Turkey and the EU

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 15th December 2004.

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Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench 2:30 pm, 15th December 2004

rose to call attention to the proposed accession of Turkey to the European Union; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, the subject of our debate this afternoon is of enormous importance to the future of Europe and, by implication, to the future of this country. In two days' time in Brussels the European Council is due to decide whether to open formal negotiations with Turkey with a view to Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union. The European Commission on 6 October, in its regular report on Turkey's progress towards accession, expressed itself in favour of instituting formal negotiations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, in her response to my Question on 10 November, stated categorically that the Government strongly supported Turkey's bid to join the European Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in the same debate, expressed support from her side of the House for the goal of eventual Turkish membership. My concern is that there has been insufficient discussion in this country of the very important issues involved—hence my sponsorship of this debate. Your Lordships' House, with its unique reservoir of expertise and experience, is an obvious place to hold such a debate and I look forward to the contributions of noble Lords who are participating this afternoon.

Let me say at the outset that I am open-minded on this important question. I do not know Turkey well, but I have stayed with Turkish friends in Istanbul and I was recently on holiday in the Turkish part of Cyprus. My wife has travelled extensively in Turkey and always praises the friendliness, openness and generosity of the people she encountered. I am particularly aware of Turkey's long-standing membership of and contribution to NATO, since in my National Service in the RAF in the 1950s I had flying training under the NATO scheme in Canada in company with Turkish and other NATO trainee pilots.

I turn now to the main issues. The first is simply one of geography. Article 1 of the proposed constitution for Europe states:

"The Union shall be open to all European States".

So is Turkey a "European state"? A small part of the country, about 5 per cent, is in Europe with about 8 per cent of its population. Personally, I find it hard to accept that this qualifies Turkey to be called a "European state" and I think that if it were to become a full member some modification of Article 1 of the proposed constitution would be required. One should point out at this stage that an exception to this rule has already been made in the case of Cyprus, which is geographically in Asia. Cyprus is small but Turkey has a population of 70 million, making it larger than all existing EU members except Germany. If current population trends continue, it is likely to overtake Germany later this century and could reach 100 million. As such, given current voting arrangements in the EU, it would have a very powerful voice.

The second issue is one of culture and involves the contentious question of to what extent there is a European identity and a common purpose that extends beyond economic co-operation and success. If there is no such thing as a European identity, there is no reason why the Union should not be extended to any neighbouring state that is willing to accept the basic rules of membership, as laid down by the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993. The Copenhagen criteria, although designed for eastern European applicants, do not specifically mention Europe. Section 7A(iii) of the conclusions requires a candidate country to have,

"achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union".

These criteria are popular with Euro-sceptics, as they omit mention of Europe and there is no pressure towards political union. But at the other extreme you do not have to be an ardent federalist seeking a European superstate to acknowledge that there is such a thing as a European identity and that it is relevant for the Union of 25 nations that we have today.

I grew up in the post-war years. My father was an instinctive European. He was a director of the Bank for International Settlements in Basle for 25 years and participated in its regular monthly meetings of European central bankers, building friendships, trust and co-operation—and, incidentally, contributing significantly behind the scenes to the successful birth of the European Central Bank and the single currency.

As a trainee banker on Wall Street in the 1960s, I found myself siding with other Europeans and against our American colleagues in discussions on the issues of the time. That is where I learnt that there is such a thing as a European identity and that I was a European as well as being an Englishman. I believe that the concept of a European identity still exists and is important. It underlies the opening lines of the proposed new constitution which read:

"Reflecting the will of the citizens and States of Europe to build a common future, this Constitution establishes the European Union, on which the Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common".

The question is whether Turkey and the Turkish people fit into that definition.

The third issue is the related but more sensitive subject of religion. The European Union is sometimes referred to as a Christian club. I find that too exclusive. But Christian values and a Christian heritage are part of the European identity that I have already discussed. This remains the case despite the fact that there are an estimated 20 million Muslims in Europe now, and, we are told, more people attend mosques in this country now than attend churches.

Europe is quite rightly an increasingly multi-cultural society. While we support this evolution as a necessary part of modern society, we all know that it can be the cause of problems, particularly in socially deprived areas. Since the time of Ataturk, Turkey has been a constitutionally secular state and has separated religion from government. It has also resisted religious extremists. Nevertheless, there are important differences, particularly in respect of gender equality, which set the two cultures apart.

On the positive front there is a strong argument for supporting a secular state embodying a moderate Muslim faith in an area of the world so beset by religious extremism. Making Turkey a prosperous secular democratic nation can, it is to be hoped, provide an example for others in the region to emulate. On the negative side, there remains the risk that Turkey would provide an entrée for the spread of Muslim extremism into the Union. This risk would be less easy to control in the circumstances of a large-scale migration of Turkish workers to the West. The free movement of people is a key element in the structure of the Union as we know it. With current population trends, it is likely that the large economies of western Europe will depend increasingly on immigration to meet labour requirements of the future. The Commission's regular report in October on Turkey's progress towards accession admitted in its conclusions that:

"No progress has taken place concerning the free movement of persons", and such discussion that had taken place had been concerned with the treatment of foreign citizens living and working in Turkey.

These issues have not been much discussed in this country but they have been a matter of concern on the continent, particularly in France, where, in a recent Figaro poll 56 per cent voted against Turkish membership and only 36 per cent in favour. In an article in the Financial Times of 25 November, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing expressed himself to be against full membership for Turkey. He suggested that instead the EU should negotiate "privileged partnership agreements" with its neighbours, which could then include other countries such as the north African Mahgreb. This, he claimed,

"would respond to Turkey's expectations without jeopardizing the fragile construction of the EU, which has not yet adjusted to the institutional and budgetary consequences of the latest enlargement".

Giscard's views were denounced in the Financial Times editorial the following day under the headline,

"A bit too late to go cold on Turkey", and again, by Philip Stephens in the Financial Times of 10 December, under the heading,

"Europe must open its eyes and look to the future".

Philip Stephens wrote,

"The Union's present purpose seems obvious enough; to entrench democracy and build prosperity among its newest members and to project stability beyond".

Somehow, though, Philip Stephens admitted that,

"this does not have quite the cachet of Jean Monnet's vision of an ever closer union, a recreation of ancient Christendom".

I shall now leave the background debate and consider the practical issues faced by the European Council on Friday. To a large extent its decision is predetermined because of the history that stretches back 40 years, to 12 September 1963, when Turkey sealed an association agreement with the then European Economic Community. In April 1987, Turkey applied for full EEC membership. Its eligibility was accepted, but the application was deferred. In December 1999, the EU summit in Helsinki recognised Turkey as an applicant, subject to a range of reforms. Since then a major reform programme has been undertaken in Turkey: inflation, for example, has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time since 1973, from more than 50 per cent in 2001.

In its October regular report on Turkey's progress towards accession, the European Commission has given Turkey a green light under almost all headings. Thus it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Council will agree to start formal accession negotiations in 2005, probably during the British presidency in the second half of the year.

The negotiations themselves will have to address the three main issues that I have raised and many other more detailed aspects. They are expected to last up to 10 years. If and when a final agreement is reached on Turkish accession, it has to be accepted by each and every member state, and in France a referendum has been promised. I believe that sums up the situation as it stands and I look forward to hearing the views of other noble Lords. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, not only on the Motion but on the terms in which he has spoken. We face serious and major challenges, as the noble Lord pointed out. I unhesitatingly support the view that Turkey should be approached about membership of the European Union. The matter is particularly salient this week. Turkey is a multi-religious and multi-cultural country and, in many respects, it is quite different from the European Union. However, those are not reasons for terminating the discussions or for pointing in the wrong direction.

Substantial reforms have already been initiated in Turkey. I emphasise that there must be no going back for Turkey. There has to be a clear acceptance of the essential principles laid down at Copenhagen: a working market economy; a willingness to observe the rules of the single market; and an acceptance of the acquis communautaire. A good start has already been made, but much more remains to be done, particularly with regard to the Kurdish community.

As has been pointed out, Turkey is, or will be by the time we contemplate her membership, the most populous of all the countries in or seeking admission to the European Union. Turkey has 20 million Kurds and, unlike any other member state, has a clear majority of Muslims. Unlike other Arab states, she enjoys good relations with Israel, with the United States and with most Arab countries. That fact alone represents a potent reason for welcoming Turkey into the European Union. The bridge that she has patiently erected needs to be utilised, especially with regard to Israel and Palestine where, in my view, a permanent solution—a two-state solution—is desperately required.

Turkey has exhibited an increasingly benign attitude towards Greece and Cyprus. She can also play an important role in relation to Iran and be a significant player as regards Syria. As a member of NATO and the Council of Europe, she can do much more than most to explain to the Syrians that there is no future for them in seeking weapons of mass destruction and that they should exercise a much more emollient role in the region's affairs.

I do not for one moment argue that everything regarding Turkey and the European Union will be easy—far from it. That is why negotiations have to be so protracted. Turkey has so much more to do, especially on human rights. The enormous Muslim population, with its traditions, must equate much more with the better examples of tolerance to be found in the European Union.

I emphasise that a good start has been made. The possibilities of membership of the European Union have already had a beneficial effect, and Turkish freedoms have advanced. Minority groups have benefited; political prisoners have been released; the political role of the military has declined; and the death penalty has disappeared. I believe that that augurs well for membership of the European Union. I wish the negotiations that are to take place this week good speed.

Photo of Lord Brittan of Spennithorne Lord Brittan of Spennithorne Conservative

My Lords, having negotiated the Customs Union with Turkey on behalf of the European Union nearly a decade ago, it is natural for me to give a warm welcome to the admirable speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, who has initiated this timely debate. For my part, I am strongly in favour of a clear decision being taken to open accession negotiations with Turkey on a specified and early date, with the firm intention of bringing those negotiations to a positive conclusion.

No doubt, if that happens, the admission of Turkey will be an accession to the European Union different in kind from all previous accessions. The combination of its different history, vast size, the huge disparities between the east and west of the country, geographical position and state of development make it clear that that is the case.

Anxieties about the continuous enlargement of the European Union are not unreasonable. Admitting a country is not just an act of friendship; the commitments on both sides are far different from those involved in membership of any other international organisation. The European Union is not a federation, but it has a high degree of economic integration and, beyond that, common policies on subjects such as the environment and equal opportunities, with a high degree of supranational decision-making.

For those reasons, we cannot just admit Turkey for strategic reasons—something not always understood by our American friends—although it would be a huge strategic bonus. Nor should we just admit Turkey to show readiness to accept an Islamic country, although that also would be a bonus if it proved possible. For a long time, the European Union has wrestled with the question: what should our limits be—the Copenhagen conditions, the economic, political and institutional conditions to which reference has been made? Many countries could meet those conditions. The name and history of the European Union implies a further overriding condition, which essentially is geographical: that countries must be part of Europe. We cannot just be a never-ending group of like-minded countries, willing to accept a certain degree of economic and other integration.

The geographical criterion still leaves questions over a number of individual countries. Those will have to be answered on an ad hoc basis. It is clear that as Turkey has only a toe-hold in Europe it might have been reasonable a generation ago to say no to Turkey for that reason. But that is not what we did. In signing an association agreement 40 years ago, we gave a clear nod to Turkey. Again and again, further indications were given of Turkey being eligible, and finally it was formally agreed that Turkey was eligible, provided that certain conditions were met.

Turkey has now taken us at our word. If you like, it has called our bluff. Herculean efforts have been made economically, in the area of human rights and so far as concerns the role of the military. We cannot now honourably say no.

But the difference of the Turkish accession from others makes it reasonable to handle it in a way that differs in some respects from previous accessions. The fact that there is negotiation implies that we cannot guarantee success; and mention has already been made of the French referendum. The particular nature of Turkish accession makes it fairer for both sides to make it clear that success is not guaranteed.

We need to devise a formula that makes that clear, without detracting from the sincerity of our statement that our intention is that negotiations should lead to full membership. It is necessary to put in the qualifications because Turkey has some way to go on human rights. It is reasonable to be vigilant and to make clear that further progress is essential for ultimate success.

With regard to implementation, in the case of such a vast country, so varied internally in its character, it is reasonable to insist that there should be a commitment not only to legislation but to its implementation. Moreover, a lengthy transition provision is probably needed on both sides. Turkey, for its part, may well find the acquis in areas such as health and safety and the environment more difficult than is currently appreciated.

However, on one aspect of the current draft conclusions of the European Commission I entirely agree with Turkish objections; that is, the suggestion that there should be a permanent safety clause designed to deal with the fears of mass movement of people. There should be transition provisions, but the free movement of people is an absolutely fundamental feature of the European Union. To say that it might not apply to one member state on a permanent basis is completely inconsistent with the fundamental nature of the European Union. Therefore, it should not be included in the negotiating mandate.

We also have to take seriously the Turkish statement that it is not interested in a half-way house and that, if we say no, it will look in other directions. The idea of a privileged partnership is, frankly, an artificial concoction. Let us not forget that the Customs Union itself is by far the most far-reaching relationship that we have with any other country.

The fact that Turkey may turn elsewhere is not a reason for saying yes if the conditions cannot be met, but it should prevent those who are hesitant thinking that there is an easy alternative by which they can salve their consciences and avoid serious political and strategic damage.

Let us enter into the negotiations in good faith, being honest with each other and with Turkey, but in the fervent hope that the remaining obstacles can be overcome and that, in due course, we can welcome Turkey as a respected and worthy member of our unique grouping of countries, highly integrated for important specific purposes but open and welcoming to the wider world.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that speeches should be limited to five minutes.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for giving the House the opportunity to consider these matters at the beginning of a long process. I understand the tentativeness of his conclusions. Indeed, for one who has long favoured the deepening of European integration to strengthen the effectiveness of member countries of the European Union, it is, to some extent, a conversion to welcome the prospect that the negotiations with Turkey will be successful.

It is important to recognise the massive transformations that have taken place in that country, which have inevitably altered the perceptions of its candidacy. In democracy and human rights, Turkey has a record of alteration that is without parallel. I shall exemplify: there is the civilianisation of the National Security Council; the fact that a former chief of the naval staff is subject to criminal investigation for corruption; the fact that it is no longer taboo, although it was for a long time, to discuss Turkish issues in the national newspapers; and the fact that Kurdish education is now positively encouraged. Those are extraordinary changes, coupled with the authoritative reports from the Council of Europe's committee on the prevention of torture, which show the practical as well as the legislative changes that have taken place in the structure and organisation of the prison service, the legal services and the policing services. Of course there is more to do, but the pace of change encourages hope that by the time Turkey has come to terms with the difficult absorption of the acquis communautaire, its social life will have been quite transformed.

I comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, said about the geographical nature of Europe. It has indeed changed, even by the acceptance of the candidacy of Bulgaria, which for many centuries was part of the Ottoman Empire. Geography cannot be a delimiting criterion for membership of the European Union.

The arguments for adhesion to strengthen the foreign and security policy of the European Union seem to me to be overwhelming. We need assistance in combating drug trafficking, terrorism and trafficking in people. In all those matters, Turkey could provide immense practical help and act as a most important energy transport hub, further securing our supplies when they are too dependent on northern routes.

It is also important to recognise the demographic changes that have made Turkey a more attractive member than it would have been even five years ago. There have been suggestions of a substantial population increase, but that does not fully register the downturn in fertility rates in Turkey and the flattening-off of the population growth, which is now quite discernable.

We should approach this difficult negotiation with fairness and objectivity, seeking to determine whether Turkey's identity and its compatibility with European norms of democracy and economic modernisation have been properly met. If the changes that have begun are continued in the same manner and with the determination of the Turkish people to continue them, we can embark upon this course with great optimism.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to have this afternoon's debate. At present, the idea of Turkey's accession is unpopular. Indeed, some polls suggest that only one third of the EU member states' populations are in favour. That unpopularity is focused chiefly on questions of culture and religion. The people of Turkey are overwhelmingly Muslim, and there is some evidence that minority religious groups in Turkey are systematically disadvantaged, if not openly mistreated—to which matter I want to return in a few moments. Yet Europe is already multi-cultural and multi-religious, with many millions of Muslims, as the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, pointed out, resident as citizens, so there should be no hasty or unreasoned opposition on religious or cultural grounds.

The fact that those issues have come to the fore is evidence that there is uncertainty about the European identity; the extent to which it is based on shared values; and whether those values should be subject to artificial control. That raises an important question for the British Government and other member states about the basis of our desire to be part of the EU in the first place.

There are certainly serious concerns about the effect of introducing a geographically and numerically vast, poor and largely agricultural partner to the Union, but the almost apocalyptic utterances that we sometimes hear fail to recognise that all the European nations and Turkey are likely to undergo massive changes in the minimum of 15 years before Turkey might become a member state. Any attempt to prejudge the results from this distance can hardly be reliable.

There is indeed some objection to Turkey's entry on the ground of democratic deficiencies. I am naturally concerned about the position of the historic Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox Christian minorities, as well as the more recently established chaplaincies—for example, the Anglican chaplaincies in Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul—especially when I hear that, despite promises from Turkey's responsible authorities, those Christian communities still face many problems of legal recognition, property rights and the development of educational curricula. However, it is also important to notice the great strides that Turkey has made and is making to address such problems. No doubt there is still a long way to go, but there is still a long time to travel. Experience shows that Turkey has made successive and concerted efforts to bring its domestic life into line with European standards. The formal opening of accession talks would be an effective piece of European foreign policy with which to encourage Turkey in its internal reforms.

The alternative is potentially disastrous for the stability of Europe's eastern borders. It is hard to imagine that, if Turkey lost all hope of European integration, the current impetus to change could be maintained, and there is a serious danger that some of Turkey's more reactionary groups might look elsewhere for guidance. We should not underestimate the precariousness of the present Turkish Government's programme for reform, and we would be unwise to jeopardise it.

At a more strategic level, there is great potential value in nurturing Turkey as an example of a Muslim democracy. The accession of Turkey would help to forge closer co-operation between Christians and Muslims in the Union—something that may turn out to be of immeasurable significance. The popular tendency to fear alternative religions and cultures or to regard them cynically as useful tools to get Christianity off the scene needs to give way to a determination to work together for the common good of the Earth.

All the evidence suggests that religion, in particular, is an increasingly potent global force and we should therefore all be very careful about closing the door on Europe's great Muslim neighbour. Indeed, by showing a willingness to welcome Turkey's Muslim population, we would set an example of the kind of hospitality that should characterise relations between the great Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. For, in the words of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor in a recent lecture, it is the vital and vibrant reality of hospitality that those faiths, at their best, have in common.

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Labour

My Lords, amen to that. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for this timely opportunity to consider the matter. Noble Lords on all sides will know that I have not taken part in many European debates and certainly none about Turkey. I hope that your Lordships will be lenient with me when I confess that I decided only at the very last moment to participate, being spurred on by an article that I read on Turkey in the Guardian about violence against women, mentioning honour killings in particular.

I love Turkey. The first time that I visited Turkey was five years ago. I love the place, the people, the fact that it is a secular country—that Church and state, religion and state, have been separated for a long time—and that it has a fantastic record of educating women. The Turkish people's love for children is so apparent when you visit.

I have a particular objection to the fact that the fate of a nation of 70 million people may depend on an article in a reputable paper referring to honour killing and gender violence as reasons why accession should not be allowed or should be thought about twice. This is why I stand here to add my penn'orth.

At the outset, I should apologise to the House. I must ask the House to excuse me, but I may not be able to listen to the Minister's winding-up speech, and I will understand if she does not reply to me.

I welcome Britain's position supporting Turkey's earliest entry to the Union, and I welcome the Commission's latest report, which has given positive signals that Turkey has met the Copenhagen political criteria. To those of us who are familiar with Turkey five years ago and more recently, there is a staggering difference. The political changes and commitment towards changes have been enormous. We must welcome that fact. What is interesting is from where the opposition is coming. Much has been said, more eloquently than I can say it, about the fact that the world has changed fundamentally since 9/11. There is a sense of anger and anguish about how Muslim populations worldwide are treated by the Western nations.

For all those very good reasons, it is important to reflect, as have the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, and the right reverend Prelate, and as others no doubt will. Britain has taken an honourable and admirable position. The Home Secretary recently said that Turkey had delivered and that it was time that the EU delivered its side of the bargain. I could not agree with that more. That will effectively counter some member countries' Islamophobic ideas about why accession cannot take place or negotiations cannot continue.

I have perhaps said more than I should venture, but this is the right time for us to ensure that we extend the arms of friendship, as well as engaging in negotiation, discussion and dialogue. It is critical that we capitalise on the potential of 70 million people and the economic success of Turkey in the Union. On that basis, I very much hope that Turkey will be embraced by the Union, because that will send a clear strategic message well beyond Turkey. I say no more. Given Turkey's record of solidarity with the West for so long, it is time that we let Turkey's citizens know that we are with them, not against them.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on his good fortune in the ballot and on his wisdom in choosing this topic for our debate. Time is short. I want to make three points.

The first point is that the accession of Turkey will not end the eastward push of the European Union. It will not be a question of, like Pitt, saying, "Roll up that map", after Austerlitz. We will find that the waiting room of those who want to join the European Union is quite crowded. We know that Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia are already on the threshold of negotiations. Doubtless they will be followed in due course by the remnants of the former Republic of Yugoslavia plus Albania. A third wave will be the southern Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and of course, topically, the Ukraine.

The consequence of that will be to add about 20 nations and 200 million people. Of course, no one can anticipate precisely what will be the form of that association, but I can assert that the Turkish quest for full membership will have a considerable impact on those countries and their expectations.

My second point is that such expansion would bring the European Union, with its current structures and military and foreign affairs ambitions, however embryonic, right alongside Russia, from Estonia down to Ukraine. It is a situation with which we in western Europe are reasonably unfamiliar. The cordon sanitaire protected us during the years between the wars; since the war, Finland and Yugoslavia, in their contrasting ways, have provided a sort of buffer. We are certainly light years away from when Jean Monnet could refer to the,

"great dynamic forces of Communism".

None the less, the relationships which we now will have to strike will have to be treated with caution, and certainly with an understanding of the anxieties that Russia is bound to harbour when it sees NATO expanded in the way that it is likely to be in the context that I have just described.

Thirdly, I want to talk about the impact that the negotiations will have on the existing European Union. Mention has been made of the 1993 Copenhagen Council, which set the rubric for accession countries and how they would be treated. It is not often mentioned that the Copenhagen Council also contained the assertion that it would have to lead to,

"maintaining the momentum of European integration".

I ask noble Lords to reflect on the present state of Europe: its problems with agriculture, with the euro and the difficulty of ensuring that the stabilisation programmes work effectively; the problem of corruption, an indelicate point that none the less lies at the heart of so much public disenchantment with the European Union; and bureaucracy.

The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, made generous mention of the acquis communitaire, which the Turks and all applicant countries will be required to accept. The Foreign Office says that the document is 80,000 pages. That is bureaucracy on stilts. It is unrealistic to think of the accession of Turkey against those problems without having a clearer idea of how we wish to reconstitute the existing European Union to enable it to accommodate the profound changes and transformations implicit in the negotiations.

We are today holding up the mirror against Turkey. We should also hold the mirror up against the existing European Union and its practices and, in my view, the great need for it to become more like a Gaullist Europe des patries. Ultimately, it will not be resolved in these short debates. It will be taken to the British public through a referendum, and upon their good sense and instinctive judgments I rest.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat

My Lords, coming to this place after 27 years in the other place, I naively expected that one would get away from the pre-Maastricht, Maastricht and immediately post-Maastricht argumentation about the European Union.

I disagree with the pessimistic conclusions of the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, on what has happened so far in the European Union's development. It has been a remarkable exercise. It seems daunting to us all that the European Union now comprises 25 countries and will increase yet again fairly shortly. It seems a lot to digest in a relatively short time, but surely the precise purpose of the European convention, its parameters and content is to explain the relationships between the nation states. There seems to have been a diminution neither of chancery politics between sovereign countries nor of the intrinsic sovereignty of those member states as a result of the convention. Indeed, their reinforcement has depressed some of the super-federalists. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, need not worry too much about that, I hope.

The convention provides for a further expansion, once the people throughout the existing member states have ratified the constitution. That will give us the opportunity to consider the huge task of absorbing a country such as Turkey. I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, both for his good fortune in the ballot and for his initiative in choosing this major subject.

Originally, I shared the massive consternation at the idea of Turkey's accession, because it seemed such a huge and indigestible concept, and was coming to a conclusion against it. In the light of more information, expectations and knowledge of such a fascinating and brilliant country—alas, I have been there only once, and only to Istanbul—I think that Turkey's future membership will be an enormous advantage to the Union.

Time does not allow us to go into the hugely complex details but Turkey's accession will be a massive task. No one needs to worry about the Turks criticising us—their Prime Minister was wrong to imply that—if the existing European member states did not say that there were huge tasks involved in the integration of Turkey into the European Union.

I agree entirely with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, about the remarkable legislation already introduced in Turkey. However, that is legislation on Turkey's statute book, or whatever it is called in that constitutional system, and it has not yet been implemented. A long time will be needed to see how Turkey measures up. The behaviour of the military has started to be inspiring and positive—none the less, more evidence will be needed. The human rights picture has only just begun to be mitigated by both legislation and administrative decisions; there is a lot more to come.

The concept of Turkey absorbing the whole acquis communitaire sounds like a nightmare both for the bureaucrats involved and for politicians dealing with the matter in all the member states. The position of France is now coloured adversely by respondents in opinion polls there being seemingly dead against Turkish membership. President Chirac has taken initiatives to try to improve that position in due course. Those are huge problems.

The oppression of the Kurds and all that has happened in eastern Turkey cannot just be conveniently forgotten rapidly as a result of what has occurred in the recent advent of an application. I feel that the summit will agree to open the talks; that is the general expectation. It is also generally expected that it will take a long time to go through all those negotiations. The Turks must therefore expect to be patient. They must educate their own public about the need for patience, not that the existing European Union needs to address them in any condescending way. Turkey has a lot to offer if it is possible for that country to be absorbed into the European Union. Ultimately, I am optimistic, although that might take the old-fashioned, classical definition of "optimism": a 97 year-old man who got married for the fifth time and deliberately bought a new house near a school. I like to be more positive than that; nevertheless, the Turks must be realistic.

The question of the death penalty's removal is very encouraging, as has been mentioned. Other factors related to the social legislation are paving the way for Turkey's eventual entry. This will be a massive exercise; indeed, the biggest ever carried out by the Union. We must see what happens to future growth rates and so on in Turkey, particularly eastern Turkey, and how people on very low incomes—again, primarily in eastern Turkey—can be absorbed into the economic processes of the Union. We must be optimistic, because there is so much at stake. I believe that the Muslim contribution from this amazing country will be of enormous significance and benefit to the European Union.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for bringing about this important and timely debate. I declare an interest, having worked in Turkey in the 1980s under the auspices of what was then the Overseas Development Administration, now the Department for International Development. I also worked there in the 1990s. During the latter period, I was frequently, although mercifully for very brief periods, a guest of the government—in other words, a detainee.

There appears to be general consensus that the human rights record in Turkey has improved in the past few years. As previous speakers have said, this improvement is partly attributable to the promise—and, indeed, the hope—of accession to the European Union. My friends and colleagues in Turkey remind me that in the run-up to the last discussions about EU membership, which proved unsuccessful, the human rights record similarly improved. However, once turned down, there was a distressing and marked deterioration in human rights violations, specifically the widespread practice of torture.

Turkey has for many years held an unenviable record on the use of torture. In the 20 years since 1980, more than 400 citizens have died as a result of torture, with 45 deaths in 1994 alone. In the first four months of this year there were 50 complaints of torture and, in the first six months, the Turkish Human Rights Association reported 692 incidents of torture. As of August of this year, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation received 597 requests for medical treatment as a result of torture.

Some of those cases concern the unlawful detention and abuse of children. For example, on 20 November, near Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey, a 12 year-old child and his father were shot from less than half a metre and killed by the police, who then laid weapons on their bodies claiming that they were terrorists. That is refuted by many witnesses and several human rights organisations. The inquiry into that double murder is being held in secret.

Despite continuing concerns about violations of human rights, Turkey now has all the appropriate laws and mechanisms to deal with them. The issue is one of political will to implement the law. Again, it is believed by those who have expertise on Turkey that that could be achieved rather easily by introducing or strengthening three vital mechanisms.

First, there should be effective and routine internal supervision of police stations; secondly, there should be a readiness on the part of the justice, interior and prime ministries to respond rapidly when there are allegations of torture; and, thirdly, there should be a willingness to allow independent visits by international non-governmental organisations to police stations and detention facilities. Those measures would give us all confidence in the Turkish Government's promise of "zero tolerance for torture" in the run-up to accession negotiations.

There should be no let-up in the pressure being brought to bear on the Turkish Government to end the culture of impunity, to eradicate the practice of torture, to ensure free and fair trials and to stop the suppression of free speech, particularly in the east of Turkey, where any criticism of state authority or expression of ethnic identity still run the risk of official persecution.

I believe that accession negotiations should begin and that now, and in the years leading up to accession, the strongest possible pressure from the member states of the European Union could be highly effective. I therefore ask that the Minister use all the influence at her disposal to help to bring Turkey out of its sometimes medieval past into a modern Europe where the rule of law prevails.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Cobbold for the opportunity to give my support to the Republic of Turkey's bid to become a full member of the European Union. Moves to date aimed at blocking Turkish accession to Europe's political and economic union have sent an extremely negative message to the Islamic world. It is a message that contradicts the very ideals of Western democracy, which are the bedrock of our society—ideals that we are fighting for in Iraq.

Surely religious considerations should be of little or no relevance to the debate. They are a side issue, as Turkey is well on its way to having earned its place at the European table. It is a country that has travelled a long way since the first president of the republic, Kemal Atatürk, drove through his secularist modernising reforms in the 1920s.

Since then, Turkey has stood alongside the allies in the Second World War, stood with the West during the long decades of the Cold War and stands today with us in our global war on terror. But let us not forget that in orientating itself towards the West, Turkey more often than not turned its back on the East and its former Ottoman territories.

Turkey, however, remains today as it was for centuries—a stanchion between the civilisations of the East and the West. We often hear of the "clash of civilisations" and the argument that democracy is unsuitable for Muslim or Islamic countries. Yet Turkey, a country in which roughly 90 per cent of the population are Muslims, has provided the perfect foil to that argument. Lebanon was another example, but I need not remind the House where western neglect left that democracy.

If we turn our back on Turkey in the coming decade, we will show the Islamic world that it is the West that is ill prepared for Muslim democracies and not vice versa. The problem is that there are some member states in the European Union that are opposed to Turkey's accession as a full member because it is a Muslim country, regardless of its ability to meet the entrance criteria.

Setting religion aside and focusing on the issues more pertinent to the debate, it is imperative that Turkey is successful in its efforts to join the European Union. Its security is fundamental to the defence interests of the United Kingdom and to Europe as a whole. Turkey remains a key security partner of NATO and Europe. It is now more important than ever that Turkey, with the largest army in Europe, plays a full role in European decision making on security issues—a task that it can fulfil only by taking up full membership of the European Union. One must also consider the economic benefits that will flow from Turkey's accession to the Union, which will help the other member states as well as Turkey.

Turkey has progressively reformed its society, its constitution, its religious affairs, and its human rights record. It has recently supported the Annan plan, alongside the Turkish Cypriot community in northern Cyprus, in its efforts to resolve that long-standing ethnic conflict through reunification.

The present Turkish Government have developed their economy, delivered political stability, reformed the penal code and have addressed women's rights and the position of the Kurdish minority. Yet, in the face of all of that, we still hear regular cries that the Turks have not done enough. The cry goes out time and again that the Turks must do yet more.

Certain member states are threatening to veto Turkey's inclusion even if it meets all the entry criteria. To do so would be an act of great folly. It would be an act that would guarantee that Turkey became once again the "sick man of Europe".

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on having secured this debate and giving us the chance to talk about an issue that has been debated relatively little in this country compared with France, Germany and other countries, where it is high on the agenda for discussion. Of course, in those countries there is more hostility to Turkish accession than there is here.

Turkish membership of the European Union would be good for Britain, good for the European Union and good for Turkey, provided that the conditions for Turkey's entry are the same as those that have applied to other accession countries. If Europe seeks to set different and more exacting standards of Turkey than of other countries, we are saying that Turkey will become a second-class member of the EU. A country with as proud a tradition as Turkey will say, "No. We want to be full members on an equal footing with other countries rather than have second-class status".

Therefore, I am concerned at expressions coming from the Continent, such as giving Turkey the status of a "special partnership", which means second-class status, or saying that the free movement of labour within an EU of which Turkey is a member would be permanently suspended. To my mind, those are not acceptable ways forward.

Of course there will have to be transitional arrangements, although, given that it is likely to take Turkey at least 10 years from the opening of negotiations to become a member, a great deal can happen in those 10 years and transitional arrangements may not be necessary.

For Turkey, as proved to be the case for the other accession countries, the process of accession itself can be very important in achieving changes in the country. I remember people saying to me in Poland or one of the other recently joined countries that the need to conform to European Union standards made those countries bring about changes that they wanted to bring about but they were able to do it faster under the pressure of seeking to join the EU. I believe that the same will apply to Turkey.

It is acknowledged that Turkey has come a long way: the abolition of the death penalty, a legal framework, some improvement in the rights of Kurds and less power for the military in the scheme of things are all positive advances. Nevertheless, and I am sure that the Turkish Government would be the first to agree, many more changes will have to be made. The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, referred to some of the issues that are still on the agenda.

Only yesterday, I had a meeting with representatives of the Kurdish Democratic People's Party. They want Turkey to join the EU, seeing it as a way of achieving human rights for their people which have been denied to them in the past. Things are getting better, but in their view they have quite a long way to go in terms of voting rights, language, education, terms of imprisonment and allegations of torture.

It is of course a fact that, with 25 new members since last May, European governance has to move forward; hence we need the constitution. But we may well have to make further changes anyway, and Turkey's accession might also propel us to make new arrangements for the effective governance of the EU. That is almost inevitable.

It has been said that Turkish membership would increase instability on the EU's south-eastern border. I think that the reverse is true: if Turkey was a member, stability in the south-east of Europe would actually be increased. Indeed, we should bear in mind that Turkey has long been a member of NATO and we did not object to that. Turkey would be a source of strength to the EU. But if we say no to Turkey, where will she go? What future is there for Turkey? If Europe says, "You are not acceptable", inevitably she will have to look for allies further to the east. That would hardly increase the strength and stability of our southern and eastern borders.

I turn to the question of Cyprus. I hope very much that, given that they now have the power of veto, the Government of Cyprus will not use it to vote against Turkish membership. Relations between Turkey and Greece have improved considerably in the recent past. I hope that the government in Nicosia will see Turkish membership as a positive move and will be able to resolve the issue of the divided island without recourse to anything that might hamper Turkey's movement into the EU.

Finally, I believe that Turkey would provide Europe with a good bridge to the Islamic world. We have 10 million Muslims in the European Union and Turkey is a secular, moderate Muslim country. I can do no better than quote from a speech made in Oxford last May by Prime Minister Erdogan:

"We in Turkey have reconciled our traditional Islamic culture with our secular and democratic structures. We have demonstrated that a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population could turn its face to and integrate with the Western world. We have shown the true progressive and modern face of Islam. We have targeted not the conflict of civilizations, but their meeting in Turkey".

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Conservative

My Lords, when 20 years ago or so, I began to be interested in European Community politics, one of the standard clever questions at party meetings and on the hustings was whether Turkey should join the European Community. Invariably, I used to reply that I thought not. I suppose that the European Community was, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold—whom I thank for introducing the debate—a Christian club; but not, I hasten to add, in the words of Prime Minister Erdogan over the weekend, simply a Christian club. It was a Christian club that welcomed others to it within the framework of a secular system, one that derived its character from the Judaeo-Christian tradition and would continue to do so.

At the time, Turkey did not seem to fit into that definition. In any event, it was a hypothetical question. What I am not sure about today is whether that assessment holds true; the world has moved on. Twenty years ago, it was self-evident that if Europe expanded eastwards, it would have to go through the now vanished Soviet empire, which at that time looked improbable. Now the European Union is about to abut Turkey on a wide front. It includes some of the European part of the historic Ottoman lands and shortly will comprise much more.

If Turkey is to join the EU, there are four main issues to consider: political, economic, legal and cultural. Turkey's case that politically it is part of Europe is, I think, arguable. I am not sure whether I am convinced by it, but I certainly accept that there is a good argument. However, the kind of thing which concerns me is that Turkey's eastern border runs with that of Iraq, and by no stretch of the imagination is that country European. For example, I have the greatest anxiety about the politics of greater Kurdistan becoming an internal EU problem.

I accept entirely that the educated, middle-class Turkish perception of themselves as European is right, but what about the proverbial small man in eastern Anatolia? Atatürk's reforms after the First World War emphasised Turkey's western credentials, and I think that membership of the European Union can be seen as the summation of his work. But it is interesting, and no accident, that Atatürk came from Thessalonika and not from, say, near Lake Van. Has Turkey as a whole become western, or is it merely a Middle Eastern Mediterranean country with a Western veneer?

Economically, Turkey can sense significant benefits from membership of the EU. I understand that, and I can see all kinds of economic benefits to Europe from her joining. It is interesting to note that when members of Sub-Committee A of the European Union Committee recently visited Brussels, it was explained that the cost of Turkey's possible membership was not impossible. The supported agricultural sector is not as big as is sometimes supposed, and given the application of the so-called absorption factor and the case of structural funds, the cost of Turkish membership may well be manageable.

Legally, there are issues in both the civil and criminal fields. In the civil context, will the acquis and the rule of law be applied? After all, Turkey has been the source of a great deal of pirated intellectual property which has found its way into western Europe. We should not forget the extensive problems in the Union over the application and enforcement of Community laws, especially in southern European countries.

Turning to the criminal context, I recall that when I was a member of the European Parliament delegation to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, we rightly spent a lot of time making points about human rights. We should recognise that matters have improved and are improving, but of course they must still go on doing so. Furthermore, we should not hold the past against the Turks any more than we have done against the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the East Germans, the Poles or the Hungarians. As long as human rights are upheld and the Copenhagen Criteria are adhered to, we should not start carping.

Culturally, I admire the Turks and their fusion of European and Middle Eastern influences. There is little doubt that the liberal Islamic traditions of the country, combined with her recent westernisation, provide no threat to our view of the world. But, again, how deep does that actually go? Is that the real Turkey, and if it is not, what impact would a country of around 100 million people have on the European Union?

I have to admit that if I were a Turkish leader, I am not sure that I would seek membership of the European Union; but that is not the point because I am not. The Turks want to join, and we are no longer facing a hypothetical question. Whatever we do, we must play straight and fair with Turkey. We must not flirt, but treat her aspirations straightforwardly and seriously. If at this weekend's summit the European Council decides to open negotiations about full membership of the Union, it must be done in good faith and with the genuine intention of wanting to make it work. After all, whether or not Turkey joins the European Union, we Britons and the European Union as a whole are good friends and allies for the long run. If we give our word, either expressly or by implication, we must—I repeat, we must—honour it. We must not invite Turkey to walk up the aisle, only to deny her at the altar rail.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has made several interesting points. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Cobbold on his brilliant timing and his most thoughtful speech. It is not easy to do justice to this complex and important issue in only five minutes, but I shall do my best.

I first went to Turkey 51 years ago as a backpacker and stayed there for a month. In those days there were no cheap flights, so I went by third-class train and then by fourth-class ship from Naples to Istanbul via Piraeus. That Spartan mode of travel meant that I met a great many Turks in their twenties—all male, of course; that goes without saying—some of whom had been at university in France, Germany or Switzerland, although most had not. At least one had fought the communists in Korea. They came from the various regions of Turkey, with one from Bulgaria, and had different backgrounds. However, they were all most helpful and informative about their country. As informed people of that age tend to be, they were open and frank about both its virtues and failings, which was most valuable.

In 1953, the 500th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the besieging Ottoman armies took place, and the celebrations were a real eye-opener. The fierce national pride of the Turks and their pride in military glory persist—politically incorrect though it may be considered—and other countries ignore it at their peril.

I found the country quite fascinating and, after I married, my wife and I visited there frequently, travelling all over the western 60 per cent of the country on long-distance buses and sometimes on coastal steamers, normally being the only foreigners on board the bus or the ship. Over the past 25 years we have travelled in slightly greater comfort and have been privileged to become friends with people from a very different intellectual, social and economic background. All in all—although I cannot claim to know eastern Turkey—I have been privileged to travel fairly extensively and have been able to mix with, talk to and, above all, observe people of all backgrounds and ages intermittently over a period of more than 50 years. At the risk of sounding pompous, I believe that I have a certain feel for the country.

I have received great generosity and kindness there over the years, often from total strangers, and I can say, without being in any way starry-eyed or uncritical, that it is a country I like and admire. So when examining the pros and cons of Turkey's membership of the EU, my attitude is: first, would it be good for Turkey; secondly, would it be good for the United Kingdom; and, only thirdly, would it be good for the EU as a whole?

Would membership be good for Turkey? Psychologically, in the short term, yes—not only for the élites but for a very much wider spectrum of people— but, economically, I am not at all certain. Poland and the other eastern European countries got a very raw deal when they joined compared with Greece, the Republic of Ireland, Spain and Portugal, but they were prepared to swallow it in return for escaping for good the clutches of the Russian bear. The Turks certainly will not be offered a better deal—more likely a worse one—and they do not like being humiliated.

Economic aspects apart, other strains are likely to manifest themselves in the longer term. Yes, Turkey is officially a secular society—but it remains socially very conservative, as it has every right to do. Paradoxically, middle-class life—I use "middle class" in a very broad sense—in Turkey and western Europe respectively was probably closer 50 years ago than it is today. I remember well Switzerland in the early 1950s: the father was indisputably the head of the household; the family went to church every Sunday; and children and adolescents were obedient and respectful to their elders.

What are the symbols socially of western Europe today as seen from the east? Faliraki, Ibiza, drunken stag parties vomiting all the way from Dublin to Prague to Tallinn, drugs, "Big Brother" and, above all, widespread teenage promiscuity, widely condoned. We have got used to all this, but it is total anathema to the Turks. How are the two cultures to be reconciled?

Would Turkish membership be good for Britain? Yes, if it broke the combined power of France and Germany, both of whom—surprise, surprise—have just got away scot-free with breaking the stability and growth pact, and led to a much looser Europe, as favoured by the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, a Europe which interfered far, far less in the nooks and crannies of people's everyday lives. But, realistically, it is a tall order.

Would Turkish membership be good for the EU as a whole? If Turkey had a population of 5 million there would be no problem whatever. Indeed, if it had a population of 20 million but had the same birth rate as most other European countries, there would be few problems. But a projected population of 80 million in 15 years' time, when the population of the rest of Europe is predicted to fall, is indisputably daunting.

Perhaps I may make one penultimate point. If Turkey were a member of the EU today, with a full quota of Turkish MEPs in the European Parliament, you can be certain that Signor Buttiglione would be a European Commissioner at this moment, in the post originally allotted to him. Any tension there may be between Islam and Christianity—and it does exist—is dwarfed by the potential tension between Islam and post-Christianity.

Finally, there is no doubt that Turkey, like the United States, Russia and China, is from Mars, while western Europe nowadays is from Venus. This is most unlikely to change and it is something that must be taken into consideration.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour

My Lords, in my five minutes I shall concentrate on whether Turkey's human rights record has improved sufficiently to meet the 1993 Copenhagen criteria. As a case example of that I shall be focusing on the position of the Kurdish people of Turkey, who constitute about one-quarter of its population.

Mustafa Kemal's modernisation of Turkey in the early 1920s resulted in an intensely nationalistic unitary state—secular, of course, but dominated by the military. This state denied ethnic diversity and so the Kurdish language and cultural customs were outlawed. A policy of assimilation was rigidly imposed, often brutally, with gross violation of human rights. This is well known to the entire world and is documented by Amnesty International and the UN.

Inevitably, after prolonged oppression, some Kurds took up arms in the mid-1980s and the long conflict in the south-east region began. As part of Turkey's attempt to suppress the rebellion—which was initially aimed at securing an independent Kurdistan but later modified to asking simply for equal treatment for Kurds as for other Turks—some 3,000 villages were evacuated; many were destroyed and 3 million Kurds were displaced. The conflict is now at a low ebb following the PKK's unilateral ceasefire in 1998—although, because there was no reciprocal ceasefire or amnesty, the Kurdish guerrillas now again defend themselves when attacked.

This conflict was the main reason why Turkey's request in 1987 for EU accession was turned down. Now, on the threshold of possible accession, Mr Erdogan's government have abolished, as many noble Lords have pointed out, some of their most oppressive laws. However, it is difficult to turn round a system so deeply ingrained as is the denial of Kurdish identity in Turkey.

Although in the past year or two Kurdish has been allowed in the media, it is restricted on television to one hour in the morning and is entitled "local dialect" news, so reluctant is officialdom to use the word "Kurdish". The language can now be taught, but only in private schools. There are numerous examples of continuing arbitrary arrests, and torture continues, as the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, pointed out—although it is now in a modified form which leaves less physical evidence on the body.

Despite the slow progress, nearly all Kurds want Turkey to join the European Union because they feel that their human rights will be better protected and that they might receive some economic assistance for the grossly underdeveloped regions in the south-east.

However, many feel that the recent changes in the law are only cosmetic. They are asking for guarantees that will expand and entrench the gains in human rights that they have already made. They also ask for recognition of ethnic diversity in the country as a whole. For this to happen, a change in Turkey's rather Mussolini-like constitution may be necessary.

Three weeks ago an international conference was held in Brussels entitled "The EU, Turkey and the Kurds", one session of which I chaired. The final resolution puts the Kurdish position clearly and reasonably and I commend it to my noble friend. I am sorry that I have no time to read out any of its paragraphs.

Last Friday an advertisement appeared in Le Monde and the International Herald Tribune signed by some 200 prominent Kurdish and Turkish people living in Turkey and Europe, including Leyla Zana, the Kurdish Member of the Turkish Parliament recently released after nine years in prison. I should like to quote one paragraph from that advertisement. I have had to translate it from the French and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I have a word or two wrong. It states:

"Turkey should guarantee its Kurdish citizens rights comparable to those benefiting Basques, Catalans, Scots, Lapps, South Tyroleans and Walloons in the democratic countries of Europe or to those which it claims itself for Turks in Cyprus".

I am sorry that they missed out Welsh people, because there are many friends of the Kurds in Wales. They identify with them on the linguistic issue. The letter from these prominent Kurds continues, of course, and it is a clear and concise statement that I hope my noble friend and the Government will consider seriously in the run up to Friday's ministerial meeting.

Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has raised some important points about the Kurdish issue, particularly those related to human rights. I shall return to those in a moment or two. This is a remarkable moment for me, as it is the first time, at either end of the Palace of Westminster, that I have risen to make remarks about foreign affairs. Just as I was never considered to be brutal enough for the Whips' Office, I was obviously never considered to be subtle enough to serve in matters of foreign and commonwealth affairs.

I wish to make three points against which to set Turkish application for accession. The first is the list of improvements that they must make before they can be considered for accession. Many other noble Lords who have spoken in this excellent debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, have referred to them. Unusually in this afternoon's debate, my little list begins with matters economic. Far too much of the Turkish economy is in the hands of the state. Everything from telecoms to Turkish Airlines needs the attention of the privatisers or to be moved into the private sector. There is also the need to ensure the independence of the judiciary, which I do not think has been mentioned this afternoon, and the need to ensure that the police, as in the Kurdish issue, are firmly under control and the paramount need to ensure that the army is in its box and is kept there.

There is also the reassurance that we all seek that the legacy of Kemal Atatürk—Turkey as a secular society—is going to be preserved inside or outside of the European Union and that there is no possibility of a theocratic state emerging in Turkey. There are pressures there all the time, and I know that it is politically incorrect to mention them, but it is important to mention them, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, did in his highly important speech.

The second point that I wish to test the accession of Turkey against is the current fallacy that somehow Turkish membership of the European Union will automatically help us in the clash of civilisations and will help to provide a cultural and social bridge between Christianity and the Muslim world. On those points, there are lots of other countries that do not need geographical propinquity to help considerably in bringing that about. There is nothing unique in the case of Turkey; it just happens to be the nearest predominantly Muslim country of that size.

I also think that there is a further dangerous fallacy that, if Turkey is inside the European Union all around the world, Muslims will see that that is what one gets for good behaviour—access to the common agricultural policy or whatever—and will behave better, so that terrorism will ebb away. I really hope that our statesmen will be more hard-nosed in their assessment of the effects of Turkish membership.

Just as the old Michelin guides used to say "a little history", my third and last point involves a little geography. It is terribly important in this context. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on having pointed that out in his important introductory speech. It is extremely odd that the European Union has not set out to define what it believes to be the land mass and adjacent islands of Europe. I have looked at the European constitution, and Article 1(2), to which the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, referred in his introductory speech, states:

"The Union shall be open to European States which . . . "

It does not go on to define where the borders of Europe are.

Certainly, if Turkey is admitted into the Union, that will be a leap from Europe into an Asiatic world. It will be the first truly Asian country that Europe has admitted. It is time to pause to think about the list of other countries that may seek to join the European Union. Moldova is tacked on to the rump of Romania, but Ukraine penetrates deeply into Europe and has borders with Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.

It is important for those in the European Union who run such matters to pause to think about Turkey's application against the little list of other countries that may well wish to join, to see whether Europe's Drang nach Osten is going to carry on until it hits the Urals, or wherever, so that Europe becomes something very far from what we consider it to be now. Before expansion exhaustion sets in in the European Union, Turkey provides us with a good object lesson. It is a good country on which to pause and to set against the considerable list of other postulate countries, which grows longer and longer the further east we look.

Photo of Lord Dahrendorf Lord Dahrendorf Crossbench

My Lords, the decision at the European Council this weekend must be called momentous. It is also extremely controversial. Some noble Lords have alluded to the degree of controversy on the Continent about the Turkish question. It cannot be exaggerated. Only yesterday, the papers reported that the leader of the German opposition stated that if her party wins the German election in 2006 she will "prevent" Turkish membership of the European Union. It is well known that the Chancellor of Austria has similar views and that there are several other politicians on the Continent who have it in mind that they should prevent Turkish membership. It is therefore important to have this debate, which, looking at the range of views, will be nowhere near as controversial as the debate on the Continent.

The arguments against Turkish membership are many, but they generally amount to saying that Turkey is too big, too poor and too far away. So far as geography is concerned, it is true that only 5 per cent of Turkey is in Europe, but it does not follow that the European Union would become a Eurasian union if Turkey were accepted. In my view, there are no God-given or even history-given boundaries to Europe. Certainly, organisations that are rather more popular than the European Union, such as UEFA in football matters and Eurovision with its song contest, are not regarded as half Asian.

There are difficult negotiations ahead. They are of extreme importance. The Copenhagen criteria will form part of them. I would like to underline the issues that my noble friend Baroness D'Souza mentioned will play a part and will have to play a part. But the real issue for those who oppose Turkish membership is different. It is the issue of what the European Union is about. Those who believe that the European Union is about political union soon, and political union in some analogy to the union of nation states with a degree of cohesion within that, are obviously against Turkish membership, never mind what the negotiations yield.

I believe that it is important to counter that view. It vastly overrates the degree of cohesion between the original members of the European Community and it vastly overrates the degree of cohesion in the present European Union. Beyond that, there are two simple propositions. First, there is no indication, either in fact or in relevant programmatic statements, of the European Union aiming at the kind of political union that characterises nation states. The constitutional treaty, in particular, makes it clear that that is not what the union intends.

Secondly, in so far as the EU has political objectives, these must be geared to an open community rather than a closed and protectionist bloc. Europe is a step in the direction of wider international co-operation, even a model which sets an example of how that can be achieved. It is, from that point of view, not just a task but a duty of the European Union to extend a welcome to those of its present neighbours who are prepared to accept the acquis communautaire and, above all, the Copenhagen criteria.

The real conflict about Turkish accession is thus one of concepts of Europe. Many of those who say "No" to Turkish accession tend to have a closed and inward-looking view of Europe, and probably think of the EU as a "pole" in a multipolar world or a counterweight to the United States. Those who say "Yes" to Turkish accession, as I do, want a Europe that reaches out to others. They believe in an open Europe.

No doubt the outcome of the European Council will be a fudge—it is, after all, a European Council. There will be a fudge about the starting date of negotiations, about a break clause at various points of the process and even about possible alternatives to full membership. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will nevertheless prevail with a view which is based on the notion of an open Europe, and will therefore help Turkey on its arduous path to a liberal order.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, in common with virtually every other speaker, I support the eventual accession of Turkey to the European Union and welcome the progress made towards parliamentary democracy, the improvement in human rights and the abolition of the death penalty in that country. However, it is not about any of those matters that I wish to speak, very briefly, in this debate.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a matter that was reported to the All-Party Group on War Graves and Battlefield Heritage, which I chaired in your Lordships' House last week. It concerns recent developments on the Gallipoli peninsula. We have learnt that the Turkish National Parks Authority, in breach of decisions reached by the Turkish Cabinet, has just completed the construction of a car park on an area of former Turkish trenches, only 5 metres from the old Anzac front line near the position of Quinn's Post.

In the process, valuable archaeological evidence of the trench lines and human remains have been lost. In addition, only a short distance away, in the area allocated to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, a rudimentary lavatory has been built. Although now apparently connected to a septic tank, the waste from the lavatory was initially seen to be seeping on to the battlefield and over the Anzac front lines.

It has also come to our attention that, apparently in pursuit of the same goals that prompted it to try to build gates around the battlefield park earlier this year, the Turkish National Parks Authority intends to turn the central region of the Gallipoli battlefield into a "controlled area". Access by visitors would be allowed only in the company of a state guide, for whose services they would have to pay, making it impossible for the descendants of those who fought there, as well as historians and other interested parties, to move freely across the beaches, hills and ravines where the fighting took place. If that proposal were to be implemented, it would certainly breach the spirit, and possibly even the letter, of the Treaty of Lausanne.

I am sure that your Lordships will agree that those would be deplorable developments, and they have been widely condemned in the Turkish media. Although the vicious fighting at Gallipoli caused more than half a million casualties, it resulted in very little enmity, subsequently, between the states that took part.

Today, perhaps ironically, the history of the campaign and the battlefields in particular, acts as a powerful force for reconciliation and understanding, wholly in keeping with the themes adopted by a number of speakers in this debate.

Will my noble friend make whatever representations she can to the Turkish Government and the Turkish National Parks Authority over the apparently callous treatment of this important world heritage site that binds the people of Turkey and the British Commonwealth so closely together?

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, like most previous speakers, I am in favour of opening accession negotiations with Turkey. I should, however, like to mention three of the more important points that will need to be covered.

Turkish settlers from the mainland will have to be removed from Cyprus unless, perchance, the former owners of their properties have been fully compensated. The Turkish Army also, with all its equipment, will have to go from the island.

Turkey cannot simultaneously negotiate with the EU and blockade Armenia by land and rail. That is clearly unacceptable behaviour.

Within Turkey, much will need to be discussed concerning the rule of law and essential human rights, especially those of minorities. As your Lordships know, Kurds make up 20 per cent or more of the population. Although they nearly all speak Turkish, they are ethnically and culturally distinct, and their language is more akin to Iranian.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rea, mentioned, for 10 years or longer, a savage civil war raged in eastern and south-eastern Turkey. Some 2 million to 3 million people were displaced from villages, mainly to the cities. Even now, those willing to return are prevented from going back to often destroyed villages. The hated system of village guards continues, where villages were not burnt or mined.

Moderate Kurds who want peace have recently set out their reasonable demands. Above all, they want schools and media in their own language—at present, only fee-paying schools may teach in Kurdish. They seek the right to have their own organisations and institutions, especially where they constitute the local majority. They ask for a general amnesty following the war and greater investment to help the Kurdish provinces and also the people displaced to the west. They would like to take part in revising the existing constitution of Turkey. That present document reflects the unitary state concept of Attaturk as modified by a later military coup.

I conclude by mentioning one urgent current anxiety. DEHAP is the moderate constitutional political party representing Kurdish interests. It fears, not unreasonably, that it may be officially disbanded once EU negotiations are agreed. This was the fate of three predecessor parties, which were accused, I consider unjustly, of separatism, while some of their MPs were imprisoned. The EU should, I suggest, seek guarantees on this point, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance on that point.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords 4:48 pm, 15th December 2004

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to have a debate on a European subject which has been constructive and has looked towards the future rather than raking over the coals of the past and of British sovereignty. I hope that we will have some more—perhaps even many more—such debates.

The issue of Turkey is extremely important. I am not one of those who believes, as Valéry Giscard d'Estaing believes from his childhood geography books, that Europe ends at the Bosphorus—the European side versus the Asian side within Istanbul.

I recall the myth of Europa and the Bull, in which Zeus captured the maiden from the coast of what is now Turkey and took her to what is now Crete. In those days, what we regard as the core of Europe was regarded by most Europeans, self-confessed Greeks, as the darker forests of the barbarian north. Concepts of Europe have moved around quite a lot over the centuries, and will no doubt move again.

I have enjoyed successive conferences over the years in Istanbul and Ankara on Turkey's relations with Europe and its European mission, as Turkish élites like to put it. I am immensely impressed with the progress of political reform in Turkey over the past 10 years.

The current government are the best that Turkey has had for a very long time—the least corrupt and least concerned to reinforce their position through patronage, unlike many of their predecessors. I am enormously impressed by the quality of Turkey's higher education at the top level. I have enjoyed meeting a large number of Turkish students over the years, both young men and young women, and have seen them pursuing their careers back in Ankara and Istanbul.

It is extremely important that we sustain this welcome process of reform in Turkey, although I am always concerned when I am there about the extent to which the European Union continues to act as a deus ex machina—Europe will save the Turks from themselves and from each other. The secular élite does not trust the Islamists, the Islamists do not trust the army, the army does not trust either of them and the business community does not trust any of them either.

As we support the process of reform as it continues delicately and difficultly to move forward, it is clear that we must now fulfil the obligation that we made previously to accept Turkey as a candidate and offer to open negotiations. However, we must also recognise how much further Turkish government and society have to go.

The debate within Turkey so far emphasises very strongly the economic benefits of membership and status issues, which are of huge concern especially among the nationalist and slightly Euro-sceptic element in Turkish society. One has only to read the Turkish English-language press to understand just how nationalist and potentially Euro-sceptic some Turkish élites are. Turkey cannot be treated as a second-class state. Of course, that does not take one into the debate about the real implications of membership. I fear that the debate within Turkey has not yet really got under way on the political implications of membership and of how far EU membership requires a country to take into effect and into its domestic law issues that bite into the domestic and local details of life.

Modernisation in Turkey is, after all, very welcome and is under way. At a meeting in Istanbul a few weeks ago I was struck to hear Professor Dogu Ergil of Ankara University describe Turkey as four different nations. There are, he said, half a million people within Turkey who are fully westernised and fully international. In addition to that there are a further 5 million whom he called western consumers—the educated, urban bourgeois. However, you have to remember, he said to his western visitors, that there are also 30 million peasants still in the villages and 35 million who are on the fringes of modernity—the first or second generation in the cities who are uncertain of their culture, their identity, how they relate to democracy, and so forth.

He went on to say that there is of course a great difference between western and eastern Turkey. Those of us who visit Turkey almost never go east of Ankara. Eastern Turkey is two thirds of Turkey geographically and where over half the population still live. That is where many of the problems still lie—over human rights, as the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, mentioned—over the implementation of reforms once they are passed, and over the treatment of the Kurds, who are so strongly concentrated in south-eastern Turkey.

I note and agree with the concern that some Members have about the position of DEHAP, the Kurdish party, and I have heard some members of the current Turkish Government talk honestly about the sheer difficulty of persuading local administrations in south-eastern Turkey to carry into effect the reforms that they are trying to put through at national level. They do not yet have a fully open market economy. I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten. It is not only a question of privatisation: it is also the extent to which Turkey has an economy that operates on influence and a number of extremely powerful and rich conglomerates and families whom some of us know. One might say unkindly that it is a little more like the Italian economy than the market economy with which we would all be more comfortable. There is a considerable way to go.

The influence of the nationalists in Turkey remains very strong. Like others, I have tried to persuade Turkish officials, diplomats and politicians that it is in Turkey's own interests to reduce substantially the number of troops in northern Cyprus, but that is seen as accepting defeat over the Cyprus issue. I have tried to talk to some Turkish nationalists about the Kurdish issue, but many within the Kurdish state still see concessions to the Kurdish language as a denial of Turkey as a nation.

The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, raised the issue of security. I am doubtful. The stabilisation of the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region is extremely important to us. A stable and democratic Turkey can contribute a lot to that. The American argument over Turkey's security contribution to the West is now very different from the European argument. The United States under President Bush wants to push Turkey into the European Union so that Turkey can provide a loyal support for American strategic objectives in the Middle East. Many of us do not entirely share those objectives and the new government in Turkey do not entirely share them either, so we should be cautious when we talk about the role of the Turkish army and Turkish air bases.

There are some hard issues of further enlargement that we all need to debate and I am glad that noble Lords raised some of them. We should also note that Bosnia and Albania are Muslim majority states which will in time come into the European Union. The European Union must clearly adjust substantially to becoming an EU of 30-plus. It is already having to adjust—not entirely successfully—from being an EU of 15 to an EU of 25, but we must advise our Turkish friends that Turkey also has to adjust. An EU that has Iran, Iraq and Syria on its borders and contains the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates is one that will have to ask the Turks to change some of their domestic and foreign policies in order to adjust to broader concerns.

Therefore, we must say yes to the article of membership. We must resist the Islamophobia and panic about Muslim minorities, which we see cropping up across the European Union, and we must also persuade our publics that this is a worthwhile enterprise. That means that we must insist on the same conditions and standards for Turkey as we have insisted on for others. We cannot accept the nationalist argument one sometimes hears in Ankara; namely, that Turkey is special and, therefore, should have different conditions. It will be a very long process of adjustment in which it is possible that the end may not be what we assume at the beginning.

The European Union as a whole and its member governments must address openly the limits of future membership and how best to provide for mutually satisfactory relations with neighbouring states. After all, the EU has a developing neighbourhood policy on that; but that is a question for another debate.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Affairs

My Lords, it has been a very good and fascinating debate and I am also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for initiating it so authoritatively and so well. I agree with him that we have not had enough debate on the subject. We have heard from all the contributions this afternoon what a salient and important issue the proposed accession of Turkey is to the EU, especially with the European Council meeting on Friday.

The debate has not heard the strong views that we hear from France, Germany or Austria that we heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. Few countries' choice of destiny can have more importance for the wider world than that of Turkey. As a nation, she has always been at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, between East and West, has acted as a bridge between two civilisations and as a key historic player both in Europe and the Middle East. Turkey's contribution in terms of history, culture and economics has been crucial for centuries.

Today we live at a time of acute tension between the West and parts of the Islamic world. At the same time an enlarging European Union is having to ask what constitutes Europe and how its relationship should develop with those countries outside the European Union but on its borders. How the European Union treats Turkey in the course of its accession bid will be crucial to how things develop.

Turkey is faced with two choices: to become an inward looking Islamic state, or to continue to be a secular state, as it became under Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk—as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Patten— close to the European Union but not of it, with the eventual aim of becoming a full member of the European Union. I am glad that Turkey and Prime Minister Erdogan have chosen the latter course.

We on these Benches, like the Government, have long been supporters of Turkish entry to the European Union, provided the relevant criteria are met. Progress with the Copenhagen criteria has been real and continuing and the Turkish Government have worked hard to move towards meeting the aims of guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and the protection of minorities, as well as the creation and maintaining of a functioning market economy, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis.

The strategy put in place by the Turkish Government is welcome and progress, although perhaps not as rapid as we might wish, is for all that real. Turkey has already moved to abolish capital punishment and to bring the detention process in line with European standards with the aim of preventing torture, although it may not totally have achieved that, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza. Turkey has made efforts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, although sadly with limited success—redoubled efforts are needed. Recently she has made difficult and admirable moves to improve Kurdish rights, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said. Perhaps the most potent symbol of this was the release of Leyla Zana from prison.

Welcome though all of this is, we hope that Turkey will go further in seeking to find a way for Kurdish identity to express itself within the context of the Turkish state. Similarly, there has recently been considerable debate over proposals to change the penal code and to recriminalise adultery and over proposed changes to the schools system in Turkey. It is inevitable that differences of opinion and focus will emerge.

One area about which I read recently was that of headscarves in schools, and in particular concerns within Mr Erdogan's own party that he has failed to keep pre-election promises to ease bans on the Islamic headscarf in state schools and, more importantly, to enable graduates of religious schools to enter secular universities. This is a huge change. It saddens me when I think that Turkey was so far ahead in modernising and introduced many reforms at the time of the great Ataturk in the 1920s and 1930s, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, in his impressive speech. Women were being admitted to various professions and politics and within a short space of time Ataturk even allowed women the vote. In 1935, 17 women were elected deputies to the Grand National Assembly.

It is good that Turkish universities are doing well, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. However, personally, I am concerned by the suggestions made about easing entry requirements to secular universities. Turkey's status as a secular state is one of her great strengths. I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on where matters stand on these particular questions, and will reassure us that the Government are continuing to encourage Turkey to stay the course of reform and not allow herself to be diverted from it. That is my only question today.

I am, however, aware that there are those who are far less welcoming of the prospect of Turkish accession to the European Union. There are those who object on religious grounds; those who say that Turkey is largely outside Europe, as we have heard today; and those who are concerned about the economic implications of the entry to the European Union of a country that is relatively poor and which has a vast population, giving rise to concerns about migration.

These concerns range from the, in my view, reactive and ill considered—the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, mentioned Bulgaria in that regard—to those more genuine concerns about how the European Union with Turkey as a member would function in practice. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, in due time the European Union will have to adjust and move away from the outdated view of its own future that is symbolised by the European Union Constitutional Treaty. We all agree that the common agricultural policy has to be modernised. The European Union's currently rigid structures, including funding, will need to be simplified and reformed. Turkey's eventual accession will require reform and changes on both sides—as was pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth—if it is to be successfully achieved, but I believe that it is an objective worth reforming and changing for.

We must remember that the European Union that Turkey will join in 10 or 15 years will not be the rigid bureaucratised European Union of today. I support the comment of my noble friend Lord Brittan in his excellent speech that a specified and early date should be sought. We look forward to the day that Turkey will join the European Union, thus sending not only a message but also having an impact on other nations such as Georgia and Ukraine, both of which look forward to closer co-operation with the European Union, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Biffen in his eloquent speech. Turkey's membership of the European Union would strengthen a valuable link between East and West, send a powerful message of friendship to the Muslim world, demonstrate clearly that a secular, modern democracy and adherence to the Islamic faith were not incompatible, and would open up new and exciting opportunities for all of us.

If we understand the Bosporus as the natural bridge between East and West, Turkey can be a powerful force for good in the world and in the European Union. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood said in his well argued speech, perhaps this is the summation of Ataturk's work. I hope that we will all seize that opportunity.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for introducing the debate this afternoon. I very much welcome the opportunity to debate Turkey's progress towards accession to the European Union. On 17 December, the European Council will decide whether to open accession negotiations. The decision is one of enormous significance, not just for Turkey but for the United Kingdom, the EU and the whole region. As the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, remarked, it is momentous.

However, it is a decision for the Heads of Government on Thursday evening and Friday morning. We shall all be much better informed on Turkey's position in 48 hours' time. Let me be clear: our Prime Minister will support the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey. We have long supported its candidature and we believe that it has earned that support. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, expressed her party's support in the way that she did.

I need to stress that the decision to be taken in the next two days does not concern membership. That is a matter for negotiation—painstaking, detailed and possibly very lengthy, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, remarked. In our view, Turkey has earned the right to open those negotiations.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, argued that Turkey is not really a European country. If I may say so, his argument is about 40 years too late, as the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, reminded us, because the proposal for Turkey's EU membership is not a new concept. The EU-Turkey Association Agreement in 1963 offered this perspective 10 years before the United Kingdom joined the then EEC. In 1987, the Council accepted Turkey's membership in principle but rejected it on the grounds of political and economic shortcomings. At Helsinki in 1999, the EU agreed that,

"Turkey was a candidate state destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to other candidate states".

In December 2002, the EU told Turkey that it would open accession negotiations without delay if, by December 2004, Turkey had fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria.

On 6 October 2004, the Commission clearly stated that Turkey had done so. Now is the time for the European Union to deliver on its promises. It would be immensely damaging to the EU's credibility with Turkey, other candidate states and, indeed, the Muslim world if we now reneged on these explicit promises.

As some of your Lordships have acknowledged, the transformation of Turkey over the past few years has been remarkable: in human rights, the rule of law and democracy. The Commission report of 6 October highlighted a growing consensus in favour of liberal democracy. A positive decision in the next two days will help to ensure that we lock in these valuable gains and allow Turkey to continue to build on them. A stable, democratic Turkey, anchored firmly in Europe, will significantly enhance Europe's, and thereby the United Kingdom's, security.

We must, as the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, argued, look at how Turkey's membership would affect the position of current members. I believe that Turkish membership offers the prospect of co-operation on terrorism, European defence, energy security, and the fight against crime and illegal immigration. Perhaps most importantly, as a number of your Lordships have said, Turkey can play a key role in Europe's engagement with the Muslim world. If the EU accepts Turkey on the same conditions as the other member states, that is a very powerful demonstration that there is no clash of civilisations, that the EU is not a "Christian club", as the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, referred to it, and that religious tolerance and integration are essentially a part of European life.

The noble Lord, Lord Patten, questioned that reasoning. He called it a fallacy. I do not want to make extravagant claims but I believe that if, after all these years and after all the efforts of the reformers in Turkey, we were now to reject its candidature, Muslim opinion worldwide would think that we Europeans apply very different criteria to a Muslim country from those that we apply to non-Muslim countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, was right that security and defence criteria are not reason enough, but it is important to remember that Turkey has had a crucial role as an ally and a partner, as was so effectively argued by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Since joining NATO in 1952, Turkey has been active in promoting stability internationally, recently participating in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and playing a key part in NATO forces in Afghanistan. Turkey will lead the international security assistance force there from February. It has also contributed to peace missions in Bosnia, Herzegovina and the republic of Macedonia, and it is currently contributing to the peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said that Turkey's sheer size and complexity offered huge challenges. By the same token, one could argue that Turkey offers huge potentials too. It has an enormous economic potential, as the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said. A youthful labour market of 70 million people with currently low levels of foreign direct investment offers new markets and new investment opportunities for the United Kingdom and for European business. It is not so much a question of Turkey not being the liability that some people fear, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, argued; Turkey offers a real opportunity. It is growing by more than 10 per cent a year at present, backed by solid macro-economic reforms and motivated by the ever-closer prospect of integration with Europe. Trade between the UK and Turkey now tops £4 billion and is increasing at an annual rate of some 35 per cent.

I come to the heart of the decision that the EU leaders face in the course of the next couple of days. The question is not whether Turkey is European or a candidate for EU membership. The UK and the EU have already agreed that officially in 1987, 1999 and 2002. Nor is the question whether Turkey is ready for membership. Negotiations are likely to take many years, by which time Turkey and the EU will look very different. Nor is it about security or immigration, the CAP, religion, or old or new Europe, although some would like to shift the argument on to those issues.

The question is exactly what my noble friend Lord Dubs articulated: has Turkey fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria necessary to open accession negotiations? The European Commission's view, as expressed in its report, is unequivocally "yes". The view expressed in the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament is "yes". I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, that the opinion of this Government is also "yes". The European Council should agree to open accession negotiations without delay.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis was highly persuasive in his address to your Lordships on questions of Turkish reform—arguments which were reinforced by the noble Lords, Lord Dykes and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The basis for the Commissions' positive assessment is also highly persuasive. The changes brought in in Turkey over the past two-and-a-half years have been revolutionary. Since the AK party came to power, the Turkish Parliament has passed a plethora of constitutional and legislative reforms, including, as many have mentioned, the abolition of the death penalty and measures to root out torture and incommunicado detention.

The noble Lords, Lord Brittan and Lord Maclennan of Rogart, were right to remind us that the Turkish Government have introduced greater freedoms of expression, association and religion, including the start of Kurdish language broadcasting and teaching. Turkish law now recognises the precedence of international law in human rights. The Government have appointed a civilian head of the National Security Council and removed the military from governmental bodies. NGOs are now consulted on the legislative process and have an increasing say in human rights monitoring. As the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said, the new Turkish penal code brings together many of these reforms and also makes significant advances in new areas—for example, in the area of women's rights, which so exercised my noble friend Lady Uddin, and the long-standing problems of honour killings and rape are also addressed.

The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, rightly reminded us of issues of torture. I remind her that the Commission concluded that considerable efforts have been made to strengthen the fight against torture, that torture is no longer systematic in Turkey and that the Government's efforts are leading to a decline in the instances of torture. We are not complacent about this, but there is growing evidence of improved implementation, and of course the Turkish Government are working closely with the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

We must not lose sight of the political criteria if the decision is for Turkey to start negotiations. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, will not, I fear, be surprised to learn that I disagreed with the entirely new criteria that he sought to introduce in taking the decision. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, Turkey must sustain and advance its impressive progress. The thorough implementation of reforms will take time to filter through to every Turkish police station, every Turkish court, every prison and eventually every individual.

However, the Turkish Government are making gradual and substantive progress through the ministerial EU Reform Monitoring Group, increased numbers of human rights boards, and more training and education of the police and the judiciary. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, that the EU will support Turkey in its continued efforts through rigorous monitoring, targeted assistance and training, education and institution-building.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, indicated, we must not allow Turkey to take its foot off the pedal. The EU must harness the momentum that has transformed Turkey in the past few years and help to extend it to other areas in the Turkish administration and economy.

My noble friend Lord Rea concentrated on Turkish treatment of the Kurds. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, significant steps have been taken to extend the democratic rights of the Turkish people. Individuals can now register names and attend private language courses in Kurdish. Kurdish newspapers and music cassettes are freely available, and broadcasting in Kurdish has started. Kurdish plays and concerts are also taking place. I remind my noble friend Lord Rea that prominent Kurds such as Leyla Zana and the mayor of Diyarbakir have stated that the majority of Kurds see a fully democratic Turkey within the European Union as offering the best prospect of guaranteeing their democratic rights.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, rightly raised the issues around DEHAP. The pro-Kurdish political party stands accused of becoming a focal point of actions against the principles of democracy, equality and the rule of law. However, the United Kingdom has welcomed the positive steps that Turkey has taken to remove the restrictions on freedom of expression and on political organisations. We very much hope that those will be reflected in the outcome of the current DEHAP trial.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth raised the difficulties experienced by religious minorities. He is right; some non-Muslim religious communities continue to encounter obstacles. A new law on foundations is being prepared that should go some way towards remedying those difficulties. The Turkish Government have repeated their commitment to removing obstacles to the reopening of the Heybeliada Greek Orthodox seminary and to the establishment and running of a number of churches. I agreed very strongly with the right reverend Prelate's point about the Abrahamic religions and their traditions of hospitality being a way in which communities could reach out to each other. My noble friend Lady Uddin takes a great deal of interest in that as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, raised the points of objection about Turkish membership creating what has been described as a flood of immigrants into the European Union. Those fears have been raised over just about every expansion of the European Union, and on just about every occasion they have proved unsubstantiated. In any case, we would expect transitional periods on free movement of workers, as were available to the new member states.

Some noble Lords were understandably concerned about Cyprus. The decision in the next couple of days will be based on whether Turkey meets the political criteria. The Cyprus settlement and associated issues are not a precondition for opening negotiations. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, there are many important areas on which Turkey, Cyprus and Greece still need to make progress to reach a satisfactory conclusion. However, I agree very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, that we cannot add a new criterion for opening negotiations at this stage. That includes the issues around Armenia raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

My noble friend Lord Dubs reminded us of the constructive approach adopted by the Turkish Government on Cyprus, in terms of the settlement and the negotiations earlier this year. They encouraged the Turkish-Cypriot community to restart the negotiations on the basis of the Annan plan.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Faulkner that war graves are very important, but they are not part of the European negotiations. I assure him that the British Embassy's officials have recently been in contact with the representatives of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the director of the Office of Australian War Graves about the site in Gallipoli. The representative of the commission has been to Quinn's Post in the past few days and described it as being in a very good condition.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said that she had only one question, which was about the secular nature of the universities. There was a discussion on entry requirements for the secular universities for the students from religious high schools over the summer. As I understand it, it was vetoed by President Sezer.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, raised the issue of the French referendum. Of course the French will hold a referendum. It is up to every individual member state to decide how to ratify each accession treaty. I remind him that the French held a referendum on UK accession in 1972, so there is nothing particularly remarkable in it.

I have no doubt that Turkey can and will make a huge contribution to the European Union. I am delighted that the Official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats believe, as the Government believe, that the prize is enormous. The indication was that most noble Lords believed that, too. Turkey is a majority-Muslim state that embraces democracy and modernity and shares its sovereignty with others in the EU. It is a strategic partner that will help us to tackle the global security threats that we face and enhance the EU's engagement with the wider region. It is a dynamic economy offering new opportunities for trade and investment. Those are potentially huge assets for the European Union.

Of course Turkey has not met all the criteria for membership yet. The enlargement process is designed to ensure that the momentum of reform continues across the board. But I remind those sceptical of Turkey's progress towards accession of another point that Leyla Zana made in her letter to the president of the European Parliament, Pat Cox. As noble Lords recall, she was imprisoned in 1994 under a previous government and was released earlier this year. She wrote that she would prefer to be a prisoner in a country negotiating EU membership than free in a country barred from the EU. That is a wonderfully powerful message about the importance of Turkey's EU perspective to its people, including its Kurdish people.

For those reasons, we very much hope that the European Union will agree within the next 48 hours to start accession negotiations with Turkey. We should not let sceptics stand in the way of Turkey's second great modernisation. Instead, we should help Turkey to move forward to fulfil Ataturk's vision of a European destiny.

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench

My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate, and I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. Many said that it was timely to have a discussion on these problems. We all generally back the Government in their decision to move ahead over the next two days to opening formal negotiations with Turkey.

As many speakers said, Turkey has done an enormous amount to prepare itself for possible accession to the Union, but we all agree that there is still quite a way to go, so it will be a few years before the final terms and conditions of Turkey's membership can be agreed. However, it is clearly a country with huge potential and is an important ally. Creating a prosperous secular and democratic country where Turkey is located is of enormous importance, and of economic benefit both to Turkey and to the rest of Europe.

The absorption of Turkey into the European Union is a bigger morsel than the Union has had to face until now. It may require one or two changes, but I hope that it all goes well and does not in any sense, in the long term, destabilise the existing and important progress that has been made in Europe. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.