HL Deb 01 May 2001 vol 625 cc556-8

2.52 p.m.

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they welcome the Turkish Government's national plan for European Union accession, published on 19th March.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the Government welcome publication of the Turkish national programme for the adoption of the acquis, and look forward to further clarification of the Turkish Government's proposals in due course. If the reforms that they outline are put into effect rapidly and effectively, the programme will represent a major step forward for Turkey and will mark real progress in the pre-accession strategy for Turkey, which was set out by the Helsinki European Council in 1999.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very encouraging Answer. Does she recognise that Turkey still has considerable problems, including those associated with Cyprus, the Kurdish question and human rights? Does she also recognise that the EU accession programme that she recently published proposed some 90 new acts to deal with that situation? In light of all that, what more can the Government do to encourage our EU partners to take Turkey's application seriously, given that it is a staunch ally of NATO and that it has a significant European history, culture, tradition and economy?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we acknowledge that Turkey faces a number of challenges. As my noble friend rightly recognises, we have worked energetically with our EU partners to persuade and encourage them to join with us in persuading Turkey to meet those challenges. Since the Helsinki European Council set out a comprehensive pre-accession strategy for Turkey, the UK, with the EU, has worked hard to take the matter forward. The EU has doubled the pre-accession assistance for Turkey to nearly 180 million euros per year.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the importance, delicacy and difficulty of relations with Turkey require rather more attention at senior level from the British Government? I am struck by the fact that the British Prime Minister has, I believe, met President Putin, for example, five times in the past year but I am not aware that he has visited Ankara or Istanbul. Does she also accept that we have a forthcoming potential crisis over Cyprus? Negotiations between Cyprus and the EU are likely to be completed in the next year without a settlement of the conflict between the two communities. At that point, the Turkish Government are bound to object to Cyprus joining the EU well before Turkey does.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's anxiety about the delicacy of the situation, which we of course share. I do not agree with his suggestion that attention at a senior level has not been paid to Turkey. The Government have been heavily engaged in this issue for some time. There is no sense that Turkey feels that inappropriate attention has been given to her difficulties. Political difficulties of course continue in relation to Cyprus. It appears that we have a better chance of resolving those difficulties now than we have had previously.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the United Kingdom's relations with Turkey are excellent and that Turkey has a unique position in its area and a unique and constructive role to play in the Middle East? We should continue to do all that we can to help it, especially in relation to its present economic difficulties, in the hope that it will qualify before long for accession to the EU.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend's comments on the need to encourage and help Turkey. We have demonstrated our willingness and ability to do so. It is right that Turkey should be encouraged to meet all of the acquis criteria to the full, as any other aspirant to EU membership has to do.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that at least in the executive summary of the programme there is no mention of the Kurds in particular or of minorities in general? Does she agree that it is necessary for Turkey not only to put 90 promises on to a piece of paper but also to implement them in order to comply with the Copenhagen political criteria?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I would agree with the noble Lord; we believe that Turkey must address the social and economic problems of south-east Turkey and the social, cultural and economic aspirations of the Kurdish community if that region is to enjoy stability. Our concerns are reflected in the accession partnership. Turkey's national programme includes details of the legal and administrative measures that the Turkish Government are putting in place to comply with the Copenhagen political criteria. Areas for reform include cultural life and individual freedoms. It is right that those issues should be continually highlighted and that Turkey should be encouraged not only to speak about those matters but, as the noble Lord said, also to deliver.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, despite the problems that were rightly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, does the Minister agree that Turkey is an important part of both the European security equation and the European economic equation? Given that, does she agree that every sympathy and understanding should be extended to meeting Turkey's doubts and problems about participating in the pre-decision planning and the operational planning for the proposed European rapid reaction force? Will the Government be rather more supportive of that than they appear to have been so far?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Government have been very supportive indeed of Turkey's position in that regard. Of course we acknowledge that Turkey is a very important part of the security equation. Nothing that Her Majesty's Government have done in any way undermines that. We have to move forward and we have to do so together with our NATO partners with proper understanding and consultation and with unity.

Lord Marsh

My Lords does the Minister agree that by far the most important and pressing issue is Turkey's internal economic problems? With 1.6 million lira to the pound and raging inflation, 150 million ecu will not go very far. Is not the IMF the only organisation that can really help in a situation like this?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that the IMF has in fact helped. A package involving the IMF meant that 10 billion dollars has been proposed for Turkey. That is a very important advance. We certainly hope that judicious use will be made of that money and that Turkey will avail herself of the opportunity to resolve some of her pressing difficulties.