Turkey, its neighbours and Europe

In a speech to a Wilton Park conference in Istanbul, Lord Howell spoke about Turkey's role as a key regional and global power.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford

I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is for me to be in two of my favorite places at the same time. Istanbul and Wilton Park. I’ve been here many times, most recently in 2009, and am always very grateful for the warm words of welcome I receive when I am here.

I’m particularly happy to be here attending a conference hosted by Wilton Park and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I should explain Wilton Park’s close relationship with the Foreign Office and its ability to act as a neutral space for broad and open dialogue is a valuable force for progress on many of today’s global issues. Wilton Park’s role now, is as innovative as it was when it began over 60 years ago after the Second World War as an initiative of Sir Winston Churchill. So I really am grateful for the invitation from Wilton Park to speak with you today.

This conference entitled ‘Turkey’s policies for engagement in the contemporary world,’ It would be hard to think of a more relevant and timely title. Particularly at this time of great change in Turkey’s neighbourhood, when new voices, that were previously silent, begin to be heard across the region in North Africa and the Middle East.

I am delighted that Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu will visit London next week, for important consultations in these fast moving times. I am also looking forward to attending the UK / Turkey Energy Dialogue with Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, which will also take place in London.

Turkey: Europe’s emerging power

At this time of regional turmoil - indeed global crisis - I want to share some thoughts with you today about the way we in Britain see Turkey, its neighbours and Europe. There can be no doubt Turkey is already a key global power. Turkey is an important force and an influential actor with a multi-dimensional foreign policy and immense “soft power” in the region - and beyond. One of Turkey’s great strengths is its position as a strategic hub for both Europe and Asia. In North Africa, Turkey has clearly demonstrated the value of its geo-strategic position, which I suggest is never more important than now.

Turkey’s role in Libya and North Africa

Turkey has been deeply involved in the international effort to address the Libya crisis, and a key NATO ally. Turkey’s crucial contribution to the NATO arms embargo mission is deeply valued. Working together, with a broad and strong coalition, towards implementing UN Resolution 1973, we are undertaking a necessary international responsibility to protect the Libyan people from being brutalized by Qadhafi and his forces. The UN resolution is necessary, legal and right. That is why there is such backing for the resolution. And it is not only our obvious duty to intervene, but also for the collective region’s national interest. An unstable Libya, on the fringes of the Mediterranean, is a risk for us all. Not just for us in Europe, in Turkey but also in Asia and Africa.

And we are extremely grateful that turkey has agreed to represent the UK’s interests in Libya whilst our Embassy in Triploi has suspended its operations.

At a time of such momentous change in the surrounding neighbourhood, it is impossible not to remark on the central role that turkey can provide as an example of an Islamic country working within a democratic framework. The recent events in North Africa and the Middle East have demonstrated to all the need of every country to respond to the political and economic aspirations of their people; the natural human right desire for freedom and democracy and fundamental human rights is universal. Turkey, as a predominantly Muslim country, in which democracy and political pluralism operate, is increasingly becoming a source of inspiration, and an example of good governance for states throughout the region and the world. Turkey could share invaluable advice and form practical partnerships with its Arab neighbours to modernize and reform political systems. Although we need to remember that each country is individual and different.

Turkey and its neighbours in the wider region

Away from vital co-operation in North Africa, Turkey has significant ecomonic and political interests and influence throughout its wider region. It has used this growing power proactively, including with its flagship “zero problems with the neighbours” policy. For example, Turkey is important both politically and economically in Iraq and has made an important contribution to stabilization there. Turkey is an integral part of NATO’s effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, running two Provincial Reconstruction Teams and committing $200 million in development support over the last three years,which is highly significant and much valued. Turkey also plays a particularly valuable role in developing the Afghan National Police Force, working closely with the UK, and the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

In the world of house sales we often hear the phrase location, location, location. Turkey’s location also means that it faces particular factors, different from those elsewhere in Europe, in handling relationships with its neighbours. I know that Turkey, like everyone else, is deeply concerned about any prospect of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Turkey is implementing UN sanctions designed to encourage Iran to provide the international community with reassurance about its nuclear programme. But at the same time, we recognise Turkey must coexist with a geographical neighbour and is keen to develop other aspects of the relationship. We do understand that. But of course we, in turn also understandbly, are keen that Turkey should use its special influence and access to encourage the Iranian regime to cooperate with the international community on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Turkey also has the potential to build understanding between Israel and the Arab world. As we all know, the relationship between Turkey and Israel has faced difficulties. I hope very much that the two governments will be able to find an honourable and mutually acceptable way forward. If they do the region as a whole will benefit.

Turkey can also play a useful role in fostering dialogue and encouraging stability in the Caucasus, with its close relationships with Azerbaijan and Georgia. And despite the current challenges, I hope that the Governments of both Turkey and Armenia can work to take the normalisation process forward this year for the benefit of both countries and the wider Caucasus region.

For all these geo-political reason, the UK regards Turkey as a friend and partner of increasing significance in the new global order. That is the geo-politics. But there are also powerful economic forces at work which are binding us increasingly together.

Turkey’s economic strength

It is not just Turkey’s engagement with its neighbours that has driven Turkey’s emergence as a global power.

Turkey is the world’s 15th and Europe’s 7th largest economy. It is the EU’s 5th largest export and 7th largest import partner. Turkey’s potential is vast : the OECD predicts that Turkey will overtake India as the second fastest growing economy by 2017, and will be the second-largest economy in Europe by 2050. With her good demographics, entrepreneurial spirit and increasing openness to international partnerships and investment, Turkey is Europe’s BRIC, as Prime Minister Cameron said when he was here last July, as well as stating the UK’s ambitions to grow our commercial relationship - what we see is doubling the value of our trade within five years.

Turkey: Europe’s energy hub

Turkey occupies a key position as not only a hub, but indeed a central player in ensuring the energy security of the whole of the EU. That will matter to all of us. Turkey will be the transit route for the proposed Southern Energy Corridor, bringing new Caspian gas, and potentially Iraqi gas, to the EU whilst Turkey will gain transit revenue and improve its own security of supply. We are moving into an age of predominance of gas, especially given present uncertainties on other sources of energy.

A first step for the Southern Corridor is to secure gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field. The Memorandum of Understanding that Turkey and Azerbaijan signed off last year, agreeing the supply and transit of Azeri gas across Turkey to Europe, was an important first step.

It is now equally important that all parties keep the momentum going forwards by establishing commercial and governmental agreements and chosing a commercially viable pipeline option.

Britain’s commercial interest in Turkey’s energy sector is strong, and we will continue to encourage investment. Energy is included in our new Strategic Partnership which was signed by both Prime Ministers here last July. The UK values its joint work with turkey on energy and work together through the annual UK-Turkey Energy Dialogue, which I have already mentioned Energy Minister Yildiz and I will attend next week in London.

EU Accession

Let me turn to EU accession and development. On the EU, my message is simple: It is the UK’s strong view that Turkey’s EU accession will be good for Turkey, good for Europe and good for the region. The case for turkey’s accession into the European Union can only get stronger. The UK believes Turkey’s accession into the EU is in the clear interest of both parties. And I emphasise for both parties. Now there is a need for Turkey to reform. There is also a need for the EU to reform. And our committed support for Turkey’s goal is backed by a number of factors. The geopolitical reasons I have already set out, make it clear why EU-Turkey co-operation on Foreign Policy is so important.

Economically, Turkish membership of the EU is in our mutual interest as we trade and invest our way out of the global economic crisis. Turkish business already employs half a million people across Europe. Turkey in the EU would create opportunities for exporters and investors as well as linking us to markets in Central Asia, the Near East and other areas where Turkish businesses are active. The EU is the world’s largest trading block, and Europe accounts for two thirds of Turkey’s Foreign Direct investment and more than half of Turkey’s exports.

Energy is another vital area of co-operation. We would like to see increased engagement between the EU and Turkey on energy that will be of mutual benefit, both in terms of energy security, and effective harmonisation of energy markets. Turkey would have a more secure supply of energy, including through countries that are interested in selling hydrocarbons to EU markets, and would benefit from a more stable and liberalized energy market that is more closely aligned with the EU’s market, which itself needs to become much more competitive and we are working hard to try and do that.

And finally, it is our view that Turkey’s accession into the EU and the benefits that it brings are not just geopolitical or economic. One of the EU’s great strength alongside it’s economic cohesion and common political institutions, is its shared values. Turkish accession is already generating a healthy debate within the EU about what our values mean in practice. Preaching and sermonizing is one thing - practical application of our values is another. Turkey is a secular and democratic state, and the EU is a secular organization which welcomes people of any faith or none. Turkish membership would increase the EU’s diversity and we should welcome that with open arms.

Turkey’s accession will also be a turning point in the history of the EU. If Turkey were not finally to accede, it would be a historic mistake on the part of the EU, which I believe would damage and limit the capacities of the EU in the eyes of the world.

Challenges to Turkey’s accession process

But of course in spite of all the benefits to both the EU and Turkey of her accession, there are obstacles and challenges that must be addressed.

One of them is public opinion in the EU. Some of those who oppose Turkish accession may be largely unaware of the significant reforms that Turkey has already made. But there is no doubt that there is still work to be done, whether on freedom of expression, the rights of minorities or judicial reform. It is up to Turkey - with the support of its close friends in the EU - to keep up the pace of reform and persuade the skeptics that it can meet EU standards across the range of issues that the Accession process addresses.


I know that Turkey remains committed to supporting efforts to find a solution to the continued problem of Cyprus. We need to turn this goal into a reality, so that the 36 year division of the island can be brought to an end. It needs leaders on both sides in Cyprus to show statesmanship and courage in taking the next steps. But the reward will be great: a settlement will bring enormous economic and security benefits not only to everyone on the island, but also to Turkey, the rest of the EU and the whole eastern Mediterranean region.

Turkey does not have to make a choice

Some commentators have pointed to Turkey’s renewed ties with its neighbours as evidence for Turkey turning away from its traditional alliances with the West.

As our Prime Minister said when he was in Ankara last year, Turkey doesn’t have to chose between East and West. It would be a mistake to think that Turkey engaging more closely with other neighbours means that it is not focused on the EU, or traditional alliances. It’s precisely because Turkey has chosen both, precisely because of Turkey’s unique position that it has such influence in the world far beyond its borders.


In London we, like you, have been thinking hard about how we adjust and position our nation in this new international landscape. Like you we have old links to maintain, and new links to build up. Turkey is a NATO ally, member of the OSCE and Council of Europe, recent UNSC member, an important trade and energy partner, and has significant cultural and Diaspora links to Europe. It is playing a vital role in North Africa and the Middle East as events unfold there, one that we greatly appreciate and which is another example of the model role Turkey can play in this fast changing scene.

In our view, a confident, democratic, and stable Turkey is good for Europe and the region in the twenty first century. Turkey’s improving ties with its neighbours, its influential foreign policy, its economic strength, and its energy hub role benefit Europe, just as its ties to Europe benefit the region. We salute and encourage Turkish commitment to the goal of EU accession and you should remember that Turkey has many friends in Europe, none more so than the UK who support that goal. But we also salute and seek to work ever more closely with Turkey as it adapts to new world conditions and takes its full place as a great and responsible nation. In facing the many tasks ahead we, the UK and Turkey, look forward to working as partners side by side.

Updates to this page

Published 25 March 2011