HL Deb 02 April 2003 vol 646 cc1305-8

Lord Cobbold asked Her Majesty's Government:

To what extent they are committed to the accession of Turkey as a full member of the European Union.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the United Kingdom fully supports Turkey's EU candidature, as confirmed at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999. We welcome the agreement of the December 2002 Copenhagen Council that the EU will start accession negotiations without delay if the European Council agrees in December 2004 that Turkey fulfils the political criteria for membership. The criteria relate to democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. The UK continues to support Turkey's EU accession both in the EU and bilaterally.

Lord Cobbold

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Does she agree that the possible accession of Turkey to full membership of the Union raises some fundamental issues of geography, history, culture and religion?

I greatly respect Turkey and its achievements, in particular the contribution it has made to NATO over the past 50 years, but where does Europe stop? Who will be next? Is the Minister aware that Article 1 of the draft constitution for Europe, which we shall be discussing later today, states that the Union shall be open to all European states whose people share the same values, respect them and are committed to promoting them together? Does the Minister believe that the accession of Turkey is compatible with this article?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the fact is that there is no internationally agreed formal definition of Europe. The EU has accepted, from the time of the conclusion of its association agreement with Turkey in 1963, that Turkey is in principle eligible for membership. The Commission, in its 1989 opinion on Turkey's request for accession to the EU, recommended against accession negotiations because of Turkey's political and economic situation, not because of doubts about whether or not it was European. Those political questions are now being addressed and we hope that they will be addressed successfully.

Lord Renton

My Lords, as the attitude towards minorities is one of the relevant factors in this matter, what will be the effect of the Turkish attitude towards the Kurds?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the fact is that the Turkish Government have introduced a number of very important human rights reforms over the course of the past 18 months or so. There has been a great deal more emphasis on the human rights of minorities in relation to the minorities within the country. Furthermore, there are issues about the attitude of the Turks to the Kurds across their borders. For example, laws have been passed which allow the Kurdish minority within Turkey to have more access to, for instance, their own language in their schools and within their own communities.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the Minister recall that both Morocco and Ukraine have expressed interest in future membership of the European Union? As she has stated that there is no agreed definition of Europe, do the Government have a settled view of how they might respond to them? In particular, have the Government yet formed a view on the Commission's communication of 11th March on a wider Europe and the way in which, after the current round of enlargement, the European Union should respond to these new neighbours, some of whom will wish to become members in due time?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am bound to say to the noble Lord that, as he knows and as I hope he would expect me to say, his question is absolutely way off the mark in being wide of the Question before us. As I have already explained in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, given the history of the discussions with Turkey, there have been historical reasons why we have gone ahead with Turkey. If the noble Lord wants to raise that question, his best means of getting an Answer out of me will be to do so on the Order Paper.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that statements today in so far as they affect the Kurds seem to be rather less robust? It has always been the stance of the United Kingdom in this that the position of the Kurds, who have hitherto been oppressed by the Turks, should be fully safeguarded before Turkey is admitted to the European Union.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I regret if anything I have said indicates in any way that I and Her Majesty's Government are not as concerned as we have been in the past about the way in which minorities are treated. I merely sought to point out to noble Lords that some of the concerns we have raised have now been addressed by changes to the Turkish laws dealing with these matters.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, we agree with the positive approach of the noble Baroness and of the Government towards Turkish membership of the European Union. Does she accept that Turkey has developed good relations with the two Kurdish factions inside Iraq; that is, the KDP and the PUK, although not of course with the PKK, the terrorist organisation, which is quite different? Furthermore, can the noble Baroness reassure the House that no undue pressure has been put on Turkey by European Union institutions to withhold her full support from the Americans during the current war? If there has been that kind of blackmail, have the British Government completely dissociated themselves from it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, let me be absolutely clear on this. In the Statement made on 21st March last, Her Majesty's Government made it clear that they agree with the European Council in what it has said on the issue. The council called on all countries in the region to refrain from actions that could lead to further instability in relation to Iraq. We have certainly made that point clear to Turkey, but I do not believe that any undue pressure has been brought to bear. I say that because the points that we have made to Turkey have been very similar to those made by our ally, the United States.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that Turkey has been a member state of the Council of Europe for over three decades, and that all member states involved in the council accept that Turkey is qualified? It is hardly sensible for Europe to stand on its head on the matter at this time.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Hardy. As I have already indicated to noble Lords, for a long time the United Kingdom has been a firm supporter of Turkey's candidature. Turkey is an important partner for Britain as a NATO ally and, indeed, as a major market for UK exporters. A further reason for our support is that Turkey's EU candidature has acted as a spur to her attempts to reform, in particular in the field of human rights, which I know is an area of considerable interest to all noble Lords in the House.

Lord Hylton

My Lords—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the minority languages that are spoken in Turkey. Can she confirm that the recent change, although welcome, extended only to fee-paying schools? Is not a great deal more progress needed in this area?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not know whether the change extended only to fee-paying schools, but I shall look into it and write to the noble Lord. However, I would say to him that Turkey is engaged in a process of change on these issues. Rather than only one set of reforms which came to an end, further reforms were brought forward in August of last year, and in January of this year another package was introduced. In that package the key emphasis was again placed on the prevention of torture and ill treatment. Incommunicado detention was to be abolished for both the ordinary and the security courts. Furthermore, important matters were addressed, such as if the police are accused of using torture, no longer will it be necessary to hold an administrative investigation to see whether there is a case to answer. Rather, the case will go straight to prosecution.

Much more emphasis has been placed on the effective implementation of human rights laws and we are engaged in an ongoing process. However, as I have said, I shall write to the noble Lord on the specific point that he has raised.

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