Promoting Turkish interests in Britain: CFT and the political party dimension
Left to right: Councillor Ertan Hürer, Turkish Ambassador to the UK Ünal Çeviköz, MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, Serdar Çetin and Dr. Onur L. Çetin at the CFT stand during the British Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in 2010.
This interview is about politics and is part of an on-off series intended to feature a selection of political decision makers and stakeholders living abroad who foster a better understanding between Turkey and their country of residence, ranging from grassroots activists to cabinet ministers.
Conservative Friends of Turkey co-founder Dr. Onur L. Çetin speaks about his British-based not-for-profit organization, which aims to act as a communication channel for the grassroots and the members of Parliament, both between Turkey and the Conservative Party, as well as between the Turks in the UK and the Conservative Party
This may include trade union members and labor or liberal political party activists in various countries on the basis that that they are either of Turkish origin and/or work for a Turkish interest-inspired association outside of Turkey. Today’s first interview introduces a conservative platform.
Meet Dr. Onur L. Çetin, co-founder of the CFT
Improving bilateral relations in political circles while reaching out to civil society and grassroots organizations as well are some of the main aims of the British-based not-for-profit organization Conservative Friends of Turkey (CFT), and the people who set up and manage the CFT. For the purpose of this analysis I had the pleasure of asking Dr. Onur L. Çetin, one of the co-founders of the CFT, a number of frank questions.
A communication channel
To begin with, Dr. Çetin told me that the CFT primarily aims to promote links between Turkey and the (British) Conservative Party by developing a mutually beneficial relationship. He then said: “It acts as a communication channel for the grass roots and the members of parliament, both between Turkey and the Conservative Party, as well as between the Turks in the UK and the Conservative Party. The CFT campaigns to increase awareness of the Conservative Party within the Turkish community in the UK and encourage greater political involvement of the community.”
On the topic of the who’s who of the CFT, my interview partner, Dr. Çetin, as well as Ertan Hürer (another co-founder) and Serdar Çetin are the UK coordinators, all based in London; Dr. Riza Kadilar represents the CFT in Turkey (İstanbul) and Demir Murat Seyrek acts as its representative in Belgium (Brussels). Many more individuals contributed to the creation of the organization -- hence the long founding members list, which can be found on their website (www.cfot.org.uk).
I wanted to learn whether the CFT is basically a parliamentary association or open to the public. Dr. Çetin told me that first and foremost it is an association for Conservative Party members and its supporters. He said: “This has been its strength -- both membership at large and the parliamentary group expanded rapidly when they realized the CFT is a long-term initiative which builds on a comprehensive understanding of the Conservative Party. When this is combined with knowledge of Turkey, international affairs and international business, we can find a diverse audience.”
He then elaborated further by referring to the highlights of last year’s activities, including an investor conference focusing on energy-related opportunities in both Turkey and Azerbaijan and fundraising events for several marginal seats (followed by door-to-door campaigning with local activists). He said, “Combining local politics and international affairs/business insight gives us a unique perspective, and the reactions to both types of activities were overwhelmingly positive.”
AK Party: Turkish partner of choice?
We ventured into the tricky domain of which political party the CFT is engaged with in today’s Turkey. I wanted to know whether the Conservative Party and Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) are allies, or whether these political parties’ policies perhaps do not match up as well as imagined.
Dr. Çetin diplomatically, yet understandably, highlighted that “our primary objective is to promote strong ties between Turkey and the Conservative Party, so we watch the entire political scene closely. We try to be in dialogue with all mainstream parties in Turkey, which certainly includes the AK Party, representing the largest electorate group in Turkey.”
European Union accession simply had to come up during the course of our exchange of viewpoints, too. So, will the CFT continue lobbying fellow conservative groups in Europe with regards to Turkey’s EU accession, such as those in France or Germany?
Dr. Çetin replied by saying: “We have a representative in Brussels and some of the most prominent Tory [members of the European Parliament] MEPs as members, through whom we connect to other groups. As the accession process slowed down, the CFT’s public activities have been limited, but we still observe progress closely. … Britain is widely recognized as one of the champions of Turkey’s EU accession within the European Union. The Conservative Party is also firmly behind Turkey’s accession, its support has been publicly expressed at the most senior level with Prime Minister David Cameron as case in point.”
“It is a not-for-profit group. All the sponsorship and revenues from events, for instance the investor conference, are used to either provide further information sessions on Turkey or support the party. We are known as objective information providers and reliable supporters of the party -- this increases our influence and credibility. Politicians at all levels are eager to listen to us,” he explained.
On the G20
When discussing which issues will shape Turkish-UK relations the most in the present decade and whether it is the economy -- or both economies -- that will allow relations to prosper, the subject of the G20 arose.
Dr. Çetin answered by stating: “The way both economies prosper, the strengthening of bilateral trade and the way both countries react to ongoing rapid changes around the world will shape the future of relations. British companies’ leading position in terms of innovation especially in areas like green technologies, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, ICT [information and communications technology] and various services industries will further enhance the mutual economic ties between the two countries. Especially as Turkey lags behind many G20 countries in its transition to a low-carbon economy, the know-how offered by British companies will play an important role for Turkish institutions. Similarly Turkey’s normalizing relations with its neighbors also offers British and Turkish firms unprecedented cooperation opportunities in various emerging markets in the region.”
Dr. Çetin explained: “We have learned through our own experience and observing other groups that we need to maintain a long-term view to have a strong influence. We have hundreds of members, and it is a very diverse group from all around the UK, which helps us to remain a robust organization. Along the same line, we have some of the youngest Tory MPs in our parliamentary group, so we don’t rely on the support of a specific political section or generation. We hope our current and potential sponsors will take this long[-term] view as well.”
Today’s Turkish migrant workers bankers, sports stars
What I wish to add from my own personal perspective and from having spoken with Dr. Çetin -- a true advocate for long-lasting, bilateral relations that whilst beginning with a political movement will hopefully reach much larger segments of both countries’ societies -- is that the CFT seems to understand that Turkey’s internal dynamics (for example, implementing a fully fledged civilian democracy) are changing for the better and that political parties in other countries as well as individuals need to learn much more about this process.
As one hotly debated issue linked to the free movement of people come EU accession is migration, a sometimes Turkey-skeptic public -- though to a much lesser extent in Britain when compared with France or Germany -- will appreciate that today’s Turkish migrant workers are highly skilled and may be bankers, engineers, world-class chefs or sports stars. Whereas in the past, forced by the economic realities at home, hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens went searching for a new home away from home, today the cliché of migrant foreign workers engaged in relatively low-paid jobs is gone. What’s more, chances are that instead of Turkish citizens looking for work abroad, many current Turkish expatriates and perhaps even a growing numbers of foreign workers will move (back) to Turkey due to its quite phenomenal economic development.
From what I understand, the CFT aims to promote today’s Turkey, today’s people and work with today’s politicians. What would be interesting to see is whether the CFT succeeds in encouraging even more British citizens of Turkish origin to enter British or European politics, too. Similar to the many members of the CFT, or, for example, Green Party politician Cem Özdemir in Germany, they might become the best goodwill ambassadors Turkey has ever had.