Turkey

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 1st November 2005.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Europe)

The European Council's decision to open accession negotiations was prompted by decisive progress in Turkey's reform programme, notably on human rights. Further progress is required, but we believe that Turkey's EU accession process will continue to be an effective catalyst for improvement in its human rights situation, and that all concerns will be addressed during that process.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for his response and we very much welcome the progress made by the Turkish Government in bringing their laws into line with international law. Given, however, that the UK currently holds the EU presidency, do the Government plan to discuss minority rights in Turkey with the Turkish Government?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Europe)

It is important to recognise that the negotiating framework itself, which was agreed ahead of the decision on 3 October, makes clear the obligations under which Turkey is operating. It states:

"The Union expects Turkey to sustain the process of reform and to work towards further improvement in the respect of . . . human rights and fundamental freedoms".

Since 3 October, Olli Rehn, the commissioner for enlargement, has travelled to Ankara and the basis of the discussions that took place was the negotiating framework, of which human rights are an essential part.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

When Turkey received its candidacy status, did the Minister notice that journalists and authors were arrested for drawing attention to the Armenian massacres? What is Her Majesty's Government's reaction to that, given that the Turkish Government refuse to acknowledge that the massacres took place, and that they arrest people for arguing that they took place?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Europe)

Clearly, the European Union and the British Government, which holds the EU presidency, are concerned that charges have been brought against Mr. Pamuk, the individual whom I believe my hon. Friend is referring to. But is it also important that this House take note of, and is respectful of, the views of that author, who said that he did not want the charges brought against him to stand in the way of Turkey's progress toward the European Union. While not in any way diminishing the difficulties that he continues to face, all of us who have a genuine concern for human rights in Turkey see continuing progress toward a European future for Turkey as the best way to secure human rights not just for him, but for other members of the Turkish population.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

But is the Minister aware that the charge against Mr. Pamuk is insulting the country's national character? Bringing such charges against renowned authors undermines the whole judicial system, and without a judicial system in which people can confident it will impossible to make any progress on human rights.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Europe)

Of course, Turkey will have to make changes to its legal system given that, on its own estimation, it will not enter the EU for 10 to 15 years. However, at this critical stage after 3 October, it is important that we continue to make clear the EU's view on the urgency of the changes that are required. The case of Orhan Pamuk was raised with the Turkish Justice Minister in the margins of a justice and home affairs meeting held on 7 to 9 September. I assure the House that we will follow up that dialogue in the months to come.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

The Minister said that Turkey needs to make more progress on human rights, but noted that it has made considerable progress already. Will he take every opportunity, in this House and in the EU, to use that as a positive example of how the EU's commitment to human rights and democratic principles is the best way to improve human rights and democracy in countries which, like Turkey, wish to become EU members?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Europe)

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It ill behoves some Opposition Members to argue that the EU's only legitimate role is to be a large free trade area, and at the same time to assert their great concern for the role of human rights in the future of the EU and its members. Turkey and the western Balkans offer the clearest examples of how an enduring concern for human rights can transform societies. That transformation could not be achieved without the action of the EU, and the Euro-sceptics have no answer to that.