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11 Dec 2002 : Column 301continued
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston): My right hon. Friend mentioned the candidate countries and the Convention on the Future of Europe. One of the issues that greatly exercises the candidate countries is what role they will play when the Convention draws its conclusions, after which there will be an intergovernmental conference. They wonder what the term Xplaying a full role" will mean. If that issue is discussed, what view will he take?
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) asked me a question. I hope that an unpaid Whip will not interrupt me again. I cannot give my hon. Friend a comprehensive reply because the matter has not yet been decided in the EU. We discussed it yesterday in the General Affairs and External Relations Council when we considered whether the IGC should take place in 2003 or 2004. We took account of the conclusions of Nice and Laeken that the accession countries should be involved. Indeed, they must be involved, because their future as much as that of existing members will be at stake.
From any perspective, the case for enlargement is overwhelming, but the process is not without pitfalls. In particular, there is a risk that the accession of the 10 will simply establish a new economic dividing line across the continent. Some stark figures underline that. The new 10 will add 23 per cent. to the landmass of the European Union, 20 per cent. to its population but only 4 per cent. to its GDP.
At Copenhagen, EU leaders will have an opportunity to deal with some of those anxieties. Our objective will be advancing the candidatures of Bulgaria and Romania. Both countries have some way to go towards satisfying the criteria for membership but the Union should acknowledge the political and economic reforms that both countries have adopted in the past 12 years. We expect the Copenhagen summit to reiterate strongly the Union's support for both countries' objective of accession by 2007. We agreed to that at the previous summit in Brussels at the end of October.
I want to consider Turkey's application for membership. Britain has long championed Turkey's membership of the EU. Last week, I echoed the call of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for a Xfirm date" to be set for negotiations with the Turkish Government. I reinforced that commitment during a visit to Ankara last week. It was my third visit to Turkey as Foreign Secretary.
Turkish membership of the EU is a matter of obligation to previous EU decisions and our history. Turkey must be treated the same as any other candidate country. Three years ago, at the Helsinki summit, all Heads of State and Government said:
That befits a country that has long been linked with the United Kingdom by the bonds of military alliance, and already plays a key role in other European institutions and on the world stage. That role includes peacekeeping in Afghanistan and the Balkans, hosting Operation Northern Watch over Iraq and being a crucial ally in our battle against drugs and people smugglers, and in the war against terrorism.
Irrespective of the Union's outstanding obligations, Turkish membership should be a major strategic goal. Europe needs a western-looking Turkeya secular Muslim nation joining us in the family of European democracies. That is a goal for which it is worth striving in any circumstances, but especially now.
Mr. Straw: I am sorry, but I did not quite hear the question, which my hon. Friend may want to repeat. However, as he knows, there is a major Turkish air force base in Incilik. Both United States and United Kingdom forces use it by agreement, which is renewed at least twice a year, with the Turkish Government.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about Turkey, which is making a strong case for getting a date for accession at Copenhagen. However, one of the Helsinki criteria was progress on Cyprus. In the light of the Annan plan, which was published a couple of weeks ago, does my right hon. Friend accept that the case for Turkey would be greatly strengthened if agreement on a settlement in Cyprus was reached? Does he also agree that to achieve that, Turkey must put pressure on Mr. Denktash to come to the negotiating table and do a deal with Mr. Klerides?
Mr. Straw: I was about to consider Cyprus. Although the issue is obviously linked to Turkey, it is a separate matter. The key parties to a resolution of the Cyprus conflict are separate from the Governments of Greece or Turkey.
The overwhelming majority of Turkey's peoples are Muslim. It has political parties that celebrate that, just as western Europe has equivalent Christian parties, but it is a secular state and accepts our concept of liberal democratic values. Its accession would be hugely important to the stability of not only Europe but the entire world. The fitting response from the Union at Copenhagen would be a positive welcome for a firm date for the beginning of accession negotiations, subject to the Copenhagen criteria. The Turkish Government accept that.
Let us consider Cyprus. Our objective is that a date for Turkey's accession should be agreed at Copenhagen as part of a package. The other elements will be ironing out some of the outstanding difficulties on European defence and finding a solution that allows the EU to admit a reunited Cyprus.
The Helsinki criteria made it clear that, if necessary, the EU should be ready to admit a divided Cyprusthat is, a Greek Cyprusif a comprehensive agreement for a unified Cyprus could not be reached. We were party to that agreement and we stand by it. However, everybody agreed that it would be far preferable to have a united Cyprus joining the EU. The point was reiterated in the General Affairs and External Relations Council a few weeks ago. If that does not happen, the EU will have to deal with the issues that underlie the conflict.
The Cyprus problem has existed for too long. For the past half century, relations between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey have been characterised by tensions and strife. We have a great chance to change that, cement the process of rapprochement between Greece and Turkey that began in 1999, and, as envisaged by the United Nations Secretary-General, welcome a new Cyprus to the EU.
On 11 November, Kofi Annan published a comprehensive settlement proposal for Cyprus to end the years of separation on the island. It is both balanced and fair, and it has our strong support. Too many openings have been missed in the past. The parties should not allow the current opportunity to slip by, whatever the difficulties. I therefore warmly welcome the Secretary-General's efforts.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): I apologise to my right hon. Friend for waiting until he had completed his remarks on Cyprus before intervening. To take up the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), there is some anxiety that Turkey will delay a solution to the island's problems until it is ready to accede to the EU. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware of those anxieties. He commented extensively on Turkey's progress on other matters that concerned the EU; will he say whether Turkey has given him any reassurances on ending the division in Cyprus?