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Britain and Turkey: a new special relationship

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the case for a strong bilateral partnership between Britain and Turkey has never been stronger.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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

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

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

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

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

Our counter-terrorism experts met in London last week to discuss how we can strengthen cooperation in countering radicalisation and tackling the scourge of PKK terrorism. Turkey also shares our concerns on immigration. We have developed a number of joint projects to stem the flow of illegal migrants entering the EU from central and southern Asia.

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

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

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

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

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

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Published 22 November 2011