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Turkey: EU Observers

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the European Union will send observers to the forthcoming election to the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

My Lords, the European Union does not intend to send observers to the forthcoming elections in Turkey. At the invitation of the Turkish authorities, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe is sending an assessment mission. A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is also monitoring the elections.

My Lords, I am glad to hear that the OSCE is sending at least some form of observers, because international observers tend to have a salutary effect on elections held in countries that have, shall we say, a democratic deficit. In fact, would it not have been more appropriate for observers to be there during the current run-up to Sunday's election, considering that there has been widespread intimidation and obstruction of pro-Kurdish parties and individual candidates? Only yesterday, as my noble friend will have heard, a Turkish but pro-Kurdish independent candidate was shot dead in Istanbul. Does she agree with the statement by the International Strategic Research Organisation, which is an independent Turkish think tank based in Ankara, that,

“the more that Kurds have rights, the more that the PKK will lose support”?

Will Her Majesty's Government, from their experience in Northern Ireland and other countries, strongly urge the Turkish Government to settle the long drawn-out conflict in the south-east of the country by negotiation and dialogue rather than military force?

My Lords, it was a matter for the OSCE and Turkey as to when the observer mission went to Turkey. Of course we were deeply concerned to learn about the murder of the independent candidate standing in Istanbul, but we are pleased that the Turkish authorities are actively investigating the murder and have apparently already detained three suspects. We are confident that the authorities will investigate that fully. On the quotation cited by my noble friend, we fully agree that the more that the Kurds are allowed and enabled to participate in the democratic process in Turkey, the less that the PKK will be able to be pre-eminent in the Kurdish areas.

My Lords, has any European Union ambassador or any official from any of the EU embassies visited the three high-security areas in the south-east since they were designated on 9 June? If so, have those officials confirmed the allegations referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, of widespread intimidation and harassment against independent candidates and their supporters? Does the noble Baroness really think that free and fair elections are possible in the south-east when regional parties are prevented from getting into Parliament by the 10 per cent threshold and other restrictions on their activities?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know whether any ambassadors have visited the region; I will certainly let the noble Lord know whether that has taken place. We have not heard allegations about intimidation, but if they have been made—

My Lords, I beg the noble Lord’s pardon but I was not aware of the allegations, and neither was the Foreign Office as far as I know. If there were allegations of malpractice, we would expect the Turkish authorities to investigate them. As far as I know, the European Court of Human Rights does not think that the 10 per cent boundary has been an obstacle to Kurds being elected to Parliament.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if there were any further interference following the election by the Turkish armed forces in the normal practice of the democratic institutions of Turkey, that would be a major setback to Turkey's relations with a large range of countries, not least for its application to join the European Union? That would be extremely bad news for Her Majesty's Government, who I hope will be pursuing that application with great force after the elections.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right—it would certainly be an enormous setback. However, we have every confidence that the Turkish armed forces will respect the democratic norms that exist in Turkey and we will certainly pursue Turkey’s accession with the same rigour as we have shown in the past.

My Lords, while hoping that Sunday’s elections are conducted with minimum violence and that the difficult situation facing Turkey in relation to its border with Iraq and the Kurdish activities—violent activities—is handled peaceably, and while recognising that it would be quite improper for any of us to take sides in what this election’s outcome should be, can the Minister assure us—following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—that, whichever party wins, we really will do everything we can to unfreeze and take forward the negotiations on Turkish membership of the European Union? In particular, we must work out how to resolve the additional problem which has now arisen—that Mr Sarkozy and the French Government appear to be resolutely against long-term membership for Turkey anyway. Can we have a firm indication that there really is a plan to try to break this deadlock?

My Lords, the views of the French Government have long been known, but this Government’s intention, as I explained earlier, is to pursue the accession process robustly and with rigour. Indeed, I understand that just this week discussions have begun on Chapter 3 of the acquis communautaire, on fundamental rights and judicial reform. We will continue to pursue those accession discussions along with the other 26 member states of the European Union.

My Lords, on the specific question of observation, I was a member of the Council of Europe observation team. Does the Minister agree that the Council of Europe has a long and admirable record of rigorous but fair observation of elections? Is not the fact that it has a very large observation team present much to be welcomed?

Certainly, my Lords; the Government warmly welcome the Council of Europe observation team and pay tribute to its great expertise in these matters. However, I should also make it clear that the OSCE and other organisations have not insisted on monitoring the Turkish elections because they believe that it is much more important to focus their efforts on less democratically robust states. We believe that the Turkish elections will be free and fair and that Turkey has a fully functioning democracy.