EU: Turkish Accession

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 15th February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs 3:08 pm, 15th February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they next plan to hold discussions with the European Commission on the opening by the Austrian presidency of preliminary chapters in the long-term negotiations for Turkish accession to the European Union.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the Commission presented its first screening report on the science and research chapter to member states on 7 February. Discussions are ongoing with our EU partners and the Commission, and we hope that it will be possible to open the first chapter during the Austrian presidency. Throughout negotiations, the United Kingdom will seek to ensure that Turkey is treated on its own merits just as any other candidate would be.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Obviously, it would be a fantastic geopolitical, humanitarian, international and cultural achievement if Turkey were to become a member of the European Union. Although they are long-term negotiations, will the negotiators be able to cope equally with the fantastic economic and social challenges posed by a nation of 85 million by 2016 and all the attendant adjustments to the budget, with massive additional budget support presumably being necessary by that stage?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, it is an onerous task, and we are pressing at all stages to ensure that Turkey takes the appropriate steps in its economy, human rights record and other areas to meet the full conditions, chapter by chapter, of the acquis. However difficult it is, we will do it carefully, and my expectation, as is the noble Lord's, is of a successful outcome of the process.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, there is consensus in this country, if not in France and Germany, in favour of Turkish accession if Turkey meets the appropriate conditions. There have been some disquieting features in respect of human rights in recent months—perhaps my noble friend will comment on that—and equally in respect of Cyprus. What movement has there been on Turkey having a more positive view towards the problem of Cyprus?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, accession will be a significant accomplishment. My noble friend alights on two issues that should cause all of us concern. There are significant issues on human rights. They will be subject to intense scrutiny during the negotiations, and I hope that that process will open them up. On Cyprus, at the moment there is no meeting of minds, either among the Greek Cypriot community or the Turkish Government. They are hard issues, and they will be hard to resolve.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative Independent

My Lords, are the Government aware that the French and Austrian peoples have been granted binding referenda on whether Turkey should be allowed to enter the European Union? Do the Government agree that Turkey's entry is, in any event, unlikely unless the French and the Austrian peoples can be persuaded to be less hostile towards it over the next few years?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the countries that have decided to hold referenda will, plainly, have a pretty high hurdle to climb over. I hope that we will have resolved the fundamental questions by then. I suspect that, if they are not resolved, the outcome will be disappointing. I hope that those who have supported enlargement on all sides will work hard to ensure that it is successful, not least to the benefit of the Turkish people.

Photo of Lord Watson of Richmond Lord Watson of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can the Minister give us his considered view of what, apparently, is the preferred course of a number of continental European countries; namely, that we have the target of privileged partnership status for Turkey?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, my view is that we can enlarge Europe to include Turkey, making plain our commitment to the economic benefits and to the benefits of having a major secular Muslim nation inside the European Union. That will be to the greatest benefit of us all.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development

My Lords, as long-standing supporters of Turkey's EU membership, we have long stressed the importance of real improvement in human rights and freedom of speech in that country. Does the Minister welcome the decision to drop charges against the writer Orhan Pamuk, and does he agree that that decision moves Turkish membership a step closer?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I thoroughly agree with what has just been said. That was the right decision. I hope that the fact that the case of a very high-profile and very distinguished writer has been dropped will not remove the focus from some of the less high-profile writers who are still in the spotlight. Human rights have to relate to distinguished as well as undistinguished writers.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, what is the Government's reaction to the proposals by the Government of Turkey last week for free trade in the eastern Mediterranean? Does he not think that that might make some contribution to the vexed problem of Cyprus? Does he not also think that the Cyprus Government's reaction to those proposals—that there is nothing new—better described their own reaction rather than the proposals themselves?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I took comfort from the proposals, and I think that they offer some progress. Recent responses, including the refusal of the Greek Cypriot Government to see the Foreign Secretary, are not helpful. Without partisanship, there is a requirement on everyone to try to talk through the problems and to make the progress that is needed. Almost anyone can put a road block in the way—that is the easy bit—but getting through to a proper solution is the hard bit. Let us go for the hard bit.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, the accession of Turkey would mean close on 100 million new people entering the European Community and extending the borders of the European Union to Asia. Should we not also have a referendum in this country, as they are having in France and Austria?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I am sure that Parliaments in the United Kingdom will look at each successive accession proposal and consider where enlargement takes us. We have been served well by discussing accession legislation in our House and in the other place and by considering the relevant amendments very thoroughly. I do not think that has done us any harm.