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Turkey: EU Membership

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 22 June 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what barriers they have identified in the negotiations for the accession of Turkey into the European Union and what steps they are taking to overcome them.

My Lords, Turkey’s European Union membership has the full support of this Government, subject to the rigorous application of the accession criteria. We work closely with Turkey to support progress in its domestic reform programme to meet EU standards. The Cyprus problem is an immediate obstacle to progress in the accession process. We support all efforts towards a solution on Cyprus and encourage Turkey to implement the additional Ankara protocol.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. He will be aware that popular sentiment in Turkey is moving against EU membership just when Turkey’s importance to the EU and to the region is increasing. In addition to the measures that he has outlined, will he consider devising with our EU partners a new, clear and dedicated initiative to speed up Turkey’s accession?

I hear what my noble friend says, but the new Government of Mr Erdogan—his party has just been elected for an historic third time, which is a remarkable record—have made it clear through the words of Mr Davutoglu, the Foreign Minister in the last Government and I think in this one, that they wish to continue with their aim of achieving EU accession. Therefore, the policy remains. Of course it is debatable and of course parts of public opinion in Turkey take a different view about how the relationship with the European Union should be developed, but overall, as I understand it, the Government of Turkey remain committed and seek our support and alliance to achieve that aim. That is what we are working on. I have mentioned one obstacle, that of Cyprus, which is obviously very difficult. If we make progress on that and the Turks can admit Greek Cypriot ships to their ports under the protocol that I mentioned, we will definitely be moving in a positive direction, which I think would benefit both Turkey and the European Union.

My Lords, do Her Majesty’s Government regard the opinion of the British people as a barrier to Turkish entry, not to mention the opinions of the people of Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere in Europe? Is it not also the case that the people of Turkey are beginning to see a very much better future for themselves outside the failing project of European integration?

I am not sure that the noble Lord is entirely right in his assessment of public opinion generally. Certainly it is true that in France and Germany there are strong sentiments against Turkey joining the European Union, but I have not heard the same sort of sentiment in the United Kingdom. It seems to me that we are a strong country in supporting the reform of the European Union to make it fit for purpose in the 21st century. Part of that pattern of reform may well involve the integration of this very powerful and dynamic nation that Turkey is emerging as, with its own foreign policy agenda, which so far includes a closer and constructive relationship with, and indeed involvement in, the European Union.

While many of us on this side of the House agree strongly that the EU should adopt a more welcoming approach to Turkish membership, does the noble Lord not agree that the accession of such a large country as Turkey would inevitably weaken Britain’s voting strength in the European Union and have major implications for policy issues such as migration? Why is it that under the European Union Bill that we have been debating in this House, which requires referendums on 56 separate locks, the accession of Turkey would not be subject to a referendum? Does this not indicate the nonsense in the legislation that is before us?

I thought that the noble Lord might raise that matter in relation to accession. He is obviously exercised by it and has, indeed, made clear his concerns over aspects of the Bill, which we debated at enormous length. I think that the best thing I can do is to give a very brief reply and say, no, I do not agree.

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister bear in mind constantly the fact that Greece’s membership and Turkey’s lack of it is very often a severe barrier to the settlement of the Cyprus problem, to which there is real urgency? I declare my interest as chairman of the all-party group for Northern Cyprus.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Cyprus problem is a barrier and a difficulty and it would be excellent if the parties concerned could see a way to solving their problems and this long-standing issue of the division of Cyprus. I totally agree with my noble friend on that matter. It requires changes: it requires full support for what the United Nations is seeking to do, it requires a positive tone on the part of both Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus and it requires a positive tone in Athens and Ankara as well. All these changes are required and we are working to support them as hard as we can.

Does my noble friend agree that, in the context of the Copenhagen criteria, there are concerns about increasing authoritarianism, particularly to do with press freedom? Is he aware that Mr Erdogan has accused the Economist of being backed by Israel, simply because it chose to criticise his campaigning and presidential aspirations?

Of course, we raise questions of human rights, freedom of the press and other things with our Turkish friends at the right opportunities. Turkey is well aware of the outside pressures and the need to maintain high standards in the fields of human rights and good governance, but these are matters for the Turkish nation to pursue and we are confident that it is pursuing these matters on the right lines.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that in the recent general election in Turkey the first Christian deputy was elected to the Turkish Parliament. Does he agree that this might provide an opportunity to put more pressure on the Turkish Government in respect of their treatment of religious minorities? I have in mind the Syriac Orthodox population in the south-east of the country, particularly in the Tur Abdin region.

The Government are, of course, very new. These are matters that we have certainly raised in the past with the Turkish Government and will continue to raise. They have to be seen in a broader context, which is simply that Turkey is becoming a pivotal nation in the Middle East/north Africa pattern of events, in economic terms, in its dealings with its neighbours in turmoil, such as Syria, and generally in playing a crucial part in the global pattern of achieving stability and peace. In this broad context, the point that the right reverend Prelate has raised is very important. We will continue to have that part of our dialogue, but there are many other issues that we certainly want to discuss with increasing frequency with Turkey.