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11 Dec 2002 : Column 355continued
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): I have listened to the debate with great interest for the past two hours. I am conscious that there is at least one other Member who wants to speak, so I will be very brief.
Having listened to a number of contributions, I want to respond particularly to that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), who, unfortunately, is not in his place, and to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant). The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said that Conservative Members were against Europe and what he called Tuscan evenings. I have to say that I have spent some of the happiest days of my life sitting in deckchairs in Tuscany looking at the towers of San Gimigniano. I had hoped for a rather more profound contribution.
The Italian writer Primo Levi, in one of his greatest books, XI sommersi e i salvati"XThe Drowned and the Saved"said that as a Jewish holocaust survivor, he could not accept that people should be judged because of the group to which they belonged. He wanted to be judged, above all, as an individual. None the less, he had to accept that there was such a thing as a Hispanidad, a Deutschum and an Italianata, without which there would be no purpose in being a nation.
I think that we have fundamentally misjudged the extent to which there is an emotional gluehere I agree with the hon. Member for Rhonddathat binds the European Union project together. I am talking about people's experiences when Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece were fascist dictatorshipssome of them even in my lifetimethe experience of the low countries as areas for war and, above all, the experience of France, which was invaded three times by Germany in 70 years. Even if there are good and rational reasons why people might object to this project, I believe that many people are beyond those rational arguments because the emotional glue is so strong. I do not necessarily blame them for thatit is probably right. Fundamentally, however, they underestimateas I suspect that many people in the House of Commons dothe absolute difference between their situation and ours. We underestimate their emotional glue and they underestimate our tradition and attachment to parliamentary self-government.
We are faced with a project that already has, or will soon get, a Parliament, a flag, an anthem, a currency, a central bank, a driving licence, a passport, a concept of citizenship, a legal system with a hierarchy of courts and a Supreme Court, a criminal justice system with a public prosecutor and a police force, an army, a president and a constitution. That is not what the people of this country wanted or will ever want. I believe that they will uphold their right, expressed through the House of Commons, to be a self-governing democracy, capable of making their own laws, making their own arrangements, setting their own taxes, issuing their own currency and controlling their own destiny.
Let me set the scene by agreeing with almost everyone that the UK is and will be a champion of enlargement in Europe. Ten countries are looking to enter the European Union in 2004 and although they are at various stages of the negotiating process, and there are one or two hiccups, there is a strong political will for that to happen.
I strongly believe that Turkey should be given a date for accessionas several hon. Members have saidalthough that will be controversial in some quarters. Hon. Members have referred to human rights and the related issue of minorities, as well as democracy in Turkey and the role of the army. Although progress has to be made on all those matters, we should remember that the package of measures passed by the Turkish Parliament earlier this year was deemed to be a good start to the process.
As an hon. Member said earlier, the election process cleared outif I may use that phraseall the old guard, the old faces who turned up regularly in Turkish Governments. We have hopes that the new Government will be much more progressive and that they will recognise what needs to be done if the country is to enter Europe in the future.
As I said, I want to concentrate my remarks on the accession of Cyprus. First, it needs to be said loud and clear that Cyprus more than meets the accession criteria. However, the problem for Cyprus is different from that of the other nine states because the island has been divided for the past 28 years. We must give the highest priority to trying to end that division before the accession of Cyprus.
In many international forums nowadays, we talk about the failure to implement UN resolutions. Over the past 28 years, there have been a number of UN resolutions on Cyprus, so its case is stronger than most. A further problem is the continuing isolation of the Turkish-Cypriot community and its relative economic decline during the past 28 years. The Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in the UK greatly want the island to be reunified. There are thus many reasons to give that priority. There have been many, many attempts to deal with the problems in the past so if we are not successful, for whatever reason, we should recognise that, as has been said many times, Cyprus should none the less accede to membership.
There are three reasons why that is important. First, Cyprus has developed extremely close ties to the EU. It may come as a surprise to some Members that those ties go back as far as the association agreement that was signed in 1972. The history behind that is that when Britain was in the process of entering the EU, Ted Heath went to Cyprus and said that the Cypriots should be thinking along similar lines. They did not take that step then, but entered an association agreement. That was followed, in 1987, by a legal framework, which is still in existence.
Cyprus made its first membership application in 199012 years ago. In 1993, the EU recognised for the first time that the Government of Cyprus could make an application on behalf of the whole island. All the subsequent CouncilsLuxembourg in 1993, Corfu in 1994, Essen in 1995 and so onrecognised the validity of Cyprus's application.
In 1998, it was agreed to start accession negotiations and the watershed came at Helsinki. In that connection, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who was then Foreign Secretary. He played a role in resolving the controversy at that time by saying that Cyprus should accede but that all relevant factors should be taken into account. That view still stands.
Since 1998, all the progress reports have stated positively that Cyprus should be able to enter the EU. Indeed, the last report, before the Council meeting in September, confirms once again that Cyprus fulfils the political criteria, that it respects human rights and freedoms, that it has developed a market economy and can compete within the EU. Indeed, there is talk of Cyprus joining the euro almost as soon as it enters the Community. It will indeed be a member.
Everyone realises that there are still one or two things to iron out as regards the acquis communautaire, but no one sees that as a stumbling block. We would then see the culmination of the closer and closer relationship that has developed between the EU and Cyprus.
Secondly, there has been all-party support in the House for Cyprus's membership. I can trace such support back to the 1997 Labour party election manifesto, which gave priority to the enlargement process. More importantly, that manifesto refers particularly to Cyprus's application to join the EU. Indeed, an accompanying document was issued at the time in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. It was called XLabour on Cyprus" and stated:
If we are to be entirely consistent, if we are to recognise our long-term commitment to Cyprus and, indeed, if we are to maintain the integrity of our position and that of Europe, it is critical that Cyprus should enter. Given all the commitments that I have mentioned, we should not countenance the loss of credibility that would occurnot only in the United Kingdom and on the island itself, but across Europeif Cyprus were not to enter.
Thirdly, I want to consider the phrase Xall relevant factors", which was arrived at during the Helsinki meeting. All sorts of people have interpreted that phrase and related it to the UN negotiation process. I shall briefly mention the background to those negotiations because the Whip is waving at me even though I thought that I still had another four minutes to speak. The background includes UN resolutions, the high-level agreements that were reached and the acquis communautaire. The Cyprus Government have lived within those agreements and tried to interpret them constructively; so much so that, in June this year, the UN commended them on being constructive in trying to assist and on being flexible in trying to reach an agreement.
It was not possible to reach an agreement, but the recent framework agreement produced by the UN Secretary-General shows that all the political partiesnot only Greek Cypriot, but Turkish Cypriothave agreed that that document can form the basis of negotiations. So people are working constructively, but there are problems. I often read about the difficulties, and I was somewhat embarrassed and saddened by the comments made by Mr. Denktash on returning to Cyprus a couple of days ago, but we need to maintain a positive attitude to the process. That has been done in Cyprus, and it is what we should do. With good will, we can move towards a settlement, but I return to my original point: if that settlement is not achieved, we need to accept that Cyprus should join the EU.