HL Deb 10 November 2004 vol 666 cc881-3

Lord Cobbold asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they support the proposed accession of Turkey to the European Union.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Government strongly support Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Turkey is an important strategic partner for Britain and the European Union, a NATO ally, and a major market for UK and EU exporters. A stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey, anchored in the EU, would be an enormous prize and a powerful demonstration that Islam, democracy and economic success are compatible. The Government look forward to a decision by the European Council in December to open accession negotiations with Turkey without delay.

Lord Cobbold

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, but does she agree that there are important and controversial issues in respect of Turkish membership that have not arisen in respect of previous applicant countries? Given these important issues, will the Government provide time for an early full debate on this subject in your Lordships' House?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the question of time for a debate is a matter for the usual channels and is very much in the hands of noble Lords, should they choose to suggest such a debate.

This has, indeed, been a controversial subject and the discussion about it has continued over a number of years. But I remind the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, that the European Commission recommendation to the European Council on 6 October concluded that Turkey has, sufficiently fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria and that accession negotiations should be opened". Therefore, the question is whether the criteria have been sufficiently fulfilled to begin those negotiations.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the Minister recall that, during the transition process for the east European countries which have now joined the European Union, as a government we provided a number of pairing arrangements with ministries from those countries and a substantial number of police and judicial training programmes? Are similar pairing arrangements and training programmes yet planned by Her Majesty's Government to assist the Turkish Government and the Turkish national and local administrations in the substantial changes that they now need to go through?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that there will be a great deal of discussion about the mechanisms that may be adduced during a period of negotiation. The initial question is whether or not those negotiations should begin. If the decision is made to begin the negotiations, I think that they are likely to run over a number of years. Indeed, many facets of Turkey's membership are to be discussed. Of course, the kind of arrangements that we have seen in relation to other countries provide a good example of how some of the issues can be resolved through negotiation and partnerships.

Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied that genuine progress has been made in respect of human rights so far as concerns Turkey? For example, do the reports in recent months of continued torture, beheadings, limb amputations and the skinning of captured Kurdish guerrillas and reports of village clearances—for example, in Ilicak in Sirnak in August—really represent the sort of progress that should be expected?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, certainly the European Commission thought that progress on this matter had been sufficient. I think that we know from discussions in your Lordships' House hereunto that the Turkish Government have made enormous progress, over the past two years in particular, through the adoption of a series of constitutional and legislative reforms, including the abolition of the death penalty, greater freedom of expression, association and religion, ratification of international agreements on human rights, and greater cultural rights for Kurds and other minorities. There is now a clear policy of zero tolerance of torture, and there is growing evidence of an improved implementation record. But I acknowledge that these matters will be very much the subject of the negotiations, should they begin in December.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I know that the Minister is aware of support from this side of the House for the goal of eventual Turkish membership of the European Union. Can the noble Baroness reassure the House that Her Majesty's Government are doing everything they can to encourage Turkey to continue down the reformist course, especially regarding education, on which there have been some recent disturbing reports, and not to waver in its resolve to meet the Copenhagen criteria in due course?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Yes, my Lords, I can indeed do that. I spoke to Her Majesty's Ambassador in Ankara before coming to the Chamber this afternoon and we covered a number of points, including the human rights issues. I think that the education question arises particularly in relation to the Kurds, and in that respect minority rights have certainly been strengthened, including measures to allow individuals to study. The schools which allow the use of the Kurdish language are private schools; that is not yet happening in state schools. But there is greater freedom in broadcasting and in registering names in Kurdish. The education questions raised by the noble Baroness are important. But, again, I point out to your Lordships that the general consensus is that sufficient reform has taken place to allow the negotiations on accession to begin.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is wrong to oppose the membership of Turkey on the basis that most of its people are Muslims?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, of course I would agree with that. I hope that I made that absolutely clear in my opening Answer. It is enormously important that the European Union is not seen as an exclusively Christian club. The European Union already contains some 15 million Muslims and people of many other religions. I endorse what the noble Lord has said wholeheartedly.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the admission of Turkey to the European Union would completely alter the nature of the Union? It would no longer be a European Union but a Eurasian Union. Does she also agree that on population projections, by 2030 Turkey will form the largest part of the European Union, and that that will have enormous implications for the future of the Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, all the recent accessions will alter the European Union. The question is whether the union will be altered for the good. The European Union is defined by shared values as much as by its geography. The reform process in Turkey has given Turkey sufficient credentials to allow us to consider the country for these negotiations, as will be the case in December. On the number of people who would join the European Union were those negotiations to be successful, Turkey would not be the largest country in the European Union; at 70 million people, Turkey has 10 million fewer than, for example, Germany. However, it would certainly be a larger partner numerically than France and the United Kingdom, but not by a great deal. I do not accept the fundamental premise of the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, as I believe is obvious by my answer.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, in the event of Turkey's human rights record deteriorating—

Noble Lords


The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, we are at eight minutes—next Question.

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