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EU: Turkish Membership

Volume 773: debated on Wednesday 25 May 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current policy regarding Turkey joining the European Union.

My Lords, the Government see the EU accession process as the most effective means of encouraging reform, stability and democracy in Turkey. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the question of Turkey actually joining the EU is not remotely on the cards; indeed, he does not believe that it will happen for decades. Of course, every member state has a veto at every stage of the process.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Is she aware of the many similarities between the economic conditions in Turkey today and those that existed in eastern Europe in 2004—countries from which we have since received more than 1 million migrants? The Minister mentioned the right to veto Turkish membership. Would the Government use their veto if faced with the prospect of massive flows of migration from Turkey?

My Lords, regarding use of the veto, the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that he would be prepared to block any future accession until reforms of transitional controls on freedom of movement have been achieved. The success of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in his negotiation earlier this year means that our controls on free movement cannot be lifted until the economies of an accession country have converged much more closely with existing member states’. If we were to allow those controls to be lifted, we could seek to re-impose them if there were either a serious disturbance in our labour market, or adverse social or public policy impacts in the UK as a result of migration from this new member state. These are new powers that we did not have on the previous accession from the Balkans.

My Lords, will the Minister pass a copy of her reply to her hapless government colleague Ms Mordaunt? Does she recall that Chancellor Merkel used to talk of the proud nation of Turkey having a “privileged position” with the European Union? Is that now not a far more realistic position than continuing with the fiction that Turkey will one day be a member of the European Union, given, for example, that there is a need for referenda in Austria and France, and that there is no prospect, for as far ahead as we can plan, of Turkey having full membership?

My Lords, I happened to speak to my honourable friend Penny Mordaunt about an hour ago, and I reassured her of my admiration for her in all the work she does as Minister for the Armed Forces. Indeed, I am just about to issue a joint op-ed with her regarding the ceremony at the Cenotaph earlier today. I was disappointed that she was perhaps misinformed by one of the campaign groups about the powers of the United Kingdom. It is clear that, when Turkey is on the path to EU accession, it will face the fact that the UK, as all other member states, possesses a veto against its accession if it cannot achieve the standards needed to be a member of the EU.

My Lords, I point out that successive Governments of all political colours have supported Turkey’s application. Part of the accession negotiations could obviously cover a derogation on free movement that could put it off for a number of years. I will be in Ankara next week, at the Turkish Parliament. Can I assure them that Her Majesty’s Government’s position remains the same?

The position remains exactly as I outlined in my Answer: we see the EU accession process as the most effective way to encourage reform, stability and democracy in Turkey. Turkey has to meet the EU norms—the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and competition rules—to be effective.

My Lords, is it not the truth that the Brexiteers making an issue of the very distant prospect of Turkish accession is an example of their having lost the plot? They have lost the argument on the economy, are unable to portray a credible alternative to the EU—sorry, I forgot Mr Gove’s Albanian model—are fighting among themselves like rats in a sack, and are scapegoating and insulting all and sundry with abandon, including Turks. Should they not concentrate on trying to find some integrity for their campaign?

My Lords, the Government’s view is that we should put to the people of this country the positive and correct information about the benefits but also responsibilities of being a member of the EU. We believe that we are stronger, safer and better off in the EU. We have issued information about that. It is up to others how they interpret it—or, indeed, misinterpret it.

My Lords, for a country to be a valid candidate for entry into the European Union, is it not incumbent on it to show that it is an adherent to the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950? Do Her Majesty’s Government take the view that Turkey today genuinely and honestly conforms to such a rule?

My Lords, our view is indeed that Turkey must adhere to the common norms on human rights. The Copenhagen criteria underwrite that requirement, as the noble Lord will be more aware than most. It is a fact that Turkey has a long way to go before it meets the necessary standards of human rights and can achieve accession. The opportunity to work towards EU accession is, I hope, the lever that will persuade the country to reform its views on human rights.

My Lords, Turkey is of course also a member of NATO. Building security in Europe is at the front line of issues of security. Clearly, as the Minister indicated, the accession process can address the issues of democracy and accountability and, not least, the problems we have with Cyprus. Can the noble Baroness assure us that she will continue that process and not give in to the scare tactics that have been used disgracefully by other members of her Government?

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that, while there are many substantial reasons against the accession of Turkey to the European Union, perhaps the most important is that there is a real danger that it would greatly increase right-wing extremism within the Union? That would be profoundly destabilising for us all.

My Lords, as I already outlined, in our view, for Turkey to achieve entitlement to accession to the European Union, it has a very long path to tread to meet the norms of human rights, and in economic terms. As each of the 35 chapters may be opened and closed, every member state has the opportunity for a veto. Any concerns that my noble friend has should be allayed by the fact that the process is clear and careful. We have the opportunity to explain to Turkey that it must achieve high standards of human rights, including avoiding political extremism, before it achieves accession.