Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Nov 2015

Situation in Turkey: Discussion

I am delighted to welcome the Turkish ambassador, H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz. He is attending to provide the committee with an update on the situation in Turkey, with particular regard to the Syrian refugee crisis. He will also discuss Turkey's interaction with the EU and the position of its EU accession process.

On behalf of every member of the committee, I wish to express our condolences on the recent attack on the peace rally in Ankara at which 102 people were killed and as many as 250 were injured. It was awful that so many people who, in attempting to express their desire for peace, lost their lives in a tragic and senseless attack on the Turkish people. Also on behalf of the committee, I acknowledge the welcome that the more than 2 million refugees or, as Turkey calls them, guests are receiving in Mr. Egüz's country. Deputy O'Sullivan and I saw the situation at first hand when we visited Antakya this year with GOAL to see how Turkey was looking after refugees. The ambassador's country is to be commended on that. Its guests have fled terror in their homes across the border in Syria.

We will hear from the ambassador before we move on to a questions and answers session. Before we begin, however, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to ensure that their mobile telephones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting, as they cause interference even in silent mode with the recording equipment in the committee room.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, the witness is protected by absolute privilege in respect of his evidence to the joint committee. However, if he is directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and he continues to do so, he is entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of his evidence. He is directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and is asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, he should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Without further ado, I call on my good friend, the ambassador, to make an opening statement.

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

Chairman, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to address you here this morning on the current situation in Turkey. Last Sunday, Turks went to the polls once again. This general election was the third election in Turkey in 14 months. The presidential elections were held in August 2014 and we had the previous general election last June. By a constitutional change in 2007 the presidents of the republic are now elected by popular vote rather than parliamentary nomination for two consecutive terms of five years, compared to previously when it was only for a single term of seven years. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan became our first elected president with 52% of the vote.

The unicameral parliament in Turkey is composed of 550 deputies directly elected from 85 electoral districts for a four-year term by mitigated proportional representation. To be represented in the parliament, a party must win at least 10% of the vote. There are more than 55 million registered voters in Turkey, and the voter turnout is generally around 80%. On 7 June, the conservative democratic Justice and Development Party, AK Party, which had governed Turkey since 2002, won 258 seats with 40.9% of the vote and, for the first time, lost its parliamentary majority. The main opposition social-democratic Republican People's Party, CHP, won 132 seats with 25.0% of the vote. The far right Nationalist Movement Party, MHP, saw an increase in its vote share, winning 80 seats with 16.3% of the vote. The leftist Peoples' Democratic Party, HDP, which passed the 10% threshold, won 13.1% of the vote and took 80 seats.

According to the constitution, if a government cannot be formed within 45 days, the president may call early elections. As the efforts to form a coalition government failed after the June elections, an interim government led the country into the election of last Sunday. In this election, the Justice and Development Party, AK Party, won 317 seats with 49.5% of the vote. The Republican People's Party, CHP, won 134 seats with 25.3% of the vote. The Nationalist Movement Party, MHP, won 40 seats with 11.9% of the vote. The Peoples Democratic Party, HDP, won 10.75% of the vote and took 59 seats in the parliament. These results will enable AK Party to form a single-party government for another four years.

We are a candidate country to, and a close economic partner of, the EU. Membership to the EU is a strategic choice and our accession process continues to constitute a high priority for Turkey. Accession negotiations are one of the main aspects and a driving force of the Turkey-EU relationship. The EU is a reference point for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Currently there is a standstill in the accession process. We should be able to continue the negotiations as a purely technical process without facing artificially created political obstacles. The economic downturn has triggered a debate about the economic, social and political finality of European reformation, and protectionist tendencies have curbed the appetite for further enlargement. However, we believe the EU needs the enlargement process more than ever in order to create new opportunities for trade and more welfare in Europe.

On the other hand, the Turkish economy continues to perform well. It is the world's 17th and Europe's sixth largest economy. Today, the EU is our main trade partner with 40% of the total trade. Turkey is the sixth largest trade partner of the EU, following the US, China, the Russian Federation, Switzerland and Norway. Therefore, Turkey and the EU are interdependent in economic terms. Furthermore, Turkey's membership of the EU will be a development that is consistent with the flow of history. Turkey has always been a part of Europe historically, geographically, politically, economically and in the social and cultural sense. Turkey has been influenced by the events in Europe throughout history, and it has in turn influenced the events on the continent.

President Erdoan paid an official visit to Brussels from 4 to 6 October 2015 on the invitation of King Philippe and, at the margins of his visit, he met with the Presidents of the European Council, Commission and Parliament. He had fruitful discussions on Turkey-EU relations, irregular migration and regional and international issues. On 14 and 15 October he met the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr. Timmermans, and EU Commissioner for migration Mr. Avramopoulos. On 18 October Chancellor Merkel visited Turkey and held talks with President Erdoan and Prime Minister Davutolu on enhancement of co-operation on migration issues. A draft action plan on migration was worked on together with the EU representatives. This plan remains ad referendum at this stage. We saw, however, that the European Council conclusions of 15 October are far from meeting the expectations.

Recently, President Erdoan and Chancellor Merkel discussed accelerating Turkey's accession process by inviting Turkey, as in the past, to the EU summits and by opening six chapters of the accession process, which are: harmonizing rules on energy under chapter 15; economic and monetary policy under chapter 17; judiciary and fundamental rights under chapter 23; justice, freedoms and security policy under chapter 24; education and culture under chapter 26; and foreign, security and defence policy under chapter 31. Visa liberalisation was also a topic discussed. Turkey is the only candidate country to the EU whose citizens are subject to a visa. We would like to see concrete commitments from the EU side on earlier visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens.

The Syrian crisis has become the world's largest humanitarian tragedy in recent memory. Almost half of the country's population, close to 12 million men, women and children, have been displaced. Turkey continues to pursue an open door policy for Syrians without any form of discrimination. According to the UNHCR, Turkey is the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world. The total number of Syrians living in Turkey reached more than 2.4 million as of October 2015. As of 22 October 2015, 273,565 Syrians are accommodated in 25 temporary protection centres and provided with food, non-food items, health and education services as well as psychological assistance, vocational training and social activities in Turkey.

The attitude of Turkish society to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and people under temporary protection has always been one of tolerance, sympathy and solidarity. The number of Syrian babies delivered so far in the protection centres in Turkey is around 66,000. In other words, on average 110 Syrian babies are born every day only in protection centres. There are 600,000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey now. New schools, classrooms and teachers are needed. In this regard, proper funding for the implementation of the UN's no lost generation strategy became an urgent priority.

Turkey has so far spent close to US$8 billion for all these efforts whereas the total contributions we received bilaterally and multilaterally from the international community has been limited to US$417 million. This is not sustainable. We feel that there is a clear deficit of solidarity on the part of the international community on burden-sharing with respect to the Syrian crisis. This also is an issue which is discussed with the EU. It is neither possible nor just to expect Turkey to cope alone with this overwhelming migration as well as risks and threats emanating from Syrian refugees. As the number of Syrians that are seeking safety and refuge in Europe by taking dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean has increased dramatically, the Turkish Coast Guard has initiated Operation Safe Med in the Mediterranean Sea and Operation Aegean Hope in the Aegean Sea in 2015 in order to maintain safety and security at seas.

In short, Turkey and the EU agreed to work together to alleviate the refugee crisis. We are hoping to conclude the action plan which will be a reference document for closer co-operation and co-ordination between us. We welcome the revamped efforts by the EU to tackle the crisis and the pledges of increased financial aid to Turkey to that effect. We also extend our appreciation for the constructive support given by the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Irish Government on the issue. There is an urgent need for a political transition that will preserve the territorial integrity and unity of Syria. The principles of rights, duties and freedoms for all citizens and equality under the rule of law constitute the strongest remedy developed by humanity to ethnic and religious divisions and strife. If Syria starts breaking up, it will lead to new risks and threats in the Middle East, increased ethnic and religious strife and the proliferation of violent terrorist organizations like ISIS with global ramifications. The foreign Ministers of Turkey, the USA, Russia and Saudi Arabia met in Vienna on 23 October 2015 to discuss possible ways to resolve the crisis in Syria. A subsequent enlarged meeting took place on 30 October where this time the EU, UN, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Iran, Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Lebanon and Oman were also represented. The parties decided to meet and continue their talks in mid-November. Unless we take quick action and show international determination for a political solution, the refugee problem will not subside. In the absence of a swift end to the conflict, as has been demonstrated during and in the aftermath of major conflicts in the past, more and more refugees will risk their lives and find ways to reach safety in Europe and beyond, no matter what measures are taken.

I thank the ambassador for outlining the current situation in Turkey having regard to the refugee crisis and Turkish membership of the European Union. I will hand over to Deputy Brendan Smith. I hope members will ask questions rather than issue statements.

I welcome the ambassador's statement. He referred to the lack of an adequate response by the international community. When we think that 12 million people, or half the population, have been displaced while 250,000 are dead, it shows the extent of the crisis and the need for the international community to move its response up a gear, which is to put it mildly. I understand that Turkey is hosting approximately 2 million refugees and providing them with security and safety. As the EU response along with other elements of the international community to the refugee crisis has been inadequate to date, what emergency measures does the ambassador consider are necessary to prevent increased numbers of deaths as so many people in desperate situations try to get to Europe in what will become more and more difficult weather conditions? To compound the difficulties they face, weather conditions will deteriorate at this time of the year, as is natural.

I will let the ambassador answer and then Deputy Smith can come back in.

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

As I said in my presentation, the crux of the matter lies in Syria itself. Unless, as the international community, we are successful in finding a way out of the prevailing situation within Syria, it will be very hard to control the outflow of refugees. The emphasis of the intentional community should be much more in Vienna at this time of the year. It is crucial that this group of countries finds a way out of the prevailing situation in Syria so that there could be a foreseeable action plan to stop the turmoil and fighting in Syria. In Turkey we have almost 2.5 million refugees, of whom approximately 300,000 are in the camps and centres. The rest are all over the country. They are in the cities. This year I have seen with my own eyes in Bodrum people sleeping on the banks and pavements and I have spoken to our shopkeepers who told me they were trying to help. What can they do? They are fleeing west and that is the situation. Of course, talks with the EU and the draft programme we are working on together are important to determine how to control and contain the situation. There are many aspects of this and what emerges from Vienna will be very important.

We are moving towards the fifth anniversary of the crisis. With the huge numbers of refugees who have moved to Turkey from Syria, have the Turkish Government and its statutory agencies been in a position to implement measures to enable Syrian refugees to participate in social and community development? Has Turkey been able to provide normal day-to-day activity for some of the refugees? The ambassador mentioned that they are dispersed considerably throughout Turkey. Have the authorities been able to assist people to have some semblance of what one might call a "normal life"?

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

In the camps, or what we call the 25 protection centres, the 300,000 people living there are benefitting from all kinds of services. That is both the children and the adults. Two years ago, we visited with the former Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore. It was in April. We went together to a camp in Gaziantep and it was also very interesting for me to visit. We had the chance to speak with the refugees. Of course, at that time, the number was less than 500,000 in total. The conditions were remarkably good and I can say that with objectivity. The other big part of the refugee population is living in the cities. People who have the means can of course rent apartments and lead their lives but there are others who need help. In the cities, we are trying to help them through our agencies and mayorships as much as we can and we settle them in certain places. However, it is an overwhelming influx of people.

I welcome the ambassador. I visited the Turkish-Syrian border camps and I was in absolute awe of the work that is being done by Turkey there. It was amazing to see the amount of money that had been spent providing good quality shelter, health, education and other things. We were told that the Turkish authorities want more than congratulations, and that they want genuine help from Europe in particular. In terms of the action plan that has been agreed, the ambassador said the help Turkey has got from the international community has been appallingly low relative to the country's own input. Does he expect that what has been agreed will help in a significant way? When people arrived in the camps they assumed they would be there perhaps for a few weeks or months. Are they now beginning to move out of the camps to go north?

We will let Mr. Egüz answer that.

Are people leaving the camps? Are the people who were dispersed in cities and towns where they were swamping local communities also beginning to move north and leave Turkey? Is that a trend, that Turkey is becoming a transit country rather than one of destination?

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

Some people want to continue and transit through Turkey but others try to find jobs and settle down. It depends on their means. We are now making projections that in the medium term and long term the migrations could have further social ramifications for Turkey because the population is so big now, and it is increasing. Of course, some will try to move to Europe. That is for sure if we are not going to take further steps on the line. The Government is studying what could be the results of this inflow in the medium term and long term for Turkey.

My other comment is in respect of the accession process and programmes. I am sure the ambassador is more than aware of the reports we get of what are regarded as human rights abuses. Even this morning’s newspaper carried stories of media people being arrested because of opposition to the government. I am sure the ambassador must be aware that this undermines the good name Turkey had achieved, as a very successful, secular Muslim country. I do not know whether the ambassador wants to comment on that, but it is not helping the accession programme in any way. I wonder if that message is getting across.

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

I have taken note of it. I do not have the detail of the specific incident to which the Deputy referred that happened this morning. In general, if there are unlawful acts they are pursued by the state. We are becoming more and more sensitive in differentiating between the rights of the media and on the other hand enforcing the law in general. I have taken note of what the Deputy said.

I thank the ambassador.

I bid the ambassador a good morning. I have just a couple of questions, one in regard to how the Turkish Government plans to work with the European Union on the refugee situation. If refugees are sent back to Turkey, how will the process operate? There is some discussion currently ongoing in that regard.

The ambassador mentioned in this contribution about the elections and their outcome, and we know that the electoral commission will not report until 12 November, but on Monday the OSCE election observers declared that Turkey’s elections were unfair and overshadowed by a climate of fear. That echoes claims from within Turkey that it was extremely difficult for many groups to be involved in the elections because of harassment, arrests and so on. I also note that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, went further and denounced the entire process as unfair. Is the ambassador worried about those statements and the impact they will have? During the election there was a brutal crackdown on the media. In the days leading up to the election a number of radio stations were closed down and reports indicated that on the day of the election polling stations were closed early, intimidation at polling stations, the army preventing people from using polling stations, electricity cuts in some towns, ballot boxes being taken away early and the polls being closed early. All those reports came from Turkey and that does not augur well for a democratic outcome to the election.

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

The discussions with the EU are ongoing. As I indicated in my presentation, we have an action plan at the moment which is not yet finalised. We will continue to discuss these matters with our EU counterparts. It is very important that we have initiated this dialogue on irregular migration. I hope we will have a programme which will definitely contribute to alleviate the sufferings of migrants.

Turkey has the experience of having regular elections for more than half a century now and in general we had fair and transparent elections in the country. Regular elections are held every four to five years but in the past 14 months we had three elections. There have been some assertions which I looked into. I have taken note of what Deputy Crowe said but I can tell him that there could be some minor incidents here and there, but in general the elections in Turkey have always been fair and transparent.

Again, as an outsider looking in, the attacks on one particular party, which included bombing and the arrest of thousands of members, do not augur well for a democratic outcome to the election.

I wish to ask the ambassador about Turkey’s EU accession programme. He said in his introductory remarks that the process is at a standstill and that Turkey should be able to continue the technical process without facing so-called artificially created political obstacles. As a party, Sinn Féin, does not have any objection to the expansion of the EU. Does the ambassador not accept that Turkey’s accession to the EU is largely affected by its own actions, namely, continued human rights violations, poor democratic standards, media freedoms and the occupation of Northern Cyprus? I welcome that the talks on the latter have resumed and that there will be meetings between Cypriot leaders six times a year. The talks stalled and broke down in October 2014 after a Turkish warship went into territorial waters controlled by the Republic of Cyprus and then another vessel went into those waters to collect seismic data.

If that is part of the difficulty Turkey faces coming into the European Union, what exactly is happening to support the peace negotiations? Does Mr. Egüz think that after the election, with the strengthening of the AK Party, it will be easier to achieve a settlement because before the election there seemed to be quite a lot of tension and people playing the nationalist card in respect of Cyprus?

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

The AK Party came to power in Turkey in 2002. At that time, the current President was Prime Minister and his first directive on Cyprus was that we should be one step ahead to resolve this long-standing problem in Cyprus. That is why we worked so hard to finalise the Annan plan. This was the first detailed blueprint and it was worked on for almost five and a half years by both sides - and by the experts of the UN, EU and US - so it was a big, concerted effort at that time. The plan was 188 pages long. I was a deputy director general in that division at that time so I know the whole process personally. The blueprint, with its annexes, was almost 9,000 pages so it was a very detailed, well worked out plan. It was very unfortunate that the Greek Cypriots rejected it in 2004. The Turkish Cypriots accepted it with an overwhelming majority of 65%. It was not easy to reach that point. It was, unfortunately, a missed opportunity.

The Turkish side has shown its willingness to solve this long-standing issue on the island. Nevertheless, we are still at the same point. We fully support the process now taking place. Both sides have the will to solve this problem and the good news is that they will meet on 16 November. They have covered a lot of ground, especially in relatively easy chapters. There are some hard issues to tackle. If they can show leadership, it is time to solve this problem, especially before the elections that will take place in the south next May. For Cyprus, there is a chance which we should not miss this time as we did in 2004.

I thank the ambassador for his presentation. I was impressed by the turnout at the celebration of Turkey's national day. The numbers were very impressive. Turkey has something going for it.

We are dealing with a terrible humanitarian crisis but we have to look beyond this and ask ourselves how we resolve the issues causing the immigration crisis. It is difficult for me to read the thinking of the Turkish Government in respect of the resolution of the conflict in Syria. We know that it is very strongly determined that Assad should have no future. That coincides with the thinking in the West. Iran is involved and the Russians are now playing a very important political and military role in the region.

We saw what happened when ISIS attacked Kobani. The western world was certainly impressed by the resistance put up by the Kurdish forces but we are confused. What are the Turkish Government’s priorities in that region? It would be a layman’s interpretation that it does not want to support those forces that are capable of taking on ISIS. Now that the Americans are putting boots on the ground, I am confused about Turkey’s role or intent in either attacking, or assisting the world, including the Russians, in diluting the power of ISIS but it is inhibited in supplying the support necessary to those forces.

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

Turkey is a member of the coalition and it has opened its bases for the coalition and effectively contributes to the fight against ISIS. After the tragic event in Ankara, we are taking further precautions within the country and pursuing the matter. We see the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, PYD, as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK. Turkey has been struggling with the PKK for the past 30 years.

Our policy on Syria is clear. That is why we contributed to the four-party negotiations in Vienna with Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States. We are discussing the ways and means to contribute to solving the problem in Syria. Now we have a broader context for these negotiations. We want to see Syria intact in the future because we think that if it is broken into pieces it would create more and further problems in that region. We will continue to pursue this matter.

On the Syrian leader, we think it would be almost impossible to resolve this problem with a leader who is responsible for more than 300,000 deaths in his country. We will continue our line on Syria and will definitely be an effective member of the coalition combatting ISIS in Syria. We hope to see a democratic process in Syria where each group will be satisfied with its own share.

Does Turkey think that Assad should be part of a transitional government or should he go?

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

Our position is that he has to go, definitely, but we have to see the outcome of the talks in Vienna.

Back to Europe and Cyprus, can I take courage from Mr. Egüz’s words that he thinks progress is being made in the talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots? There is every reason for Turkey and Greece to stand back from the Cypriot negotiation now that the region has discovered substantial deposits of oil and gas which, if taken on land in Cyprus, would immeasurably raise the quality of life and standard of living.

While I see success for the Cypriot people, that success would have to be assisted by the Turkish Government, particularly in its claim on any oil or gas deposits. Does Mr. Egüz think that Greece and Turkey would be facilitative of the Cypriot people in deciding their future together?

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

I have to correct one point. Turkey has no claims on the gas or resources in the south of the island. The Turkish Cypriots have claims on them.

The resources to which both communities have rights could be used to facilitate the solution rather than creating further discrepancies between them. It is very important that they go further in negotiations in certain chapters. Turkey and Greece are two guarantor powers, as the Deputy knows, to the 1960 agreement in Cyprus. On security and guarantees, which it is hoped would be the sixth and last chapter to wrap up the agreement, there has to be at least a five-party meeting to discuss matters and come to a conclusion. Both Greece and Turkey as guarantor powers should definitely back the process on the island, and that is what Turkey is doing at the moment. It could be an important chance to solve this long-standing issue. If all parties can succeed in doing that, it could be a wonderful precedent for the world and for the other regions where we have so many problems. It would help to develop relations further not only on the island but all over the region. We should all benefit from the resources in that region together and become more prosperous in peace. I and my country wish to see the resolution of this long-standing problem as soon as possible.

I welcome the ambassador. Turkey should be commended on the role it has played with regard to the more than two million refugees it is hosting. I have been to Lebanon and Jordan and have seen the overflow and the difficult lives which the refugees have as a consequence. What measures are being taken in Turkey to address the risk of informal labour markets, to provide some sense of dignity to the refugees coming in and to allow them participate in the economy and contribute to society and the community through their taxes?

Among the cities along the Syrian border there are many unregistered refugees who cannot access services like education and health care. What is happening in this regard? What is the ambassador's comment on the lack of significant contributions from the international community? Both Lebanon and Jordan could make the point even more strongly. I think Turkey has spent €8 billion and has only got about €400 million or €500 million.

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

Starting with the second question, the international community has not responded well to this issue, given its magnitude, until now. Now, however, as we have started discussions with the EU, we hope we will have much more fairness in the situation. Of course, burden sharing is one aspect which is very important to control this outflow of migrants.

On the people living outside the camps in Turkey, we are trying to increase registration through various means. As I mentioned before, we are doing so through municipalities and aid organisations. We are trying to get a clearer picture of the migration situation in different parts of the country. The job is a difficult one. The estimated number of refugees in Istanbul alone is around half a million at the moment.

All our institutions are trying to cope with the situation and trying to help these migrants. It is hoped that with the new Parliament, we will pass legislation to allow them to go to the labour market. Most of them are there, in fact. We are trying to register the situation as much as we can and help those refugees as much as is within our means.

I note from what the ambassador said about President Assad that he does not see any resolution which would involve him in the process subsequent to agreement. I also note that he is opposed to the partition of Syria. What does the ambassador see as the solution? Libya and Iraq are templates of what happened when tyrannical leaders were taken out. The situation is actually worse than it had been. That was therefore no solution, especially for minority communities in those countries.

I know the initiative has been taken with Turkey's involvement along with the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia. This might be a leading question, but why should a pariah state like Saudi Arabia have an involvement in these negotiations? It is the sponsor of a lot of the fundamentalist terrorism that is taking place in different parts of the world. It is the subscriber and donor to many of those jihadist organisations. How can we expect a solution to arrive with the involvement of people like that?

My third question is to do more with Turkey and follows on from what Deputy Crowe asked about the election. I followed the report of the OSCE which addressed media freedom. What is happening in this regard? There have been concerns not only about the Cyprus issue but also about the autocratic tendencies which are perceived in respect of President Erdoan. As a consequence, there are issues about stability and the way in which Turkey is going. Turkey has been a strong, stable democracy in an area of turmoil.

Should Turkey be in some way contaminated by that, it would raise significant stability issues not only for the region but also for Europe.

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

Elections are very important in a democracy. As I have said, we have had three elections in the past 14 months. In the previous election, the ruling party again won a landslide victory. This is the fourth time it has won an election in the past 13 years. There will be another four years of single party government in Turkey. There could be many reasons for this when one analyses it. In the past 13 years, the economy performed well. When one looks at average growth in the Turkish economy, one can see it is running at around 5%. In some years, it was second to China, running at 8% or 9%. Although we have slowed down, we are still growing. In general, the public is happy with the economic situation. Thirteen years ago, per capita income was running at around $4,000. It is now more than $10,000. Economically, this government has definitely been very successful.

The EU process in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and up to 2009 and 2010 has also been very successful. There were high hopes that Turkey would become a full member of the EU in a short period. We have reached a standstill in recent years. It was very unfortunate because I also believe it is very important for a country like Turkey to be a member of the EU. I hope the latest negotiations with the EU will bear fruit and we will be back on track because it will have positive effects on every aspect in the country. It is very sad that when one asks the man in the street whether it would be good for Turkey to be a member of the EU, he would say "Yes", but if one asks him whether Turkey would be a member of the EU in the future, he would say "No". This psychology among the people is definitely not helping us in relations with the EU. These are crucial issues and we are at an opportune time in respect of our relations with the EU, although as the Senator mentioned, we are living in a rough neighbourhood and it is not easy to live there. There are very positive signs at the moment, although we have this gloomy picture of the region. I hope this will again put our relations with the EU on track. I must repeat that. I hope it will have very positive effects in general in the country.

The ambassador is very welcome. Like other speakers, I commend his country on providing safety and security for so many citizens of the world, the 2.4 million people he referred to. I have a few quick questions. Is there strong public support for what the Turkish Government is doing? Mr. Egüz mentioned that €8 billion has been spent so far and that only €417 million has been contributed by the international community. What is the impact of this expenditure of €8 billion on services within Turkey? Has it had to make cutbacks to provide that?

How is Turkey coping with the pressures on services, particularly in hospitals, health service and schools? With the possible onset of a severe winter, what additional emergency measures will be required and how it is proposed to fund them? Is Turkey hoping for EU and international support for that? Other speakers have mentioned the work situation. Is there an opportunity for the refugees to work legally? Can they obtain work permits and work in the organised labour market in Turkey?

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

We are diverting our national funds. This is the simple result of what is happening to the refugees. In general, the people are not complaining about this. I spoke to the shopkeepers in Bodrum and they asked, "What can these poor people do? They are fleeing death." I asked them whether the refugees are having a negative effect on their business. They said that sometimes there was a negative effect but that they collect money among themselves, hire buses and take them to villages up in the mountains. They are trying to help them. This is the general mood among the people. Of course, there have been some complaints here and there from time to time because some refugees find work with lower wages. In general, one does not see this type of complaint from the people. The general mood is that there is no other way and we should keep our borders open and help these people.

Of course, it creates pressure on our health and education systems. This is evident. This is why I have said we need more co-operation with the EU and other partners. I know some Irish NGOs that are very active in southern Turkey and the Government and local institutions are co-operating with them. Everybody is trying to alleviate the situation. That is what we are trying to do. There are now plans to give refugees certain chances in certain areas where they can make a living for their families in Turkey.

I apologise for being absent for a time. I had to go to the Dáil for a parliamentary question. Like other speakers, I congratulate the ambassador on the work Turkey has done in alleviating the humanitarian problem in respect of the refugees. A few issues arise. I would be a bit worried about the possibility of regime change in Syria and the benefits or otherwise that might result from that. Regime change in that area has not done anything for stabilisation, and stabilisation must be a key factor in anything that happens from this point onwards. For example, the US intervention in Iraq definitely did not stabilise matters and its exit made things even worse, so two mistakes were made. How does Mr. Egüz see things developing in the future? Will ISIS continue to be an ongoing threat, moving from one country to another as the occasion and opportunity arise? To what extent does Mr. Egüz think it has availed of revenue-generating areas such as oil refineries and oil wells to pursue its objectives?

To what extent is the international community likely to become aware that some responsibility must be taken and assistance given to bring about a general stabilisation or peaceful settlement in the entire Middle East, without which this conflict will develop into a really serious, large-scale war for many years to come?

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

ISIS is a big threat. It controls two thirds of Syria and two thirds of Iraq. We have to intensify the struggle and fight against it. It is much more dangerous than other organisations and is present along most of our border with Syria. I accept what the Deputy has said about Syria and what happened in places such as Libya. Therefore, we have to be careful about how we design a way out of the situation in Syria. Work is being done on different scenarios, on which the talks are going into detail. There are differences, especially with the Russians and the Iranians, but the process is continuing and has to continue. The dialogue has to continue as there is no other way to find a solution to the problem. If nothing is done, it will burst and the situation will become far more serious throughout the world, not only in the region. There is a real threat. Therefore, combating ISIS and finding a solution to the problem in general in Syria have to go hand-in-hand. We have to find the best solution we can.

I thank the ambassador. Deputy Berard J. Durkan has one more question to ask.

I have one last point to raise. I am delighted to see that Turkey's negotiations on entry to the European Union are progressing more positively. Does the ambassador agree that Turkey can be a positive influence in all matters in the Middle East and play a key role and be a major power in the region?

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

I agree fully. I was ambassador to Sweden between 2004 and 2009 and remember that the Muslim countries followed very closely what was happening between the European Union and Turkey. If our relations with the European Union get back on track and intensify, it will have very positive repercussions in Turkey and our relations with Muslim countries also.

We should acknowledge the Irish Presidency and the role it played in 2013 in getting agreement in the opening of the first negotiating chapter.

H.E. Mr. Necip Egüz

Absolutely. Ireland has always been supportive of our quest to join the European Union and we are grateful to it.

Deputy Dan Neville has no questions. I thank the ambassador for being so upfront. He answered all of the questions put to him comprehensively. It is always difficult when there are questions back and forth, but it is a good format for a meeting. The ambassador can see the interest members have in all of the areas he covered, particularly the refugee crisis and Turkey's entry into the European Union, which we hope will happen in the future. As Deputy Durkan said, Turkey is the crossroads of Europe. It was originally part of it and has an important role to play. I thank the ambassador sincerely for dealing with members' questions in such a comprehensive manner.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.15 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 November 2015.