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Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend accept that until such time as these countries become members of the European Union, co-operation can still be achieved, to a limited degree, through the Council of Europe, which, thankfully, will have a summit meeting next year that I hope that he will attend? The Council of Europe is considering a convention on human trafficking, which is vital as such trafficking creates tremendous problems. Recently, I attended a meeting at the Council of Europe and we are concerned that the convention will not be strong enough. Will he examine the recommendations from its Parliamentary Assembly to see whether the convention can be strengthened?

Mr. Straw: I am delighted to say to my right hon. Friend that, of course, I will do so.

The issue of Turkey will dominate proceedings on Thursday and Friday—

Sir Menzies Campbell: The Foreign Secretary has been characteristically generous in giving way. Before he passes to what will obviously be the principal issue of Turkey, does he derive some encouragement from the recent presidential election in Romania, which suggests that the prospect of EU membership can have illuminating effects—if one likes to put it that way—on the attitude of candidate countries to tackling corruption?

Mr. Straw: The answer to that is yes. It has been wondrous to behold the way in which the prospect of EU membership has forced such former east European states—some of which were not states at all, while the rest, even if they were states, had ramshackle political institutions that met no internationally agreed standards—to change and raise their standards. Others have played a part, including NATO, the Council of Europe and the United Nations, but the intensity of work required to become members of the EU has made the big difference.

Turkey's European vocation has been recognised by the European Union since the association agreement with the EU in 1963. The prospect of EU membership, particularly over the last three years, has driven an impressive process of change in Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan's AKP Government have pursued a thoroughgoing and courageous programme of reform
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that has brought Turkey much closer to Europe and Europe's values. To date, the AKP Government and their predecessor have introduced nine separate packages of legislative and constitutional reform. Those have included the abolition of the death penalty, measures to combat torture and improvements in minority rights such as the freedom to study, register names and broadcast in Kurdish. The military is now under civilian control, restrictions on freedom of expression have been removed and a policy of zero tolerance of torture has been introduced.

The Turkish Government also did all that they could to promote a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, as they were asked to do. That those efforts failed earlier this year is no fault of the present Turkish Government.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: May I make some progress?

Our embassy in Ankara has worked hard to support Turkey's efforts on Cyprus, on liberalisation of the economy, on human rights—including familiarising judges and prosecutors with the requirements of European law—on the development of women's rights, on the development of non-governmental organisations, on Kurdish issues and on religious freedom. That work is part of a strong British commitment to supporting Turkey's European ambitions.

In its report and recommendation published on 6 October, the European Commission judged that Turkey now meets the EU's political criteria and is ready to open negotiations for membership. The British Government share that assessment. We therefore want agreement at the European Council to opening EU membership negotiations with Turkey next year.

Those negotiations are bound to take some years, but Turkish membership of the EU would bring major benefits to Britain and to Europe as a whole. Turkey has long been a strong partner in NATO, occupying as it does a strategic position between the middle east, central Asia and the Balkans. The presence of a European Turkey in that crucial region would be of enormous further benefit. One half of Turkey's trade is already with the EU, most of it under the customs union which has been in force since 1996. EU membership for Turkey would increase that further. It offers the prospect of significant benefits for British firms, who are already Turkey's fifth most important suppliers of imports. Turkey's dynamic economy and society would be a valuable asset to the whole of Europe.

Turkey's European destiny is also important for a wider reason: the signal that a European Turkey would send to people everywhere of Europe's commitment to diversity and truly universal values. We have heard a lot of talk over the past few years about a supposed "clash of civilisations" between the west and the Islamic world. The Government utterly reject that notion. First, it ignores how much the Muslim world and the so-called western world have shaped each other over the centuries and share a common cultural and historical heritage. Secondly, it supposes that Europe is an entirely secular
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place. In fact, many—if not most—European countries, including this one, have a strong religious tradition intertwined with their secular society, some European countries, including England, have state Churches and, in many parts of continental Europe, there are Christian Democratic political parties. Thirdly and most importantly, that view of a clash of civilisations ignores the enormous contribution that people of the Muslim faith—including the 25,000-plus in my constituency—make to Britain and to many other European countries today, and that they have made down the centuries. Britain and Europe today are more and more diverse, and we are richer for it.

We are justifiably proud to celebrate that diversity. We recognise that the basic values of this country, and of Europe, apply to people of all faiths and backgrounds. A European Union including Turkey would send a strong signal of that. We want to see an economically successful, democratic Turkey, anchored in Europe, which would deal a heavy blow to those who stoke up mistrust and division. That could be an inspiration to many others in the Muslim world.

I know that there is widespread agreement in all parts of the House that Turkey's destiny lies as a full member of the European Union, as that has the approbation of the Front-Bench teams. But I am also struck by a paradox. Something strange is happening in the Conservative party. It used to be a vocal supporter of EU enlargement. It would probably claim that it still is. But as proud, sovereign and independent nations such as Turkey queue up to join the European Union and as many others—Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states—see their hard-won membership as affirmation of their freedom and their independence, the Conservative party has gone rather quiet. Perhaps it is because it is difficult for it to explain why a country such as Turkey, with its distinctive traditions and its commitment to being a strong and powerful nation, is so keen to join an organisation that the Conservatives now say represents, with the new constitution, the end of 1,000 years of national history. It is another example of Conservative myths coming face to face with reality, and as ever, the Conservative party losing out.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con) rose—

Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes will have his chance to respond.

These are independent nation states, they know what is in the constitution and they are happy to join on that basis. As I pointed out, the fact that this European Council will take a decision on Turkey is just one of the items on the agenda that shows how this Government's policy of engagement in Europe is delivering results.

We have built strong alliances with our partners on the question of the EU budget. We are using the influence of the EU's 25 nations to support democracy in Ukraine and the Palestinian territories. We are leading the push for economic reform in Europe and we are helping to bring more countries into the EU, expanding markets for British business, entrenching stability and freedom across the continent, and promoting in Europe the diversity that we celebrate at home.

Let us be in no doubt that the advances we have made as a result of our engagement in the EU would be put at risk by a Conservative party that seeks isolation and
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exclusion from our European partners. Almost a decade ago, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes—who now mocks the idea—supported the most crass and counter-productive policy of non-engagement in the EU. Appointments in the EU were vetoed and meetings boycotted. The result was an even greater loss of power in Europe than had existed previously, under the Major Government.

Sadly, the Conservatives have learned nothing from that experience or from their increasing marginalisation in Europe today. Indeed, their policy of a fundamental renegotiation of Britain's existing treaties is an exaggerated form of the same approach. It is unworkable, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows only too well, and would be a disaster for Britain's national interests.

In contrast, the Government are serving Britain's national interests by engaging in Europe and shaping an enlarged EU that is flexible, outward-looking and reformed. We will continue that approach at this week's Council meeting and beyond.

1.11 pm

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