HC Deb 23 June 2004 vol 422 cc1422-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

5.27 pm
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)

On 1 May, the European Union concluded a successful phase in its development when 10 new countries joined, but another phase in the enlargement process is already before us. It is to be hoped that in 2007 Romania and Bulgaria will be able to join the EU, and at the weekend European summit the green light was given for negotiations with Croatia on joining the EU to begin early in 2005. In December, the European Council will consider whether to give the green light to Turkey to start its negotiations for entry.

It is worth noting that the summit's presidency conclusions state: The Union reaffirms its commitment that if the European Council decides in December 2004, on the basis of a report and recommendation from the Commission, that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU will open accession negotiations with Turkey without delay. That point was made after several positive points about how Turkey had made real progress over the last few years on its application for membership. I want to emphasise some things that have been happening in Turkey over the last 18 months to two years.

In May this year, we saw a number of extremely important constitutional reforms adopted. Turkey has also agreed to reassess cases found unfair by the European Court of Human Rights, and to dismantle state security courts. In addition, the death penalty in the country has been abolished, and general moves are being made to create an independent judicial service.

Moreover, and very importantly, the influence of the army is clearly diminishing in the country. In May this year, I and two parliamentary colleagues visited Turkey, and saw at first hand tangible changes taking place. Many progressives whom we met saw the army not as a threat to a developing democracy in the country but as an instrument that helps that process gather momentum, while ensuring that Muslim fundamentalism is not a threat to democracy. That case can be overstated, but nevertheless, the influence of the army is not what it was, and clearly, it has diminished significantly compared with what it was just a few years ago.

Some of the most impressive changes in the country have occurred with regard to the Kurdish minority. Books about the Kurdish insurgency are now permitted in the country, and deaths of left-wing activists and Kurdish activists are very much a thing of the past. We are seeing permission given for the establishment of Kurdish private language courses, and laws restricting freedom of expression have been repealed. The progress in that regard was well stated by The Guardian, which reported on 21 June that June 9 was a splendid day for Turkey's 12 million-odd Kurds". By that, it meant that on that day, state-run Turkish television transmitted the first ever broadcast in the most widely spoken Kurdish dialect, Kurmandji. That was of enormous symbolic importance to the Kurdish minority. Indeed, earlier today, I spoke to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who cited a Kurd to whom she had spoken who had sold his only cow so that he could buy a satellite dish to enable him to watch that broadcast.

On that same day, only hours later, a Turkish appeal court released Leyla Zana, the country's most famous female politician. Along with her, three other Kurdish colleagues were released who had been in prison for the previous 10 years. Leyla Zana walked free pending an appeal on 8 July. After her release, she was mobbed by an ecstatic crowd, and commentators right across the country commented that the end of a long national conflict over state recognition of Kurdish culture and language rights was taking place. Indeed, Leyla Zana said: ."I believe that a new period has started in this country, and a new page is opened". I believe that that is true. Only yesterday, the Council of Europe passed two significant resolutions. In one of them, it lifted Turkey out of the watch list, under which it has been for a number of years, and instead placed Turkey on the post-monitoring list. As a spokesman for the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe said: Turkey has achieved more reforms in a little over two years than in the previous decade. Given the progress achieved since 2001, the assembly is confident that the Turkish authorities will apply and consolidate the reforms. That said, there is, clearly, much more to be done. Only the other day, Amnesty International wrote to me pointing out that although the situation in Turkey is undoubtedly improving, ill treatment of detainees in police custody persists, and legally prescribed detention procedures are sometimes not adhered to. For example, the right to immediate access to legal counsel or the right to have next of kin informed of the detention are not always honoured. Similarly, Amnesty pointed out that there is still excessive use of force in the policing of demonstrations, continuing brutality against detainees, and the number of prosecutions against alleged perpetrators is worrying low. Amnesty also believes that although progress has been made, there are still articles in the Turkish penal code that restrict freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and, it is alleged, human rights activists still suffer intimidation and threats.

Just a few days ago, Amnesty International published a new report entitled, "Turkey: Women confronting family violence." It contains a detailed and graphic description of violence against women in Turkey. It explains how there is a "culture" of violence in Turkish life placing women in double jeopardy—they are victims of domestic violence but they are also denied effective access to justice. Amnesty International says that, at the same time, support for the revised penal code is sometimes more apparent than real and that the reform process must be given more momentum. Significantly, it mentions that the crucial issue is implementation, which I noted on my visit to Turkey. Although we can point to gender equality in the constitution, in reality, it is a long way from being put into effect.

Hon. Members have to be honest. There must be long-lasting and in-depth changes in Turkish society. It is a question not simply of changing the constitution and implementing laws there must be an attitudinal change in society and a cultural change. That will undoubtedly take many years.

Real reforms are taking place but there is still much to do. The crucial question that we must ask is: how can we best support the process of change in Turkey? I believe that the best way is for a firm date to be given by the Council in December for the start of negotiations on Turkish membership of the European Union.

When we look at the recent past, we must be frank with ourselves. A few weeks ago, we admitted 10 new countries to the European Union. There was a big question mark over whether Slovakia met all the Copenhagen criteria when negotiations began on its membership of the EU. The situation in Turkey compares very favourably with the situation in Slovakia only a short time ago.

Mr. John Lyons ( Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is still deep despair about the 1,500 people who are missing in Cyprus since the Turkish occupation? That is a genuine issue. The United Nations has tried over the years to make progress but, often, Turkey has resisted that. Will he take on board that that is a serious issue, as is the occupation of Cyprus? It will be a major problem in the weeks and months a lead.

Mr. David

I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. I intend to make specific reference to Cyprus later and that is part of the equation that we must consider.

Turkey is in the process of radical and profound change and a start date for negotiations will give impetus to that programme of change. We need to remember that Turkey has been helpful with regard to what has happened in Cyprus over the past few months. Indeed, there has been a big attitudinal change by the Turkish authorities with regard to the unification of the island. We are all greatly disappointed that, although, on 1 May, Cyprus joined the EU, there has been a suspension of the acquis communautaire for the northern part of the land because of the rejection of the Annan plan by the Greek Cypriots in the south of the island. Although, as my hon. Friend pointed out, there have been and still are some difficulties with regard to aspects of what is still technically, I suppose, the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, there has been a sea change in the attitude of the Turkish Government in Ankara in trying to bring about a peaceful reunification of the island. It is very significant that the Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed settlement, which the Government of our country supported, and which also had the support of the Ankara Government.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

The problem is with perceptions rather than reality, but because of those perceptions, until the Greek Cypriots believe that there is movement in he north of the island—which can be brought about only by pressure from mainland Turkey—they are unlikely to agree to any settlement, whether that be Annan or post-Annan. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Mr. David

I do not want to be sidetracked into a debate on the complexities of the Cyprus situation. However, there has been a real charge in the attitude of the Turkish Government to the issue, and the amount of change that we have seen has taken people by surprise. There is no doubt in my mind that the change that we have seen has been positive and genuine. I hope that that process will continue. Despite the present impediment in respect of Cyprus, I am nevertheless optimistic that some sort of rapprochement will be achieved in the not-too-distant future.

The European Commission will present its report on Turkey's application for membership and its adherence to the Copenhagen criteria, I believe in October. I very much hope that the report will be positive, and will pave the way for a full debate in the European Council in December, following which the Council will decide unanimously, as it has to, that a starting date will be given for negotiation of Turkish membership of the EU.

I must express some concern, however, about the attitude of one or two member states of the European Union. I cite in particular France and Austria. One sometimes gets the feeling that human rights are almost an excuse for not allowing into the European Union a non-Christian, predominantly Muslim, country. We must be clear about what our vision of the European Union is. My idea of Europe is not based on textbook geography, nor is it based on religious exclusivity or ethnic purity. Our vision of Europe should be based on common values such as democracy, the rule of law, respect for others, cultural diversity and freedom.

Turkey is undoubtedly an important country. It is a regional power, and it bridges east and west. It is a predominantly Muslim country, but it is also a secular state, and it is in the process of moving towards full democracy, modern values and an inclusive society. We in the United Kingdom should welcome Turkey's application for membership of the EU and, with open arms, its eventual membership. We should do everything that we can to encourage our European partners to give a date for negotiations to begin. For Turkey to join the European Union would be in Turkey's interests, but it would also be to the benefit of the United Kingdom, and if Turkey were eventually able to join the European Union, it would be to the benefit of Europe as a whole.

5.43 pm
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) for raising this important issue at such a crucial time. He has talked about the need for attitudinal and cultural change, and that is under way in Turkey. Equally, I think that we need an attitudinal and cultural change among some of us and our fellow Europeans in our approach to Turkey.

My hon. Friend mentioned the positive resolutions adopted by the Council of Europe and that allows me to put on record what I am sure is the satisfaction of the entire House at the election of our right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) as the new secretary-general of the Council of Europe. It is a signal honour for the House of Commons that one of our own has been chosen for that very important European post. It is a tribute to the my right hon. Friend's dedicated and tireless work in linking the values of the British House of Commons with those of fellow parliamentarians from all the member states of the Council of Europe, which I remind the House goes well beyond membership of the European Union. I know that my right hon. Friend will be an outstanding servant of the European cause and we all wish him well in his new work.

In December, European leaders—that is to say, leaders of the European Union—will decide whether to start accession negotiations with Turkey. It is a decision of enormous significance not just for Turkey, but for the UK and our European partners.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has long been a staunch advocate of EU enlargement and I pay tribute to his work in the House and previously when he was an MEP, serving the European Parliament with such distinction. He has continued to argue in a rational, sane, common-sense, deeply committed and even passionate Welsh way for the success of the giant project that we are embarked upon, which is called making a success of the EU. I personally agree very much with him that, provided that all the criteria are met, a positive vote for Turkey is an essential part of making our EU grow, making our EU look outwards not inwards, and making our EU embrace the challenge of the great Turkish tradition of Islamic democracy.

Enlargement is one of the priorities of both the UK and the EU. The present enlargement to include the 10 member states that have just come in has been one of our greatest policy successes. It has contributed hugely to our collective security and prosperity and it brings to an end the cold war division of Europe. My hon. Friend's debates on enlargement have become almost an annual fixture in our calendar, so it is good to see that he, like the Government, recognises that enlargement did not end on 1 May. It is vital that the EU continues to spread peace, prosperity and stability across our continent by offering the prospect of membership to those who are willing to adhere to EU standards and values.

The UK has long supported Turkey's EU membership. I am delighted that this position commands support on both sides of the House. I repeat the tributes that I regularly pay to my opposite number, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), and the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who are both staunch advocates of Turkey's joining the EU. However, I find it remarkable that the principal Opposition party should be so strongly in favour of EU membership for others, when so many Conservative Members—including the senior leadership figures—are not fully committed to our own membership or making a success of the EU under its new constitutional treaty.

Discussions with other European countries are important. My hon. Friend mentioned Austria and France, but might also have mentioned Germany, where politicians on the right—the sister parties of our Conservative party—do not have such a positive view of Turkey. I hope that one day we will see the great internationalist traditions of the Conservative party come back to their natural home and that the Conservatives will enter into a full political relationship with their sister parties in Europe. I hope that they will then argue in favour of Turkey and all the other positive things that we want the EU to do. Nevertheless, I am grateful for their support and there is no party political divide in this House on the issue of Turkish membership of the EU.

The question then arises as to why we are such strong supporters of Turkey's EU membership. It is because we are convinced that it would be good for the UK, good for the EU and good for Turkey. The arguments centre on security, prosperity and credibility.

I shall deal first with security and stability. The decision in December provides a real opportunity to sustain the momentum of reform in Turkey and to entrench the rule of law and respect for human rights. A stable, democratic Turkey anchored in the EU would enhance Europe's security. I hardly need remind the House of Turkey's position at the intersection of three areas of strategic importance—the Balkans, the middle east and the Caucasus—or of its burgeoning role as a key transit country for the oil and gas supplies so essential to us all.

Yet Turkey's strategic importance goes beyond geography. Its role as a link between Europe and the Muslim world is key. It is key in refuting spurious, but widely believed, arguments about a clash of civilisations, in rebutting arguments that the EU is a Christian club, and in demonstrating to Muslim countries—and our own populations—that religious tolerance is an essential part of European life.

Many hon. Members have substantial Muslim communities in their constituencies. Those people are British citizens who worship in their own faith, and they are an important part of the new British network of communities. The 15 million European Muslims who live in EU countries are also a growing and important part of the new EU. It is vital that we do not define Europe as belonging to any one religion.

Recent events have shown all too painfully that Europe cannot maintain its security by putting up walls around itself. We need to export stability beyond our region. It is no help to Britain to have poor neighbours, and it is no use to the EU to keep at bay a country that can play a vital part in extending the positive message of EU membership to its own people and—in due time and if it becomes a member—beyond its borders. Turkey can play an important role in achieving that.

Turkey has long been a steadfast ally in tackling the security threats that we face. Most recently, it has been our ally in opposing terrorism. Many more Turks than British citizens were hurt in last year's Istanbul bombings. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the mayor of Istanbul, who worked swiftly and efficiently to find and bring to trial the people who perpetrated the bombings. The alliance between Britain and Turkey in dealing with the terrorist threat is second to none.

The NATO Istanbul summit at the end of this month is due recognition for Turkey's commitment to Europe's security interests, demonstrated most recently in Afghanistan. Turkey could and would make a significant contribution to the EU's growing security capabilities.

The second argument for Turkey's EU membership is economic. Those who oppose Turkey's membership often claim that Turkey will be an economic burden on the EU. I disagree. Turkey is a country of enormous economic potential. It has a youthful market of 70 million people, which in turn offers links to new markets in the middle east, the Caucasus and central Asia.

Turkey's economy is growing fast. The prospect of EU membership and the macro-economic stability that that will encourage should ensure that that continues. If so, Turkey will be a very different place in the second decade of this new century. A positive decision in December will encourage international investment to pour into the country, and trade to flourish.

We want a rich Turkey with a growing middle class. We want Turkey's workers to feel that they have a future in their country, and that they can earn a decent wage and provide a home for their families. That has to be in the economic interests of all EU countries—and in particular of the UK, with our open trade traditions.

If we are to maximise the benefits of free trade and reach out to new markets, we must integrate Turkey more fully into Europe. Trade between the UK and Turkey now tops 4 billion and is increasing at an annual rate of 35 per cent. British business men are keen to follow in the footsteps of the British Levantine trading families: they have invested around £2 billion in Turkey, which includes ventures by Cadbury Schweppes, the HSBC bank and Tesco.

The most common British visitors to Turkey are not the deal makers but the sun seekers, with around 1 million tourists visiting annually. Some 40,000 Brits have bought second homes in Turkey as the Mediterranean and Aegean coastline there begins to look more like that of Andalucia and the other great coastlines of Mediterranean Spain, which have done so well economically over the past 40 years thanks to tourism from Britain. Indeed, scores of thousands of British people have taken holidays or made permanent homes there.

I visited Izmir in January, when I went to the university and found something that would put most other universities in Europe to shame. The high-level campus is attracting back professors in different disciplines from all over Europe and the United States who now want to make Turkey a successful new European country. The classes and seminars were in English, and I met young men and women who long to see Europe open its doors to Turkey.

The final argument in support of Turkey's EU membership is credibility. Turkey must be treated as any other candidate country. Turkey was first offered the perspective of future membership in 1963, with the signature of its association agreement. Britain, of course, was not then a member, and the firmest advocate of that agreement was General de Gaulle. I hope that his political successors in France and the other founding countries of the European Community hark back to his vision of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals, which must include Turkey

Thirty-three years later, the question of Turkish eligibility was confirmed at Helsinki, when the EU declared that Turkey was a candidate state destined to join the Union". The promise was further reinforced at Copenhagen in 2002, when the European Council agreed that if Turkey met the Copenhagen political criteria, it would start accession negotiations without delay. It would be immensely damaging to the EU's credibility if we now reneged on those explicit promises. The EU must move forward. To say no to Turkey, having made those commitments, and provided that the criteria are met, would send a negative message around the world about the EU's credibility.

There are some who argue that Turkey is not European, historically, culturally or geographically. I think they do not know their history, their culture or their geography. Turkey's history is Europe's history. From Ephesus to Byzantium, from St. George, who many say was an Anatolian—[Interruption.] I am terribly sorry, Mr. Deputy Speak; that should not have happened.

Many say that St. George was an Anatolian, although others believe he came from Dalmatia. From those things, and from the pleasures of UEFA football and the Eurovision song contest, we have a shared history and cultural inheritance. The very dame Europe comes from the fair maiden Europa, who was carried off to what were then the shores of Asia minor, and are now Turkey, to be, in what I think is the technical term, ravished. We have all been enjoying he recent film of the great battles around Troy: when Homer wrote his epic about that, he clearly considered that it was part of Mediterranean civilisation.

Some people say that Turkey is part of Asia. Yet its Mediterranean coastline matches the longest of the EU member states. Turkey actually lies west of Cyprus, which is now an EU member state.

The real answer to that question is the one that I gave to Mr. Valerie Giscard d'Estaing, the former French President, in a debate on French television earlier this year. He advanced the view that Turkey was not geographically or culturally part Europe, but the whole point of the EU, the reason for its foundation—its raison d'être, to use the language of Mr. Giscard d'Estaing—was to overcome differences in culture, language and geography, through the spread of shared values and a common purpose. Spurious arguments over geography are not what really matters. Anybody who can define Istanbul—Constantinople, as some of us still occasionally like to call it—as anything other than a cradle city of European civilisation knows neither history nor culture. What really matters is whether Turkey shares the same values and aspirations as the rest of the EU. I am convinced that its leadership does, and with the obligations to meet EU norms and values implicit in accepting the responsibility of seeking to become an EU member state, the Turkish nation will embark on its second great modernisation after that of Ataturk.

Of course, Turkey must deliver it side of the bargain. Like any other candidate country, it must fulfil the Copenhagen political criteria, including ensuring respect for democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. That is happening fast, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly saw when he visited Ankara in May.

Since the AK party came to power, the Turkish Parliament has passed a plethora of legislation to bring its laws into line with European norms. It has included measures to promote minority rights, to root out torture and incommunicado detention, to abolish the death penalty and to allow civilian participation in the National Security Council. Two developments within the last few weeks have seen the start of non-Turkish language broadcasting and the release, pending appeal, of Leyla Zana and her three colleagues, and that shows just how much has changed.

The Leyla Zana case is particularly symbolic. The case exposed several problems in Turkey regarding freedom of association, Kurdish suppression and judicial partiality. But as a result of reforms introduced to meet EU standards, the defendants were given the right to a second hearing and now a further appeal. The abolition of the state security courts, anathema to a democratic society, means that the latest appeal will be held in a civilian court. And as Turkey's minorities exercise their new freedoms, so the official mindset, which once felt threatened when parents gave their child a Kurdish name, will fade away.

The changes in Turkey have been more remarkable for the way they have been achieved. Turkey has not experienced a velvet revolution like much of central and eastern Europe, where old institutions and identities were swept away in an instant. Turkey's reforms have required vision and concerted determination. But what Turkey does share with the post-cold war achievements of eastern Europe is that reform has been driven not simply by a desire to satisfy the demands of the EU, but by an internal determination to give its citizens the quality of life they deserve and demand. Turkish democracy is transforming the country, and in the process proving Turkey's European credentials.

Turkey still has more to do, as my hon. Friends who have intervened in this debate have pointed out forcibly in respect of Cyprus. Putting legislation on the statute book is one thing, but implementation of those reforms and changing the attitudes throughout society is another. We continue to urge the Turkish Government to do more to achieve that and have been targeting our assistance to that end. That has included training in human rights and European law for the judiciary, and helping draft a new code of conduct for the police.

We should not allow Turkey to take its foot off the pedal. While on the one hand we must applaud the release of Leyla Zana, on the other, I—as a former president of the National Union of Journalists—must strongly deplore the imprisonment of the journalist Hakan Albayrak of Milli Gazete , on the charge of insulting Ataturk. I sincerely hope that the new Turkish penal code will remove article 159, which refers to insulting the State or its institutions and similar laws, and allow genuine freedom of expression. In Europe, no one should face pressure for saying, writing, or publishing opinions on political, cultural and identity issues. By the time Turkey comes to the finishing line for consideration as an EU candidate member, no journalist, writer or artist should be imprisoned or face police or judicial pressure for expressing views that are normal in EU member states. The laws on defamation must be obeyed and each EU member state has a different approach to journalistic deontology, but no one should face judicial pressure and the threat of imprisonment for just saying, writing or publishing opinions on political and cultural identity issues that are the norm elsewhere in the EU.

Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Gul are powerful and convincing advocates of Turkey's European convictions, but I still believe there is a real lack of awareness in Europe of just how much has changed in Turkey. The Turkish Government need to do more to mobilise human rights organisations, the business community, academics, those on the left of politics in Turkey, trade unionists, journalists and writers, all of whom support opening accession negotiations.

Turkish civil society should be given the task of speaking for Turkey to civil society in the rest of Europe; that cannot be done by political leaders and diplomats alone. It should remind Europe's sceptics of Leyla Zana's letter to the President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, written from prison, in which she declared that she would prefer to be a prisoner in a country negotiating EU membership than free in a country barred from the European Union. That is a powerful message about the importance of Turkey's EU perspective.

In conclusion, I have no doubt that Turkey can and will make an enormous contribution to the EU. It will require many long years of hard negotiation before there is any question of Turkey joining the EU. It was 15 years from the fall of the Berlin wall to the celebrations on 1 May when former countries of the Soviet bloc, some of which had relatively advanced economic, social and cultural potential, joined the EU, so we must be clear that a decision in December will not immediately open a door to the EU. We must be honest with our Turkish friends and say that the negotiations will be hard and the road will be long, but I firmly believe that the final destination of EU membership will be reached if everyone is willing to seize it.

Turkey can be a strategic partner in helping us to tackle the global security threats we face and enhancing the EU's engagement with the wider region, with a dynamic economy offering new opportunities for trade and investment. I am convinced that if Turkey sustains the momentum of reform, the EU can and should agree in December to start accession negotiations, so I am in complete agreement with the arguments of my hon. Friend.

We should not let the sceptics stand in the way of Turkey's second great modernisation. The message from the House and from the United Kingdom is that we offer the hand of friendship and solidarity to those who want to lead Turkey on the path of reform and modernisation towards Europe. We should be helping Turkey to move forward to fulfil Ataturk's vision of a European destiny for his great nation.

I thank my hon. Friend and colleagues for calling the debate, and hope that I can look forward to their continuing support on this critical question. I am grateful to the House for allowing me to place on record the views of the Government and, I think, the majority of the British people, who want to see Turkey join the European Union.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

I did not want to add to the interruption caused by the Minister's mobile phone during his speech, but I must tell him that Mr. Speaker takes a very strong line on these matters, so I suggest that in future the Minister either switches off his phone or, better ;till, leaves it outside the Chamber.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes past Six o 'clock.