU and nor should there be. Our excellent Library note provided us with background reading for this debate that sets out the key economic and strategic issues that irrefutably bind Europe and Turkey. Primarily, political, cultural and religious issues keep us apart.
The difficulties facing Turkey in meeting the criteria to become a full member of the European Union seem to grow rather than diminish. I would say that 2010 was a stagnant year for negotiations on the chapters of the acquis. There is clearly a long way to go before accession negotiation talks can near conclusion with the EU Copenhagen criteria fully met. That is assuming that Turkey does not lose interest in the EU and concentrates instead on cultivating already burgeoning economic growth and trade with its eastern and southern neighbours. Turkey’s annual trade with the Arab world now stands at some $30 billion, compared with less than $2 billion a decade ago. Meanwhile, in 2008, the volume of Turkey’s trade with the EU dropped below 50 per cent for the first time.
Turkey has not as yet resiled from its stated ambition to become a member of the EU. What matters is that the membership process continues through the mutual efforts of Ankara and Brussels. According to the Belgian Prime Minister, Yves Leterme, speaking to the Sunday Zaman last week:
“Some people in Turkey are asking whether Turkey’s future is in the EU or not; however, this is a question for Turkey itself. Europe has accepted Turkey’s candidacy, and the process is going on … Today, it is a fact that many Muslims live in Europe. The EU continent is dominated by Christian customs. A modern and contemporary Islam can definitely serve as a reference for Europeans”.
Given the present stalemate in the accession process, where do the Government stand on the points made by Mr Leterme in connection with Turkey’s inclusion in the EU?
It seems that increasing Turkish frustration with the EU and the United States’ perceived indifference to accession has persuaded Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to begin a “zero problems with neighbours” approach to regional foreign policy relations. It appears Turkey’s new foreign policy concept is to emerge as a regional hegemon through economic presence, interdependence and an increasingly influential diplomatic role. To this end Turkey has promoted visa-free travel within the former greater Syrian provinces of the Ottoman Empire, including Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. It has moved closer to Russia, China, Iran and the neighbouring Muslim states to the east. Russia became Turkey’s largest trading partner in 2008, and in 2010 an agreement was signed to construct a $50 billion nuclear plant near Mersin on Turkey’s southern coast. That burgeoning economic relationship has facilitated a no-visa treaty between Turkey and Russia, bringing the two countries even closer together.
Turkey’s present position can perhaps best be understood by the remarks of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in his keynote address to ambassadors meeting in Ankara on 3 January. He told the diplomatic corps that from now on Turkey will be at the forefront of restructuring the world order, taking the role of “game setter” and that of a “wise country”. Turkish diplomacy will be active in diagnosing regional and global issues and in developing appropriate alternative responses. Ankara will make its voice heard and will make an impact.
Commentators within Turkey see this concept as an end product of its emergence as a “rising power”, able to expand its sphere of influence in the region and the globe. Turkey is rapidly growing and developing but also faces serious problems internally, as well as externally. Analysts in Turkey believe that before rushing towards “global power” status, it might be better to prioritise funding solutions to these problems. Leaving the Kurdish question to one side, there are a wide range of internal political, economic and social issues that have yet to be resolved within the country. Externally, the issues of Cyprus and Armenia, and of relations with Israel and the EU, fill the foreign policy agenda.
The considered view of Sami Kohen, for example, writing in the Hurriyet—the daily Turkish English-language paper—is that these problems should not prevent Turkey from pursuing an active foreign policy agenda. It is, however, unrealistic to spend more time and energy, and resources, on external issues while there are still so many problems to deal with in the country. In short, the vision of “global opening” gives a new focus for Turkish diplomacy, but one that should be followed with balanced and prudent caution.
My Lords, Turkey, which in the last quarter of the 20th century had often seemed set to requalify for the title of,
“the sick man of Europe”,
has now gained its place in the new G20 group—the primary co-ordinator of global economic issues—and is developing a new, active foreign policy in place of its vulnerable immobility in the front line of the Cold War. The case, therefore, for us to take stock of this major strategic shift and to try to draw some conclusions for our own policies in Europe and beyond is therefore compelling, and a reason for congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on having provided the opportunity for this House to do so.
I suggest that the first thing to be clear about is that Turkey’s enviable economic growth record, barely dented by the recession which began in 2008, is good news for other European countries, including Britain. It provides a major market for our capital and consumer goods and an attractive pole for foreign investment. The fact that the European Union already has a customs union with Turkey has done much to create and now underpin this advantage, but the fact that Turkey is growing considerably faster than other European countries is more than that. It means that the frequently evoked nightmare of excessive Turkish emigration to the rest of Europe in the context of Turkey as a member of the European Union becomes steadily less likely. It also means that the gap between Turkey and the more prosperous members of the European Union is steadily narrowing—well ahead of any realistic date for accession. Already, Turkey is more prosperous than a number of the newer member states.
The new foreign policies pursued by the trio of Prime Minister Erdogan, President Gul and their hyperactive and imaginative Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also have many good features. It is surely in the general interest that Turkey should pursue the so far rather tentative rapprochement with Armenia and should play an active role in stabilising the Caucasus and searching for solutions to its territorial disputes. Similarly, a Turkey which has developed a good relationship with Syria has potential to lend a hand in the Middle East peace process and the better relations between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, taken together with continued efforts at reconciliation with its own ethnic Kurdish population, serves wider western interests in the region.
Is everything in the garden perfect? Not quite, I would suggest; there are some risks ahead. Turkey has yet to demonstrate that it can undergo a transfer of power from one party to another, or to a coalition of parties, without putting at risk the economic and political gains of the past 10 years. That could be put to the test following this year’s general election or perhaps later, but it certainly cannot be postponed for ever. Turkey surely needs to put its rising self-confidence to good use by tolerating press criticism and religious minorities in a much better way than it has done up to now. And an electoral law that excludes from its parliament any party that does not get 10 per cent of the vote is surely a European oddity.
In the foreign policy field, too, there are risks. A Turkey that sustains a dialogue with Iran is highly desirable, but a Turkey that appears to acquiesce in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as seemed to be the case at the time of the Security Council vote on sanctions last year, would surely be putting at risk its own interests as well as those of the wider world. Mr Davutoglu’s precept of “zero problems with the neighbours” is a fine policy slogan, but Cyprus is a neighbour and so too is Greece. The present impasse in the United Nations-led negotiations for a settlement on the Cyprus problem, although far from being solely the responsibility of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, will remain a pebble in their shoe for as long as it is not definitely removed.
What conclusions should Britain be drawing from these positive developments, and can it contribute in any way to reducing the risks? First, the development of a strong, confident bilateral relationship with Turkey such as the coalition Government have already embarked upon must make sense. Secondly, I believe that we are right to maintain unwavering support for Turkey’s EU membership bid. The auguries may not look particularly promising in the short term, but a country like our own, which took “We will not take no for an answer” as its own motto when vetoed by General de Gaulle for the second time in 1967, is well placed to argue that if Turkey does likewise, it too will succeed over time. We should be pushing strenuously for the freeing up of some of the blocked chapters in the negotiations so that they can continue to move forward, while still leaving those opposed to Turkish entry the possibility of blocking it at a later stage. I doubt myself whether an impasse in the negotiations later this year, when the chapters available run out, is in anyone’s interest—least of all, I suggest, in the interest of Cyprus, since decisive progress in Turkey’s accession bid is surely the key that will unlock the door to a solution of the Cyprus problem. Thirdly, we should be doing all that we can to help move those Cyprus negotiations forward. The United Nations faces the usual Sisyphean task and needs all the help it can get; unaided, it will not succeed.
On this analysis, Turkey’s emergence as a rising power has plenty of positive factors for us as well as for Turkey. That country’s success in avoiding the inevitable traps that we face is very much in this country’s interest and something that we should be doing our best to help it to achieve.
My Lords, as has become evident in the course of this debate, Turkey is a special country. It is a large and significant country and a very beautiful one, as the many tourists who travel there will agree. Turkey’s contribution to the field of cultural heritage has been considerable. It has been the gateway to Europe since early Christendom and before, and has been a bridge between east and west.
I shall refer particularly to Turkey’s role in the Council of Europe. I was a member of the UK delegation for 10 years and saw the active and responsible role that the Turkish delegation played in the Parliamentary Assembly. Indeed, at this moment a Turkish Member, Mr Cavasoglu, is the elected president of the Parliamentary Assembly, and the president himself is a former member of the Turkish delegation.
In the Council of Europe, the Conservative group sits in the European Democratic Group with members of the Justice and Development Party from Turkey, and we work together with all the other nationalities in the group in a most harmonious and constructive way. Mr Cavasoglu, to whom I have referred, now the president of the Parliamentary Assembly, was in fact our chief whip.
It is often forgotten that Turkey was a founder member of the Council of Europe in 1948, and that membership was welcomed in a war-torn post-war Europe. Nobody in France or anywhere else suggested at that stage that Turkey was not European. The same goes for Turkey’s support of and involvement in NATO. Admittedly, Turkey’s membership was suspended during the military dictatorship, when the condition of having a pluralistic democracy was not fulfilled. There have also been human rights problems, as there have been in many member countries of the Council of Europe. However, I believe that that is all a thing of the past. Therefore, with regard to European Union membership, the argument that Turkey cannot claim to be a European country is not valid and, in any event, it is a bit late to suggest it.
The real reasons why Turkey’s membership of the European Union is being delayed and blocked in some quarters are much more to do with its size and the fact that it would be the largest country in the European Union; and the fears that, as a result of the freedom of movement of labour provisions, our labour markets would be swamped. That is clearly something that needs to be worked out and suitable transitional arrangements made. However, given the OECD predictions that Turkey’s economy is growing at an above average rate and is likely to be the second largest economy in Europe by 2050, it seems that the boot is rather on the other foot. The likelihood is that it is our labour forces that will head for Turkey, not the other way around.
I welcome the fact that the coalition Government continue a policy of support for Turkey’s membership of the European Union. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece on introducing this important debate and I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister when he replies in what I feel sure will be a very positive way.
My Lords, it is a great privilege and a great honour to join your Lordships’ House. It has also been a great pleasure because of the immense kindness shown to me by my supporters, the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott and Lady Bonham-Carter, and noble Lords from all parts of this House, and the kindness and apparently endless patience of all its officials.
My working life to date has been chiefly concerned with the communications industry and, in the past six years or so as a trustee of the Hansard Society, with the study of our parliamentary and democratic institutions. I hope to speak on these topics in your Lordships’ House in the future. The Motion before your Lordships today presents me with an opportunity to speak on perhaps my longest-standing and most enduring interest outside the UK: Turkey. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece for introducing the subject today and for speaking so well and persuasively on such an important matter.
My own involvement with Turkey goes back 45 years to my first visit. I have managed to revisit the country almost every year since, once or twice for extended periods. Twenty years ago I was charged, with my noble friend Lord Dobbs, by the then Turkish Government with helping to expedite progress towards membership of the EU. This speech is not a way of making good that long-ago obligation. I understand the convention that requires maiden speeches to be uncontroversial, and how easily remarks about the Turkish position vis-à-vis the EU or the Middle East may be characterised as controversial. I will accordingly confine my remarks largely to my own experience of and reflections on Turkey and the Turks, and simply note some of the more striking facts.
In my 45 years of contact with Turkey I have, as you might expect, seen profound change. I have also seen some things remain constant throughout this period. I remember vividly how struck I was by the graceful and unforced hospitality of a traditional Islamic culture. I am struck now that this tradition survives such major political, social and economic changes. I was also struck by the strong sense of a European cultural heritage, not just in the great Roman and Byzantine monuments in Istanbul, but in the astounding remains of Ephesus and other Greek towns, and in the huge underground early Christian cities of Cappadocia.
I am conscious, too, in conversations with Turkish friends and business colleagues, of the central role that Europe and the idea of Europe has played in shaping post-Ottoman Turkish thinking and the post-Ottoman Turkish state. No speech about Turkey would be complete without respectful reference to the architect of this modern Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk, his admiration and respect for European institutions, his vision of Turkey in Europe and his creation of a secular Turkish state modelled on European lines.
As I have revisited Turkey over the years, often on business, I have been deeply impressed by the changes I have seen. What was, when I first encountered it, a broadly agrarian economy, has in the intervening years transformed itself into a modern and powerful industrial nation. When I first visited Istanbul, it was a city which contained sellers of medicinal leeches, itinerant letter writers and the occasional dancing bear—all quite romantic if your fancy lies that way. Now when I visit the city, I see home-grown multinational companies, vibrant stock exchanges, well regulated and well funded banks and a proud and strong cultural tradition, continuous with the past, in which the influence of the European and of the Ottoman is clearly and proudly visible.
Other speakers today will be better qualified than I am to talk in detail about the economic importance of Turkey to the EU and to the region, but I would like simply to point out that already by 2007 the EU accounted for 56 per cent of Turkey’s exports and for 41 per cent of its imports. Turkey ranks seventh in the EU’s top import markets and fifth in its top export markets. But perhaps one of the most striking ways of illustrating Turkey’s strategic and economic importance in the EU and in the region is to look at modern Istanbul, European Capital of Culture for 2010. A research paper published in December by the Brookings Institution, the LSE and Deutsche Bank looked at the economic fortunes of the world’s top 150 global metropolitan economies. The study shows Istanbul to have beaten Beijing and Shanghai to claim the title of “most dynamic metro city”.
The second part of my noble friend’s Motion calls attention to the strategic role of Turkey in Europe and in the region. This strategic role has, I think, been pretty evident from economic, political and military perspectives for most of the past 2,000 years. It was certainly recognised by the Greeks in antiquity and by their Roman successors. Constantine the Great made it the capital of the Eastern Empire and Anatolia was the breadbasket of both the Byzantines and the Ottomans. It is recognised by modern Europeans in modem times too. Herman Van Rompuy said, just before last Christmas:
“The EU should develop a close partnership with Ankara, without waiting for the outcome of accession negotiations”.
In our own times Istanbul and Anatolia are the fulcrum on which the interests of the established West and the emerging Near East are finely balanced. One has only to think about Turkey’s geographical position, its membership of NATO, its neighbours in every direction, its function as a conduit for the oil, gas and goods from the East, its economic strength and resilience, the youth of its population and its energy and cultural creativity to realise how strategically critical Turkey is to the EU and to the region. We must reflect also on the merits of having a Muslim nation, secular and democratic in government, as a good, willing and valued neighbour. All this, or most of it anyway, became true and important in 1453. It remains true and important in 2011. I truly believe that Turkey’s economic and strategic role is important to us and that it deserves the most careful consideration.
My Lords, it is a huge pleasure for me to congratulate my noble friend Lord Sharkey on his superb maiden speech. I apologise to him for my slightly late entry as a result of not being aware that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, was not speaking. My noble friend Lord Sharkey has had a long and distinguished career, principally in advertising, and as the House has seen he is a skilled communicator and advocate, which gives hope to all maths graduates. The Liberal Democrats particularly know my noble friend for his competent and imperturbable chairing of our general election team at the previous election. However, if you take a look at his CV, it is—how shall I put it?—his cross-party experience which could be of the greatest benefit to this House. I welcome him to this House on our behalf.
I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece who, as a relatively new Member, has really hit the ground running with this debate and her especially superb and forceful speech. I agreed with every word she had to say which, your Lordships will be grateful to hear, will probably result in my own remarks being cut much shorter.
I must first declare an interest. I have visited Turkey for some 30 years, have a second home in Turkey, am a partner in a law firm with an important office in Turkey and am the vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Turkey. I am glad to say that for the past few years, under both this and the previous Government, the UK has had excellent political relations with Turkey. As we know, in October 2007 the strategic partnership was announced during the Turkish Prime Minister’s visit to the UK when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. This was followed up last July by David Cameron who agreed a new strategic partnership with the Turkish Prime Minister during his recent visit there.
There is no doubt that the AK Government have done an extremely good job with economic management. The switch to the new Turkish lira occurred not that long ago, although I suspect that many have now forgotten it. Last year the Turkish economy is estimated to have grown by nearly 8 per cent, by 11 per cent in the first half alone, and is forecast to be the second fastest growing economy in the world by 2017. It is now the world’s 16th largest economy. As we have heard, the UK is Turkey’s second largest export market with more than 400 British companies investing in Turkey, many of them major companies such as BP, Shell, Vodafone, Unilever, HSBC and Tesco.
I want to talk principally about Turkey’s relationship with the EU, central Asia and the Middle East. In a speech at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, Mr Cameron said that the European Union without Turkey at its heart was,
“not stronger but weaker … not more secure but less … not richer but poorer”.
I completely agree with those sentiments. In Britain many of us feel that Turkey has had to wait too long for EU membership in comparison with other new member states. As we have heard from several noble Lords, since 2005 only 13 out of 35 negotiating chapters relating to accession talks have been opened for discussion and only one has been provisionally closed. However, after the eastern and central European accessions it is vital that the European Union does not turn inward. Rejection of Turkish membership would indicate that the EU saw the membership of a large Muslim nation, however secular in its constitution, as some kind of threat to its identity. This would be a dangerous message to send to our Muslim citizens. There is a worry that if accession is blocked, as my noble friend said, the EU will be perceived as a purely Christian club.
The EU must be an outward-looking institution. However, as we have heard, Turkish accession is not currently supported by France or Germany, so what are the advantages of Turkish membership of the EU? First, during the recession it has had a strongly growing economy at higher rates than all EU countries. It has a young, well educated population, unlike other parts of Europe which have an ageing population. We can all quote the figures about the percentage of the population being under 34. Such a young growing population could significantly stimulate EU growth to the benefit of us all. There are more than 3,000 young Turkish students in the UK, studying at and contributing to our universities. It was very interesting to hear about the experience of Warwick University and the partnerships that it has.
Then there is the question of energy security, as we have heard. Turkey is a natural hub between several vital energy suppliers and energy consumers and can become a crucially important hub for both oil and gas supply. If we had the Nabucco pipeline, which would involve building a gas pipeline from the Caspian through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria, it would become the first pipeline directly to link western Europe with non-Russian gas. The EU would gain a reliable alternative supply route from the Caspian and, as I discovered last week in Iraqi Kurdistan, from there too.
Turkey can also play an important role for the EU in bridging the gap between Europe and the wider Muslim world, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords, especially under the proactive Foreign Minister Davutoglu. With borders with Syria and Iran, Turkey is a gateway to the Middle East and of huge strategic importance to EU security. A key consideration is the harmful effect that a perceived EU rejection of Turkey would have on the EU’s foreign policy and its relationships and credibility with the Islamic world in creating an obvious but very real and unsettling view among EU Muslim communities and citizens of the EU.
I am pleased, however, that relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq have become so good and there is great recognition that the KRG and the Turkish system have much in common in terms of democracy, women’s rights and the rule of law. There is clearly an important and substantial amount of business investment in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is a force for friendship and stability.
However, certain issues need to be tackled. I think of the infamous Article 301, which has been amended, whereby it is obligatory to obtain the approval of the Minister of Justice to file a case, but Turkey still needs to improve press freedoms and human rights. When writers such as Orhan Pamuk are charged for insulting the nation, Turkey loses friends. These issues need to be dealt with in order to disarm critics. It is all about willingness to admit problems and institute reform where necessary. However, we must at the same time hold out a genuine prospect of EU membership, not just a cynical exercise.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on securing this debate and on her excellent speech.
I have always been fascinated by Turkish history and culture. I recently spoke and presented an award at an event to celebrate the achievements of the Turkish community in Britain. Last year, I visited Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where I met government Ministers and leaders in commerce. I know the Turkish ambassador to the United Kingdom and I found him to be an intelligent and articulate person. I also feel that the Turkish diaspora in the United Kingdom and the Turks in Turkey and Northern Cyprus are warm and friendly people.
The Turkish economy is the fastest growing in Europe and provides a wealth of opportunities for increased trade. As a businessman, I appreciate this. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that the UK will, by 2050, be overtaken by emerging economies in the international economic league table. The report goes on to estimate that the emerging group of seven countries, which includes the BRIC countries plus Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey, will by 2017 have a combined economy larger than that of the G7 nations.
The research also reveals that Turkey’s growth will surpass that of Russia by 2050. Turkey’s progress is not limited to its newly found economic prowess. The Turkish Government have embarked on a major internal reform programme, including measures in respect of freedom of expression and journalistic freedom. However, more needs to be done in this regard. I welcome the Turkish Government’s decision to create a parliamentary committee for women’s rights. I have spoken about this important issue on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House, and I therefore commend this development.
The Turkish Government have also gone to great lengths to improve and strengthen relationships with a number of countries, including Syria, Armenia, the Republic of Macedonia and Russia. Turkey’s cordial relations with Iran should not be underestimated in efforts to persuade Tehran to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme.
Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and Turkish soldiers are serving in Afghanistan. It is inevitable that the Turkish state should take its position as one of the world’s leaders. Geographically, it connects the Middle East, the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Balkans. Ceyhan, in southern Turkey, is a vital network for transporting oil and gas to Europe and the Middle East. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline is one of the largest investment projects in central Asia. The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline that links Turkey with Iraq is also a key source of oil transit. We in the United Kingdom and Europe need to have security of energy supply, and these arrangements are indeed vital.
I am pleased that for a considerable period the Government’s policy has been supportive of and sympathetic to Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union. I, too, am supportive of these goals. We should not forget that talks on this issue began as early as 1987, and more than 23 years later progress remains frustratingly slow. Turkish accession to the European Union would deliver real economic, cultural and security benefits to both Turkey and the wider European Union. I would welcome any comments from the Minister on plans to convey this message to our leading partners in the European Union. We should be aware of the internal dynamics. In 2004, nearly three-quarters of Turkey’s 73 million people were supporters of the bid to join the European Union. Today, that figure has fallen to around less than half. Turkey cannot be expected to be rebuffed constantly or to wrestle continuously with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
It is important not to avoid the issue of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots feel isolated and Turkey has a role to play in encouraging a settlement there. As I mentioned earlier, I have visited the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and feel that the problems need to be resolved. It was a missed opportunity that this was not done before Cyprus was admitted to the European Union. However, I understand that the discussions between the leaders involved in this long and unhappy conflict are making reasonable progress.
Turkey has been a good friend to the United Kingdom, and has been supportive of our multilateral efforts. She has stood by us and offered unequivocal support in our international engagements. Turkey is uniquely placed, and stands as the fulcrum between East and West, and between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle East. She is a democratic nation, willing and able to stand by her allies. I acknowledge that the Government have adopted a positive, credible and coherent approach in their dealings, statements and actions. Plainly, though, we need to say more about this to our colleagues and partners in Europe, including Germany and France.
My Lords, in contributing to the welcome debate of the noble Baroness, I shall focus mainly on relations with the European Union. However, as a preliminary point, I should stress our interdependence, which many colleagues have mentioned and which is evidenced today by the signing of the declaration on the Nabucco project by the Presidents of the European Union and Azerbaijan.
It goes without saying that Turkey has a dynamic economy, and I will not rehearse the numbers mentioned by earlier contributors to the debate. Turkey is an old nation with a young people, and its foreign policy is based on that new economic dynamism. There is an assertiveness, which is mostly but not always welcome, a new independence from the old role as the spearhead of NATO, and a return to a more active regional role. A mere glance at the map will show the importance of Turkey playing that role, and not just in its region. One has seen this in its mediating role in the Balkans and the rather surprising alliance with Serbia. One sees it in its relationship with Russia and the improved commercial relationships with the Turkic-speaking countries to the east. Perhaps I may say in passing that Turkey’s relationship with that region is much more welcome than a relationship between the Iran of the mullahs and that region. Turkey’s role in the Middle East is also obvious.
On EU entry, a decade ago it was easy to ask, “Where else could Turkey go?”. Now, with this new self-confidence, the answer is more likely to be, “Yes, the EU remains our preferred option, but we have shown that we can stand alone in our region, if necessary”. However, this assertiveness is often accompanied by a strident populist anti-Americanism. Anti-western feelings are demonstrated by the gloating over the discomfiting of the US at the United Nations in the vote on sanctions against Iran. In a recent visit to Turkey, under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I was surprised at the number of senior politicians to whom I spoke who were very ready to give Iran the benefit of every doubt on the nuclear issue.
Greece used to be known as the “asterisk country” in EU foreign policy. If Turkey were to join the EU, it is likely that it would speedily replace Greece as the asterisk country that differentiated itself from the policies of the other EU countries. In respect of Israel, the position has worsened since the AKP came to power. This has recently been highlighted by the flotilla incident. Let us hope that when the UN Security Council report emerges in mid-February, it will calm matters. Certainly the referendum in September is very welcome.
Where does Turkey stand now in relation to EU entry? Its ambition is to enter by 2023, the anniversary of the foundation of the republic. By 2023, the EU might be very different. By that time, Turkey, too, might be very different. There is thus an argument for looking at the long term. A number of countries in the Balkans have overtaken Turkey in their EU ambitions. Some argue that Islamophobia has played a part. I believe the part has been minor. The recent EU Commission report on enlargement, for example, very warmly endorsed Albania, another Muslim country.
The problem with Turkey is its size, various cultural matters and its dynamic demography. Even without the major problem of Cyprus, the EU is clearly deeply divided. We perhaps forget too readily that France would have to have a referendum, which might make Turkish accession very unlikely. Therefore, one must look at other options. If immigration is to be such a sizeable obstacle, why not look at going ahead without freedom of movement? We need to show the importance that we attach to aiding Turkey in its fight against terrorism. We need to seek to join Turkey in EU foreign policy discussions. Why should Turkey not be linked with the CFSP? There is clearly a divergence between the elites in Europe and the people, and it is clear that demography and immigration are very much behind that.
My final remark is about how we see our relations as Europeans. The safe course for Europe would be to have a zone of comfort and to have a comparative and rather genteel decline, with special relations with its periphery: Ukraine, Russia and Turkey. The bolder and perhaps more turbulent course is to recognise that the Turkey of today is not ready for entry, but we need it—if it satisfies the Copenhagen criteria, perhaps with derogations—to give a certain dynamism to Europe. Currently there is stagnation, indecision and a degree of hypocrisy on the issue in the European Union, but the crisis looms this year or next. The choice is there, the drift cannot continue and it is for us as Europeans to choose the nature of our future.
I welcome this important and timely debate and I thank the noble Baroness for providing this opportunity, which gives all of us the chance to praise Turkey's already powerful but still strengthening relationship with the United Kingdom. I repeat how pleased I and other noble Lords are that the new coalition Government have taken extra initiatives in strengthening this relationship, with a new association partnership between Turkey and the UK. Perhaps that is reflected by the great strength of our embassy in Ankara, headed by our ambassador David Reddaway, who has a powerful team that includes UKTI and an outstanding team from the British Council. Our relationship with Turkey is particularly pivotal to its relationship with the European Union.
I will also comment positively on the vital and invaluably strong position that Turkey has exercised from its earliest days in NATO. Its strength in NATO is perhaps best exemplified by its recent acceptance of an extremely difficult new NATO responsibility in the region that impacts directly on Turkey’s bilateral relationships with the nations in closest geographical proximity to it. This shows the extraordinary importance of Turkey's role in NATO, both for other members of NATO and for other countries in the region.
I particularly welcome Turkey's rapid growth in recent years. Its net export of agriculture dates back to a starting point of 20 years ago. Today, 90 per cent of its exports are industrial goods, the European Union is Turkey's largest trading partner and Turkey has become the European Union's seventh largest trading partner. Such progress stems from the first partnership and association agreement between Turkey and the European Economic Community in 1970 and, with various additional protocols, stretches up to the extraordinarily powerful customs union of 1996. Progress is certainly reflected in Turkey's growth rate of 11 per cent for the first six months of 2010. The European Union, which has a flagging growth rate, and the world in general, can be in no doubt about Turkey's extraordinarily high value in economic terms both regionally and in the wider European and international sphere.
Politically, Turkey is in a critical geographical position. Its geopolitical importance was shown last October, when the President of Germany broke new ground in attending a Christian service in south-east Turkey. At the same time, the then caretaker Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq, who has now been reappointed as Prime Minister, also visited the Turkish Government and Parliament.
Turkey looks both ways and its power in that position was perhaps shown most clearly to me in two contrasting but complementary activities that I witnessed. Through the whole of 2010, Istanbul proudly celebrated its status as European city of culture. I visited the city four times and saw the glorious cultural activities that were going on. At the same time, Turkey's trade and industry intensified efforts in some of the more difficult areas of the region. When in 2009 I visited the first trade fair for a decade in Baghdad, the Turkish pavilion was crammed with stalls and activities. Whereas UK business and industry was, alas, not present at all, the Turkish pavilion shone. I am glad to say that in the past year I managed to correct that in a personal initiative by getting—in my capacity as chairman of the Iraq-Britain Business Council—some representatives of British industry into the new trade fair in Iraq, although other businesses from Britain were not there.
Turkey looks both ways and is active not just in those ways but all around, because it has secretaryship of the Organisation of Islamic Countries. Having a broadly Muslim population, Turkey also shines out because it has a secular constitution. Therefore, Turkey demonstrates conclusively that Islam—Muslim communities and populations—can embrace democracy, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. As Turkey moves closer to the European model, this gives the lie to the comments of so many people that Islam cannot accept democracy.
I have been a supporter of Turkey’s entry to the European Union since the early 1980s, but I know that still more steps need to be taken. The European Parliament’s report of 21 September talks of the need to eliminate further non-tariff trade barriers, to open up public procurement and to bring in respect for intellectual property, including the fight against counterfeiting, and easier visa procedures, particularly for lorry drivers. Can the UK Government do more in these important economic matters? The easing of those final free-trade barriers may well be the key to reassure the nervous members of the European Union—France, Germany and Hungary, in particular—that, as a full member of the European Union, Turkey would strengthen our hand and would be a positive partner for good.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, on his maiden speech. He is clearly a welcome asset to our House and we look forward to hearing from him on many further occasions. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on moving her Motion on the very important subject of Turkey. I have been visiting Turkey regularly since 1972 and declare an interest as an officer in the British-Turkish All-Party Parliamentary Group. We hear so often about the new Asian economies or about the BRIC countries—especially Brazil and China—but nearer to home here in Europe is Turkey, which has been one of the most interesting developing countries over the past five years. It is good that we are concentrating on Turkey today.
In the new year the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Erdogan, held a conference in eastern Turkey that brought together all 180 Turkish ambassadors to discuss diplomatic relations with Greece and Cyprus and the European Union application. Interestingly, in the context of Greek-Turkish relations, his guest was the Prime Minister of Greece. Perhaps we in the United Kingdom could follow that initiative by ensuring that all our ambassadors are brought together now and again, so that they all sing from the same hymn sheet.
Turkey is a modern Muslim democracy, as has been repeatedly stated this morning, and it is also the second largest European nation and a member of European institutions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned how she—and I with her—were working with our Turkish colleagues in the Council of Europe. Turkey is also a member of the OECD, NATO and, most important, UEFA, which organises the European soccer contest. Even more important, Turkey is a member of the European song contest. Turkey is very much a European country in many respects. Of course, as has been stressed, it is a bridge between Europe and the Middle East in its key geographical location.
We will not go into Turkey’s economy in detail, but I emphasis yet again the rapid growth in Turkish exports, which were up by 11 per cent last year to $113 billion. More interesting, the GDP per capita in Turkey is now $8,590, which is already greater than that of some EU member states, such as Bulgaria and Romania. Equally important, the Turkish economy is now larger than that of Belgium, Poland and Portugal. Although an applicant country, Turkey is already ahead of quite a few member states of the European Union but its application has dragged on endlessly since 2005. Those who take an interest in Turkey will recall that the application was accepted only 60 seconds before midnight at that important meeting when it was decided that the EU could accept Muslim Turkey only as long as it also accepted Roman Catholic Croatia. Both were accepted at the same time, but Croatia’s application has moved ahead quickly while Turkey’s is still being delayed.
Belgium, which had the EU presidency in the past six months, failed to advance the Turkish application, but Belgium had other problems, having failed to form a Government after its own general election. Some said that the EU was being presided over by a failed state, which sadly seems to be the case. The UK, under both the Labour Government and the coalition Government, shares support for Turkey’s EU application, but it is strongly opposed not only by Germany and France but by Austria. That is causing Turkish realignment away from its traditional allies, which should concern European nations.
Turkey is becoming an influential nation in the Middle East and in the Caucasus, and it is developing closer relationships in the Middle East. Turkey is no longer neutral but is now a supporter of Arab and Muslim causes against Israel. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, pointed out, Turkey no longer requires visas for people from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Now Turkey has a new treaty with Russia, which is abolishing visas as well. We should compare that with the attitude of European Union countries towards the requirement of visas from Turkish people entering the European Union.
Of course, Turkey has problems with Greece. The Aegean Sea issue still needs to be resolved to the satisfaction of both. Indeed, the decision by Greece only a week ago to build a 12.5 kilometre barrier fence or wall—I am not sure which—between Greece and Turkey does not seem the most friendly of decisions. Cyprus is the main issue. We all know why it is a problem. A coup d’état, which was inspired by Greece in 1974, removed the democratically elected President Makarios from office. Since then, there have been two entities within the island of Cyprus. Turkey supports the United Nations-sponsored talks for a political settlement in Cyprus, but after 37 years there still seems little prospect of agreement. Increasingly, people are beginning to consider a permanent division of the island, and that reality should not be avoided. Latin American nations, including Brazil and Argentina, in recent weeks now recognise Palestine. If Muslim nations began something similar and recognised northern Cyprus, an international solution would become a reality.
I welcome the debate, which underlines the importance of Turkey within Europe and as a friend of the United Kingdom. I am delighted that both sides of the House support Turkey in its application to join the EU.
My Lords, when I first joined your Lordships’ House in 1963, I was told that I ought to speak, but I pointed out to my superiors that I had no knowledge or experience. They said, “Don’t worry, my dear chap, go into the Library and you can borrow other people’s experience”. I remind noble Lords that, being on the Information Committee, I am proud to say that the Library is now taking initiatives and many who have spoken today may well have received a report from the Library. I commend it to you—it is also on the internet—although it makes a few mistakes, in that it says an awful lot about what has been said by the Prime Minister rather than by people who know better.
For the first time, I shall speak from my own experience. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece because I have certain knowledge and experience in some of those areas that I want to share with your Lordships. I may be able to draw no conclusions as everything that has been said that could promote Turkey has already been said. We are obviously great Turkophiles.
At a fairly early age I joined the Navy and we then had a problem in the Middle East. Before I knew it, I had become an officer—too soon. I was unqualified and was shipped out as a bit of baggage for the Suez business. I was made a junior officer on Cyprus patrols in a coastal minesweeper as part-navigating officer, having never been to sea. For two happy years, I was based in Famagusta and sailed around the north of Cyprus, particularly to Lotte’s bar in Kyrenia, which may possibly still be there. As the noble Baroness will know from her origins in Turkish Cyprus, such places are great. I found, too, that there was a bit of trouble. As a young man who suddenly has to lead a small team to try to put down a riot in Famagusta, you start to face seeing death for the first time. At that time, because I liked the sea and sailing, we used to go on trips to show the flag. We went into Beirut with the fleet for the first time after Suez. Being the most junior person, speaking French, I had to organise cheap deals in the nightclubs. I never had to do anything particularly important.
Occasionally, we would go on another trip. One day, they told us that we were going to Turkey. I have to say that I was not quite sure where Turkey was. I thought of Cyprus as just being full of Greek terrorists; I did not fully understand the involvement. I was asked to plot the course to Turkey and, on the way, to say where we were going, but I dropped the sextant. Unfortunately, I found that we were going somewhere into the mainland of Turkey.
Those trips gave me one great love—a love of the sea. St Paul was my hero, so I set out to see whether I could follow the three voyages of St Paul. I found that St Paul went more often than anywhere else to Turkey, but the Turks are not really sea-going people. They have a coastline of about 7,000 kilometres—the same as India. Greece has a coastline of 12,000 kilometres—the same as the United Kingdom. In order to be a sea people, you have to have the sea, and the Greek have more sea and therefore more ship owners, but the Turks have more land and more people. The Turkish people are, when they are pushed, pretty warlike and really great fighters. Most of their conquests were by land whereas, in many other cases, such as ours, they were by sea. As your Lordships will know, Marmaris was the base for Nelson before he fought the battle of Abukir Bay. As you go back in time, you find an historic relationship.
I then did something very stupid. I went out, borrowed a lot of money and bought a nice boat. For 14 years I sailed the coast of Turkey and Greece—like the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, I got to know it well. You even found co-operation with the Greeks. We were trying to save the loggerhead turtle off Caunos, one of the old ports. Who came into the breach but Melina Mercouri. I had always loved her from “Never on Sunday”. We found support for ecology. The thought was that the Turks were not very good on ecology but, gradually, the whole of that area opened up. I used to take children of friends—as many as I could—to make them learn to sail, but they also had to learn history. The first question was: where are the seven wonders of the world? One basis for that—which is, to some extent, where I started—was Bodrum, where the tomb of King Maussollos was.
We then found a sail-maker who was also a great sea journalist, Rod Heikell. Together, we wrote a book—he did all the writing and the research; well, I did some of it —called the Turquoise Coast of Turkey, which is still available. For every little port, he gave the history. Before I sit down, I will give your Lordships just one example: Knidos, which has two harbours, one Greek and one Roman, where the triremes would go out to attack people in the Gulf. Knidos also had two temples, one Greek and one Roman, and was the first place to have a statue of a naked lady—all naked statues before that were of men—which was Aphrodite. People would pay a large amount of money to be able to be placed close to that statue. All those things had great movement for me.
One day, I was chairman of the Committee for Middle East Trade. The Foreign Office rang me to say, “Although you’ve got the Arab world, we have now given you Turkey”. I said, “Turkey is not part of the Middle East; it is not part of Europe. Turkey is Turkey”.
My Lords, Turkey is Turkey.
I join the long queue of noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on having initiated this debate, and the somewhat shorter queue of noble Lords congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, on his truly excellent maiden speech.
I shall concentrate my comments on the thorny issue of Turkey's potential accession to the EU. As so many other noble Lords have already talked on that topic, I will try to zoom in well below my six minutes. I should declare an interest as a former member of the Ahtisaari commission on the EU and Turkey and pay tribute to the work of my colleagues on the commission, which has deservedly been very influential.
At first sight, the quest for Turkey to join the EU seems like “Mission Impossible”. That is how many people on both sides have come to see it. I am pleased to see from this debate that that view is not shared by Members of your Lordships' House; nor is it shared by me. The problems in the way are well known and have been alluded to by other noble Lords. First, there is the stuttering nature of the accession process, with many chapters of the acquis being frozen. Secondly, there is the hostile attitudes of some of Europe's key leaders, who have been alluded to in the debate. Thirdly, there is the seemingly intractable issue of Cyprus, for which the EU must accept a high percentage of blame, having allowed Cyprus to enter the EU before a constitutional settlement was reached. Fourthly, there is the consequent cooling of public opinion on both sides. A survey in 2008 showed that only 28 per cent of EU citizens were in favour of Turkey joining the EU, down from 44 per cent a couple of years earlier. A poll in Turkey in 2010 showed that only 38 per cent of the population supported entry into the EU, down from 73 per cent in 2004.
The end of a dream, then? Like other noble Lords, I do not think so. The structural ties that bind the EU and Turkey are very strong. Consider what might happen if the EU and Turkey continued to drift apart. As other noble Lords have said, Europe would be defining itself as a Christian community, not the cosmopolitan body which in fact it is, as millions of Muslims are already part of the Union. Turkey might enter into alliance with authoritarian states, possibly succumbing to rising Islamic radicalism. A prosperous, democratic and secular Turkey is in everyone's interests.
The vicious circle that exists can be broken, but it is obvious that creative thinking will be needed at this point. I make three quick remarks on that. Cyprus, as other noble Lords have mentioned, remains a prime sticking point, but there are a lot of interesting ideas around. I mention in particular the 11-point plan proposed by the International Crisis Group, which is a promising way forward. Secondly—again, as others have noted—the pace of reform in Turkey needs to be stepped up again following the so-called golden era of transformation in 2000 to 2005, but it is worth recognising that the AKP has made more progress with the Kurdish problem than any previous Government.
Thirdly, the EU is itself in crisis, as we know, and its future is opaque. However, that situation should encourage experimentation. I agree with those who say that the EU should work with Turkey outside the framework of the accession process and that foreign policy and energy security are two key areas where it is obvious that that could be successful. I do not think that that would compromise the acquis; it would strengthen it. The case of Nabucco has already been mentioned.
I therefore join other noble Lords and the British Government in strongly endorsing the case for keeping Turkey on track for membership of the European Union.
My Lords, I join the congratulations to my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece on securing this important debate today, on her excellent introduction to it, and on giving us the opportunity to hear important contributions from across the House—in particular, from my noble friend Lord Sharkey, who I thought made an extremely good maiden speech. I know that the whole House will look forward to hearing from him again on this and other topics.
The Motion refers to the role of Turkey in international affairs. I shall address my remarks to one geographically very small area of Turkish influence, but one that has enormous strategic importance. I refer to Cyprus. The motive behind my contribution is simple. It is born out of a great interest in and huge affection for Cyprus. I lived in Nicosia and in Limassol as a small child when my Air Force father was stationed at the early warning radar station in the Troodos mountains, and I have been a regular visitor ever since, most recently in October, for the wedding of my daughter in Paphos. After that event, I took the opportunity to cross into northern Cyprus—at the invitation of the Government—to have a look and to have a series of meetings and to pay some visits over what was a very busy and interesting three-day period. I used the Ledra Palace crossing—which is a strange experience: a 500-metre walk in bright sunshine through abandoned, very quiet and war-damaged Nicosia suburbs. The whole thing had something of a John Le Carré feel to it. In fact, it is said, perhaps apocryphally, that modern-day Berliners like to try the experience just to remind themselves of how it used to be.
So what should be done about this long-standing division of Cyprus? It is worth reminding ourselves that Cyprus has been divided since 1963 and that the United Nations has been keeping the green line between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since then. It is not something that happened since 1974 and the arrival of Turkish troops.
With the ease of crossing, perhaps the outside world wonders whether it is worth bothering to try to find a solution to Cyprus—everybody is getting on, everything is all right. I believe that it would be a big mistake to think that way. First, for the people of Cyprus, all of whom are EU citizens, there is a high price to pay for the current lack of an agreed settlement: both sides live with large numbers of troops; economic development, especially in tourism, is damaged by a division which looks inexplicable to modern visitors from outside; and property markets are damaged by uncertainty over title. Perhaps most important of all, infrastructure decisions on this small island, which ought sensibly to be made on a whole-island basis, are being made separately. The most obvious example is water, where the Greek Cypriot solution to the chronic water shortage is to build desalination plants, while the north is planning a water pipeline direct from Turkey.
It seems to me that the role of the United Kingdom in helping to resolve the Cyprus question is absolutely key, because of the historic links of Empire and Commonwealth, because of our status as one of the guarantor powers, because of the strategic importance of the sovereign bases in Cyprus and because of our EU membership—and because we, above all, are the promoters of Turkish accession to the EU. That gives us a moral obligation, as well as a policy obligation, to try to move the impasse forward. We have to be sufficiently realistic to admit that there is now a stalemate in Cyprus.
On the Greek Cypriot side, there is undoubtedly an emotional desire to see reunification of the island. But the evidence is that it is very doubtful whether that sentiment is matched by any kind of commitment to reach a settlement which offers Turkish Cypriots the protection that they need; and the astounding rejection by Greek Cypriots of the Annan plan was hardly going to engender confidence on the Turkish side, which had voted for it. The acceptance of the Republic of Cyprus into the EU was a mistake and has left a total absence of leverage on the Greek Cypriot side to make any concessions at all.
In contrast, in northern Cyprus the most important factor is not unification but the need for security, representative governance and autonomy. There is a widespread and understandable feeling that Turkish Cypriots have been let down by the international community ever since unrest escalated in Cyprus during the 1960s. The policy of economic isolation for northern Cyprus is simultaneously creating an economic disparity on the island that makes unification less likely, which makes any kind of resolution less likely and is, indeed, driving Turkish Cypriots into a growing economic dependence, as well as a cultural and social dependence, on Turkey. It is a fact that fewer Turkish Cypriots speak Greek now than was the case in 1974 and that can only make life more difficult.
Yet, having spent a little time in northern Cyprus, it is clear to me that this policy of isolation, while hindering northern Cyprus and stopping it reaching its full potential, is actually not damaging it enough to make the sort of difference that perhaps its opponents might want. It looks to me as though northern Cyprus is thriving despite all of those problems and is not about to cave in any time soon to the pressure of isolationist economic policies.
It seems to me that it is high time for a rethink. First, all sorts of international organisations, particularly sporting organisations, need to rethink their current policy of bans. These things really do matter to countries. We also should accept the reality that thousands of people fly into Ercan airport but are inconvenienced by the extra time required for a touchdown in Turkey and the extra costs of flights. Finally and most importantly, the EU regulation which would allow direct trade between the EU and northern Cyprus must be implemented. This was promised to Turkish Cypriots and has been blocked since 2004. The Lisbon treaty now gives an opportunity to bring that forward. If this were to be passed, not only would the economic situation in northern Cyprus improve but Turkey would then open up ports and airports to Greek Cypriots, which would help their economy too. I hope the Minister can assure the House that normalising relationships on Cyprus, which is the key to unlocking the accession of Turkey to the European Union, is a high priority for the Government.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, who brought significant personal experience of the island of Cyprus to enrich this debate. I have experience of the island of Cyprus only as the Secretary of State for Defence, but I know from my observations of the tragedy of that island the need for us to address the impasse there if for no other reason than that it ties down very valuable international military resources on the peace line that the international community could otherwise use.
I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for an assured and informed maiden speech. If he had not told us that he had spent a lifetime in communications, we might have worked that out for ourselves from the way in which he communicated with us. I look forward to his contributions in this House in other areas where I know he has genuine expertise and depth of knowledge.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on securing this debate. I thought that her introduction was comprehensive—in fact, it was so comprehensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, that the rest of us are bit-part players merely reinforcing what she said. As I rise as the tail-end gunner on the Back Benches, I am in the happy position of knowing that everything has been said, although not yet everybody has said it, so I can cut to the chase.
I intend to make three points. One is a point of observation and information and two are points of inquiry, which I shall come to in a moment. Before turning to that, I should draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests, particularly an entry relating to a visit to Ankara in October 2010 when I took part in a roundtable discussion on NATO’s defence posture and Turkish security. That roundtable seminar and discussion was supported by the Arms Control Association, the British American Security Information Council, the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy in Hamburg and, very importantly, an organisation known as USAK, the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara. At this point, I should say that before I went there I was assisted greatly in preparing for that meeting by the embassy and the ambassador from Turkey to the United Kingdom, who facilitated my engagement with some genuine experts on these issues, for which I am very grateful. I promised to report back to the ambassador and if he is able to hear me here today—I know that he is here—I promise him that I will report back to him in detail. I intend to follow up that seminar with a further seminar on this issue in the not-too-distant future. I shall come back to that in a moment.
The first point that I wish to make arises from the potential in our relations, strategic or otherwise, with Turkey, with its changed and improved position in the world. It is a country of considerably greater assurance and of considerably greater importance in the geopolitical environment that it occupies. I know from my time as Secretary of State for Defence how important that has been to us as a country, not just in relation to Iraq and to our engagement in the Middle East, but specifically in relation to this issue: we have to thank the Turkish Government and their assured position in that part of the world for helping to release the 15 sailors who were taken by the Iranians in the northern Arabian Gulf when they were doing their job there protecting shipping. The Turkish Government quietly and assuredly made a significant contribution to securing their release and, as Secretary of State for Defence at that time—a very difficult time for me—I am very grateful to them. I know that our military are grateful to them, as the country should be. The point that I wish to make is that the potential of Turkey as a strategic partner for the United Kingdom has already been to our benefit and we should continue to exploit that relationship. I am glad to see that our Prime Minister approaches his relations with Turkey in a strategic way.
My second point arises directly from the reason why I was in Turkey in October last year. My visit was to discuss security issues and nuclear issues in particular. I found a country that has security concerns on a number of issues, including the behaviour of the PKK. It also feels, I think rightly, that it sometimes receives less than full support from fellow NATO allies in a difficult region. None the less, it is a country that is looking to take progressive positions on a number of issues that matter not only to it, but to our country, too.
Turkey does not want Iran to go nuclear and is seeking to play a constructive role in the international effort to prevent this. We should engage with Turkey on that. I am not necessarily supporting everything that it does, but we should engage with it and recognise the important contribution that it could make. Much more important, Turkey does not want to stand in the way of less NATO reliance on nuclear weapons. That is an ambition that Governments of all types in the United Kingdom share, as does the United States of America. Specifically, Turkey wants to play a role in the removal of sub-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe. The point that I wish to make to the Minister—and I ask him to engage with this—is that we will not succeed in achieving that ambition, which I know that the Government have, unless we translate the strategic relationship with Turkey into a strategic discussion about both the EU and NATO and address the issues that it has, so that we can move from a collective reliance on these weapons as the only manifestation of the cohesion of the NATO alliance. That is a consistent experience that I have had across Europe in talking to other countries with an interest in this area.
My final point—I am running out of time and have spoken longer than I intended to—relates to EU-NATO relations. These are key to our security, as Afghanistan has proved. Our ambitions in nation building rely on EU resources; we cannot deploy them into semi-secure environments unless we can improve EU-NATO relations. For two organisations that have such consistent membership with each other, the relationships between them are appalling and will be improved, as the alliance itself recognises, only if we address the issues that lie at the heart of that. That will happen only if we engage in proper strategic discussions with Turkey about the issues that cause the barrier in those relationships. I ask the Minister to address these issues in his response if he can, at least in general terms.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to speak. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, on his insightful contribution to the debate. I expected no less, knowing that he traces his roots back to my home county, Tyrone. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on obtaining this timely debate and hope that, with her more natural authority to speak on these issues, she will be more successful than I have been during the past 28 years in seeking to obtain fairer play, justice and human rights for Turkish Cypriots. That is the issue that I want to address and I declare an interest: I have had a long-term interest in and association with Turkey and northern Cyprus.
How does one even begin to inject reality into the Cyprus situation where, for example, the Greek Cypriot President Christofias, in his most recent verbal aberration, declared that if he could meet President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan,
“the Cyprus issue could be solved over dinner in a fish restaurant on the Bosphorus”?
Forget the pretension, ignore the insult, because Christofias obviously has little regard for either truth or reality. His mind is so conditioned by his own propaganda that he can easily overlook the Greek Cypriot repudiation of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, their rejection of various agreements since then, most recently the 2004 rejection of the Annan plan, and the fact that he, like his predecessors, is willingly held to ransom by the Greek Orthodox Church.
I wish that I had more time to expand on the negative part played by the Orthodox Church in respect of the rejection of the Annan plan and its relation to the ethnic cleansing that was visited on the Turkish Cypriots between 1963 and 1974. Only a knave or a fool can remain unmoved by the ghettoisation of the minority Turkish Cypriots, by the Akritas plan or by eyewitness accounts of the slaughter that was carried out during the Makarios presidency and by Nikos Sampson and the EOKA-B. I do not have to remind noble Lords that the same democratic deficit, moral deviance and violent hatred still pervade Greek Cypriot attitudes and are still being orchestrated and encouraged today, even on the football field and basketball court.
What angers me, and shames us all, in respect of the propaganda over much of my 28 parliamentary years, has been the willingness of a limited but verbose group of parliamentarians—mainly, but not exclusively, from another place, through an all-party group, lately known as the Friends of Cyprus, now the Cyprus all-party parliamentary group—to work exclusively to give credence to the Greek Cypriot line while effectively excluding any Turkish Cypriot participation, argument or rights. I remind noble Lords that it was I who was verbally and physically attacked when I dared to enter a publicly advertised meeting sponsored by the Friends of Cyprus in the Jubilee Room, where I spoke merely to remind those promoting the sectarian Greek Cypriot line that the history of Cyprus did not just start in 1974.
Order. Interventions in the gap should be a maximum of four minutes.
I apologise and I will wind up. I simply implore the Government to take a more enlightened perspective than the politically myopic Chancellor Merkel, who obviously believes that the way to assist in finding a solution for Cyprus is to visit the Greek Cypriots and lecture Turkey from afar. She did not arrive in Cyprus to support the ongoing talks; rather, she went to stick her oar in before they fail. Berlin’s only interest is to keep Cyprus as an anti-Turkish card and I hope that the coalition Government will acknowledge that.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for introducing this debate today and for doing it so well and so comprehensively. Moreover, her timing is excellent. Turkey’s role in the Middle East, its actual and potential role in Europe, and its importance in Africa is increasingly well recognised and talked about, not only here in this country, but in other European capitals, in the United States of America and, very significantly, throughout the Middle East. Perhaps I may also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, on his excellent maiden speech. I thought it was well-crafted, well-informed and very thoughtful.
Turkey’s economic importance is, of course, self-evident. It is now ranked 17th in the world’s economies, and is a significant player around the G20 table, with one of the highest sustained rates of growth in the world between 2002 and 2007. As we know, Turkey was hit very badly by the global financial crisis, with private investment and export earnings falling by a very dramatic one-third in 2009. At the same time, unemployment rose very rapidly, particularly among young people. However, as the OECD said in its report last September, the fundamental resilience of the Turkish economy has allowed it to recover to a growth rate of 6 per cent per annum, although unemployment does remain worryingly high.
Turkey’s vision of its own place in relation to Europe and the Middle East is to secure its role politically and economically. That vision grew throughout the 1990s and has been consolidated in the past 10 years. David Cameron has described Turkey as “Europe’s BRIC economy”, but, unlike the BRIC countries, Turkey has very few natural resources such as oil and gas, on which those countries and the countries of the Gulf states rely so heavily. So Turkey concentrates on trade and its economic importance is enhanced by its clear determination to trade in as many markets as it can. It is looking north to the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Black Sea area. It is looking to the Middle East and securing trade agreements with many countries there. It has introduced visa waivers, as has been mentioned, for many countries in the Arab League with the objective of expanding its trade. It has secured a hugely important trading relationship with Iraq and has launched an Arabic language television station, as well as increasing the output of Turkish programming into the Arab Middle East.
That economic activity is further enhanced by Turkey’s trade policy to be a link between the Middle East and Africa. Last year alone, Turkey opened 12 new embassies in Africa. Moreover, it secured a trade agreement with the African Union. There are only three such agreements between the African Union and other entities—one with the EU, one with China and now this third one with Turkey.
In my dealings in the Middle East—I declare an interest as chairman of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce—I have been struck by how much more frequently my Arab interlocutors talk about Turkey these days. They talk about Turkey as an economic partner and as a strategic political player. The trade partnerships through Turkey with Syria, Iraq and the Gulf states are of huge and growing importance. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned the Nabucco line and other trade routes that are opening up in order to avoid some of the greater difficulties that have been experienced by going further north. Moreover, the Middle East trade with Turkey has now reached an all-time high, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned. It stands at $30 billion per year, as compared with the level only 10 years ago of only $2 billion.
Against that background, it seems extraordinary that the European Union is still so hesitant in its welcome to Turkey as a full member. Almost all your Lordships have mentioned that point, but I must too from these Benches in no uncertain terms. It is not only extraordinary; it is damaging. It is damaging economically and politically. Now, trade between Turkey and the European Union has started to fall as a result of this sort of reluctance.
Earlier this week when we discussed the priorities for the Hungarian presidency of the EU, the Minister talked about the importance of the EU’s strategic partnership with China, Brazil, Russia and India. But at that time he did not have the opportunity to mention Turkey. When he replies to this debate, will he please update us on this issue of Turkey’s EU membership? We know that Mr Cameron supports Turkish membership. Indeed, this country has championed that for many years, right back to the days of the EU summit in Cardiff in 1998 when Tony Blair took on his European colleagues in France and Germany and won the debate. But, as everyone has acknowledged today, that process is now faltering.
Obviously, unblocking a settlement in Cyprus, as many have mentioned, is crucial. I understand that the Greek Cypriots are now looking at some of the issues in relation to access to Turkish ports and airports as a quid pro quo for relieving their block. That point was made forcefully by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. But let us be frank, this EU accession blockage is not only about Cyprus, crucial as that is. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, the rate of progress is painful. It is almost pathetically slow. Can the Minister tell us what discussions the Government have had in particular with France and Germany on this issue?
The Prime Minister has spoken about protectionism, polarisation and prejudice. They are all good arguments, but what progress has he been able to make? This matters: it does not just matter as an economic issue. It matters in political and strategic terms. In short, Turkey is a vital component in European security. It is a hugely important member of NATO and it is a military power of real significance in the broader Middle East. The European Union’s short-term protectionism may well be its long-term weakness.
Turkey’s increased economic ambitions are matched by its increasing political interest in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Prime Minister Erdogan’s popularity in the Middle East increased enormously after the Gaza hostilities a year ago, when Ankara was openly critical of Israel. His position was further enhanced in the Middle East by Turkey’s challenge to the Gaza blockade over the flotilla incidents. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, for reminding us that the report on that issue will be available soon.
Turkey’s championship of the Islamic cause is clearly irritating to the Iranian leadership, which has tried to monopolise that role in the region. But it has also led to a real shift in Turkey’s relationships with the rest of the Middle East, which have strengthened markedly. As has been mentioned, it has also put great strains on the relationship with Israel. But let us not forget that Israel received a great deal of help from Turkey in fighting the recent forest fires, which has resulted in a renewal of direct talks with Israel in Switzerland. Can the Minister tell us whether our Government support a clearer role for Turkey in the Middle East peace process? For example, Turkey in the past mediated between Israel and Syria. So could there be a real role for the Turks, in particular for Prime Minister Erdogan who has real street credibility in parts of the Arab world as a negotiator in this process? I believe that that point was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
Will the Minister also say something about Turkey’s role in relation to that other huge Middle East problem—Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Turkey’s no vote at the UN sanctions meeting last year clearly came as something of a surprise to the United States. Many commentators believe that Turkey has felt slighted and taken for granted by the US in recent years. Surely, Turkey’s role in relation to Iran could be supported and enhanced. The E3+3, the European initiative with France and Germany begun under Jack Straw when he was Foreign Secretary, is supported by the US, Russia and China, and now Turkey, although Turkey is not yet a formal member of that grouping.
Is not now the time to recognise Turkey’s real potential as a mediator and an interlocutor with Iran on this volatile, dangerous and appallingly difficult issue? That point was enhanced by my noble friend Lord Browne in his allusion to the help that we received from Turkey in releasing the British boats a couple of years ago. After all, Turkey is a tried and trusted ally. It is the only Muslim country in NATO. It has 1,300 troops in Afghanistan where it is running a PRT and training sessions for the Afghan Army and the police, and is putting a great deal of aid into the region. To be blunt, its contribution is greater, more engaged and more supportive of NATO policy than many other members of NATO who are somewhat closer to home.
Although this debate has been about Turkey’s relationship with Europe and the Middle East, the other really significant relationship is of course with the United States, which cannot be left out of the equation. The United States—indeed, the international community—needs to recognise that with the increased tensions in the Middle East peace process and over Iran, Turkey can and should be a key ally as a mediator and as a partner in making a sustainable peace in the region.
My Lords, it has been a privilege to listen to this debate. Indeed, so many sensible things have been said—by “sensible things”, I do not mean simply repetitions of the clichés of the past, but new and innovative perceptions about this great nation of Turkey—that it is rather hard to know what usefully to add. I obviously join all others in thanking my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece for securing this debate and for giving us an opportunity to discuss the economic and strategic role of Turkey in Europe and in the Middle East, in relation to issues such as those which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has just raised in her perceptive remarks, and globally. That really is valuable.
I also congratulate most warmly my noble friend Lord Sharkey on his excellent maiden speech, which was very clear and came to the central point, which was echoed in many speeches today, that Turkey is now strategically critical. As my noble friend Lady Nicholson and the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, have said, there is a change of perception here. We are now talking about a nation not at the edge of or somewhere between Europe and Asia, but at the centre of a new international landscape, a new pattern of trade and capital movements, and new fortresses of influence and power that have emerged so rapidly in the past few years and to which not every commentator has yet adjusted. In the words of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary the other day, Turkey is in a class of its own. If we try to slot it in with other countries or put it into a category, we will fail. This is a central nation in a new global pattern. We need to understand this in order to respect it and make the best of it for our own national interests.
When the Prime Minister visited Ankara last year, shortly after the coalition Government came to power, he celebrated Turkey’s impressive economic performance and valuable role as an international player. Turkey’s growing economic power is well known, and noble Lords have referred to it again and again this afternoon. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said, the Prime Minister referred to Turkey as Europe’s BRIC. It is somewhat different again. It is set to become the second fastest growing economy in the world by 2017; it has the highest youth population and the fourth largest labour force compared with the current 27 members of the European Union. Its weight is growing in all the great international fora: as a member of the G20; as a long-standing member of NATO and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe; in the Council of Europe, as my noble friend Baroness Hooper reminded us; and as a recent member of the UN Security Council.
Turkey is without question an important hub—an energy hub, as many have said—and I prefer “hub” to “bridge”. We often use the word “bridge” about Turkey, but I prefer my noble friend Lord Sheikh’s description of it as a fulcrum. It is now becoming the centre and more than the crossroads—the hub, indeed—of a whole series of vital international issues and vital interests of this country.
When the Prime Minister visited Turkey and recognised its growing economic and political power, he committed the UK to strengthening bilateral relations with Turkey by signing a new strategic partnership on behalf of the coalition Government. This, combined with frequent ministerial contact between the two Governments, has forged ever stronger ties between the UK and Turkey. A number of your Lordships are kind enough to recognise that. This is our policy and our aim. It is also reflected in more practical things, such as the fact that no fewer than 2.4 million British tourists visit Turkey every year.
Every single speech, I think, raised the matter of Turkey’s EU accession. Obviously the rising prosperity and the vast networks of relationships and influence that Turkey now embraces in the Middle East and in the Balkans are bound to make it a valuable member of any union, but certainly of our own European Union. That is the simple reason why the British Government remain Turkey’s strongest supporter of its ambitions to join the European Union. Of course, it has to meet the conditions of membership of the Union, as it would of any club with the high aims of our European Union—and, of course, Turkey’s EU accession would open up further sectors of the Turkish economy to UK exporters, increasing greatly the prosperity of our own country. We have big investments there already, as has been described. We could do a great deal more.
The accession process, which everyone has recognised is going much too slowly, is also an important stimulus to democratic reform in Turkey, together with improvements in human rights, for which there is room in some quarters. I emphasise that this is a two-way matter. Just as we are talking about the reform of Turkey, we are talking about the European Union making itself fit for purpose in the 21st century, and indeed being, in the words of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, an outward-looking, not an inward-looking, community. That is a very important and central point. The EU that Turkey seeks to join—and, I hope, will eventually join—will be of a different pattern to the one we have today. It is evolving, and so it should.
Let me say a word about the Cyprus issue, which again almost everyone referred to with great expertise, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is deeply involved in matters to do with the agonising and seemingly unending problem of Cyprus. Our commitment is to a bi-zonal, bi-communal Cyprus. We are not interested in arguments about partition; I make that absolutely clear. We are fully supportive of UN efforts to achieve a settlement based on the bi-zonal concept, with political equality as defined by the relevant Security Council resolutions.
The two leaders of the two communities met the UN Secretary-General in New York on 18 November. I am informed that during the meeting the Secretary-General asked the two leaders to focus on core issues and to try to agree a practical plan for overcoming the remaining points of disagreement across all the chapters. We commend the two leaders for the progress they have made so far, although we would like more obviously to commend in particular the work of the UN special adviser, Alexander Downer, whom I have had the privilege of meeting and who is dealing with the challenging role with great energy and commitment. We are seeking to do everything that we can with our EU partners to upgrade the welfare position of the Turkish Cypriot people so that they are prepared, we hope, for the day when we can have the solution that we all want to see. That is where we stand on the Cyprus issue.
I come now to the broader questions of Turkey’s contribution to international security. I will say a particular word about the points that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, made, with his considerable experience in these fields, about the EU-NATO collaboration and how we are working with Turkey on that. We discuss EU-NATO relations regularly at official and ministerial level with Turkey, as well as with NATO allies and EU partners. We have to recognise that a Cyprus settlement may be the necessary way to unblock fully the EU-NATO impasse in the long term, but in the mean time we want to improve practical co-operation as far as possible. We see this as vital for reasons of operational effectiveness—particularly in Afghanistan, where we have the NATO-led ISAF force and the EU police mission—and for reasons of efficiency. We are working with both NATO and the EU to encourage this.
We were pleased that the recent NATO summit in Lisbon, which included the presence of our Turkish ally, set out the importance of this agenda. We very much recognise the central point made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. Even more broadly, the Government value the positive role that Turkey plays in building peace and stability in several areas of the neighbouring regions. Turkey plays a vital role in supporting NATO’s stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan through its support for the training of the Afghan national army and police, which is a central plank in all our policies. Turkey has also proved to be a crucial partner in efforts to encourage regional co-operation, for example hosting the recent trilateral summit of the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey.
As to Turkey’s relations with Iraq, it appears—although we must be cautious about this—that Turkey’s relations with the Iraqi region of Kurdistan are improving. If business is an indicator, a lot of new business seems to be developing through heavy Turkish investment in the region. Elsewhere, we value Turkey’s contribution to the UN peacekeeping force in the Lebanon, where there is a worrying situation that perhaps we do not have time to discuss today but will need to keep an eye on, and Turkey’s work to keep Iran engaged in the current E3+3 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme, about which the noble Baroness asked me.
These contributions demonstrate Turkey’s commitment to international security, and flatly contradict the sort of grand armchair analysis that Turkey must somehow make a choice between East and West and is moving away into an anti-American, anti-western attitude and turning to the rising powers of the East. Turkish people are far too wise to fall for the oversimplification of that choice. As is utterly sensible for it to do, Turkey is seeking its own agenda and role in the new landscape.
On relations with Israel and the flotilla, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and several others rightly raised, we have underlined the need for full, credible, impartial and independent investigation into the MV “Mavi Marmara” incident. We have made it clear that we want to see a process that ensures full accountability and commands the confidence of the international community, including international participation. There is of course the UN panel of inquiry, which was set up to investigate the incident, beyond several other reports that have already come out. The UN inquiry fulfils these criteria, and we will be able to draw much better and sounder conclusions once it issues its report.
On the hard business side, on which we as a trading nation must always keep a firm eye, Turkey is a vital market for UK exporters. In recognising the amazing rates of growth that Turkey has recently achieved, the Prime Minister the other day set the UK the goal of doubling its trade with Turkey over the next five years. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others said, companies such as Vodafone, Tesco and International Power are already well established there. UK Trade and Investment is redoubling its efforts to help even more firms to win business in Turkey. In my own department, the Foreign Office, we have been seeking both through our work with other departments and through our posts to promote that aim with the greatest possible vigour. We will continue to do so.
The Turkey that our Victorian forebears saw as the sick man of Europe and which then emerged out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire as a new and vital force under Kemal Ataturk has been known well and respected by many of us. However, there is a new Turkey that we must now understand and respect even more, whose international stature and power are growing. It has been described as Europe’s only so-called emerging economy, but we must think about questioning even that concept. Some would say, perhaps a little cynically, that if there is any emerging to do, it is just as much in western Europe—indeed, in our society—as it is in the Turkish economy.
The other day, Robert Zoellick, the extremely able chairman of the World Bank, observed that the very language of talking about the “third world” and “emerging powers” belonged to the previous age, and that we must now recognise that, with globalisation, all kinds of countries that were yesterday seen as being in the “developing country” category are now pace setters: highly dynamic growth economies in the new world setting. Dare I introduce into this debate the thought that our own 54-nation Commonwealth, of which we are a proud member and which used to be seen slightly as a useful talking shop, has now emerged with five, six or seven of the fastest-growing economies in the world and at the cutting edge of high technology? That is far removed from the concept of Britain and the West trying to place their template on the international order and supplying the capital and technology while others supplied the goods and commodities. That world has gone. We must understand that. Your Lordships, perhaps more than many legislatures and assemblies, understand that we are in this new world order.
Turkey matters intensely on the international stage. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, indicated, it is caught up in new patterns of trade flowing north-south as well as east-west: the new silk routes opening up between the GCC countries, the Arab world and the rising eastern powers. Suddenly, we must adjust to the fact that the Middle East, over which Turkey sits with its huge water sources, looks increasingly to the East rather than to the West in its trade patterns and relationships. All these matters are essential for our policy-making, because we must have access to these new partnerships and relationships in order to survive and prosper as a nation ourselves.
As a key NATO ally and a defence partner, especially in Afghanistan, Turkey is a crucial partner in building international security. Turkey is an immensely valuable partner in counterterrorism and fighting illegal migration, drug trafficking and organised crime. I have not said much about the sensitive area of migration, except possibly to observe that those who fear that the future closer involvement—and, we hope, Turkey’s eventual membership of the European Union—would lead to a large shift of population from Turkey westwards may have it the wrong way around. The linking of this highly dynamic economy with our own might lead to flows of population and people seeking the ambience and encouragement of this high-growth economy. Perhaps that is a little fanciful, but these are the possibilities of the future. Furthermore, the size of the Turkish market and its startling rate of economic growth make Turkey without question a significant trading partner for the United Kingdom.
I have not answered every question, although I have tried. I think I have covered practically all the issues that have been raised in this fascinating debate. I have tried to set out a series of reasons, arguments and assessments as to why this Government attach such importance to our relationship with this great power, which has such a substantial, youthful and dynamic population. We have already taken decisive steps to inject a new dynamic into UK-Turkey relations. I encourage noble Lords—although perhaps I do not need to, because they already recognise the need—to embrace all that Turkey has to offer and to intensify engagement with Turkish counterparts in all fields of interest. This will serve to boost the prosperity and security of our own United Kingdom in the long term, which, after all, is one of our main concerns.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his comprehensive reply to this Motion. I also thank all noble Lords from across the House for an extremely interesting, positive and wide-ranging debate. There is so much expertise and knowledge in your Lordships’ House. I have enjoyed listening to everyone’s contribution, particularly that of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on the opposition Benches, reaffirming the commitment on her side of the House to the issue of the Motion that we are debating today.
I have also learnt things. It was interesting to hear my noble friend Lord Trimble talk of ambiguities and challenges. Of course there are challenges; no one denies that. Of course there must be ways, and hope, of resolving some of these difficulties in a positive way.
I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Sharkey for his amazing and insightful maiden speech. I look forward to many other contributions from him. It was timely that he was able to make his maiden speech in this debate.
I thank all other noble Lords for their contributions and everything that they have brought to this debate. I hope that it will carry on. It has been well informed, and I hope that it will take us forward positively in the coming months and years. Hopefully Turkey will see this as a sign that there is hope in the European Union and that it is not all negative.
I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Selsdon for his hugely enjoyable and entertaining voyage around Turkey and the Mediterranean. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.