The treaty of Rome provides under article 237 that "any European state" may apply to become a member of the Community. The treaty does not define how this is to be interpreted geographically.
In thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, may I ask him to have regard to the stresses and strains that already exist in a predominantly Christian European Community and to consider whether they would be increased if we admitted to the Community nations with a predominantly Islamic culture?
My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that a Turkish application to join the Community has been received. Indeed, the Commission has given its opinion. In so far as geographical definitions can be made, we have defined Turkey as a country which could be a member of the Community and for our purposes Turkey is regarded as a European country.
At one time people used to talk about Europe ending at the Urals, but, given the extent of the former USSR, that is no longer a reasonable definition. Given the tremendous wealth in the far eastern regions of the former USSR, should we not consider them part of Europe if we are to try to expand the European Community for the benefit of all mankind?
I think that most hon. Members would agree that probably it is difficult to determine a strict geographic definition of Europe. The Community already has a substantial agenda for enlargement before it—an agenda in which Britain has been in the lead. Under that agenda we already have five applications on the table—two from EFTA countries and three from southern Mediterranean countries. We also have association agreements with three eastern European countries—Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. That will give us plenty to work on in the next decade, and that is probably as far as we should look for the time being.
If we are to make further progress with our EC neighbours, surely we need to build on sure foundations. Such foundations would be laid by further progress towards a non-protectionist free market. Has my right hon. Friend made any progress in that direction?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the single market was an initiative originally pushed by the United Kingdom Government. It is due to reach its completion during our presidency in the latter part of this year. Its completion will be one of the leading priorities of the British presidency next year.
The Government talk about the enlargement of the Community and apparently have included it as one of their objectives for the British presidency next year. How does that sit with the fact that the Austrian application lay on the table for two years before the British Government said a word of welcome to that country? When will the Government realise that enlargement will not be acceptable just as a slogan for the Tory re-election campaign, but that it means saying now, and clearly, that the EFTA countries are needed in the Community and that early membership for central and eastern European countries, according to realisable targets, should be a priority to which we are committed?
The House, the country and the rest of Europe are well aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) led the charge on enlargement and that that particular banner has been taken up with enthusiasm by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. It is well known in the EFTA countries and in those of central Europe that Britain has been perhaps the strongest advocate of enlargement. We will continue to be so.