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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Why does the Prime Minister not acknowledge for once in a while, when answering the Tory Opposition on the question of the European Union and its predecessor, the Common Market, that there is a set of revolving doors? When the Tories were in power for 18 years, they went into the Common Market revolving doors, and when they went into opposition in 1997, they came out in opposition to the Common Market. That is what has happened ever since 1973. A few of us have stayed in the same place while the revolving doors have been going round. Will he accept that when we fight the next election, we will fight it on the strength of this Labour Government, not on whether we believe in the Common Market or are against it?
The Prime Minister: I take my hon. Friend's point about revolving doorsas people go into government, they become in favour of retaining Britain's membership of the European Union. That only indicates to me the sanitising effect of government, which is why I am so keen that we carry on doing it.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Can the Prime Minister tell us a bit more about the positive engagement and leadership that he intends to exert during the British presidency, and is he looking forward to that six months as potentially the climax of his political career?
The Prime Minister: We can certainly play an important role in Europe, in relation to economic reform and taking forward the G8 presidency issues, and of course we will begin the Turkish accession negotiations. I look forward to doing that and much more.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op): May I urge the Prime Minister to ignore the voices of those Euro-enthusiasts who not only welcome the discussions with Turkey but urge its immediate full entry into the European Union, because full entry means freedom of movement? All the evidence is that currently up to 30 million Turks would wish to move to the west. May I urge him to reject that policy, which has been advanced by the Liberal Democrats, and to stick to the Government policy, with "the option of long transition periods, derogations, or even permanently available safeguards, should those be required"?
The Prime Minister: I profoundly disagree with my hon. Friend, not just with what he said, but with its tone. It would not be helpful or sensible to start having a debate about Turkish membership of the European Union on the basis that millions of Turks are about to flood across Europe. That is not what has happened in respect of the eastern European countries that have come in: the vast majority of the people who have come here have come to do jobs. A tiny number of them have even made benefit claims, and the vast bulk of those have had those claims refused.
A lot of people who come to this country make a vital contribution to it. There will be a significant period of time before Turkey becomes a member of the European Union, and, as my hon. Friend acknowledged in the latter part of his question, there will then be a series of
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safeguards, transitional periods and so on available to us. Of course, Turkey will be a very different country by that time. It has made remarkable strides, under the impulsion of European Union membership, over the past few years, and I am sure that a democratic and stable Turkey, anchored in the European Union, will be a very important part of our security for the future.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): In the long-term battle to combat the causes and circumstances that lead to terrorism, is not the opening of negotiations with Turkey likely to be much more important than the invasion of Iraq, because it demonstrates the importance of the soft power that the Europeans are good at, alongside hard military power? Will the Prime Minister perhaps persuade President Bush to recognise the importance of that European experience in creating stability and democracy in Europe and in the wider world, and to create more effective partnerships rather than depending almost exclusively on the hard power in which the Americans are so pre-eminent?
The Prime Minister: I have to say that there are occasions on which we need both the hard and the soft, and if we succeed in Iraqas I am sure eventually we will, despite the actions of terrorists and insurgentsthat will be a big force for stability and democracy in the region. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that Turkey's accession is an indication of the force for good that the European Union can be. I have no doubt that President Bush will probably agree with his point about Turkish membership of the European Union, when he comes over to Europe some time later next year.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work in ensuring that Turkey is allowed to begin negotiations. I know that he has worked long and hard on this issue for the past seven years. However, does he share my concern about the level of opposition in some countries, such as France and Austria, where a large number of people are against entry? Some of them express the opinions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), and it is extremely important that we campaign on this issue in Europe. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that that happens, and what does he think Parliament should do to aid that process?
The Prime Minister
: President Chirac is to be congratulated on his courageous stand on Turkish accession to the European Union, in difficult circumstances for him domestically. My hon. Friend is right to say that there are countries where public opinion is against Turkish membership. The best way to persuade them is to make the argument calmly and reasonably, to state the fact that this will happen over a long period, with the ability to make the transition, and to point to the fact that fears have been raised in most instances of new countries acceding to the European Union. It is clear that Turkey represents a different order of accessionbut it is for that very reason that we have set aside a significant time for the process. I hope very much that Britain continues to be a force in favour
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of Turkish membership of the European Union, and I am sure that my hon. Friend is right about the long-term benefits.
Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): Does the Prime Minister not feel that although the decision to embark on negotiations with Turkey is welcome, the idea that those negotiations will take, as I think he said, at least 10 years is rather depressing, and risks losing the focus in Turkey on exactly what kind of changes are needed, particularly on resolving the issue of Cyprus? Turkey and Turkish Cypriots were for so long the block on progress, but, that block having been removed, there is now a risk that the deadlock will persist long into the future, which would destabilise the European Union.
The Prime Minister: We must be careful about that, but as for the statement about the process taking at least a decade, of course it all depends on how quickly Turkey fulfils the criteria, can close the negotiations, and so on. That statement has been made several times, and I do not think that it comes as news to Turkey. In the end, this is a question of trying to manage what, as I have said, most people accept is a different order of enlargement. Turkey coming into the European Union is not the same as an eastern European country of 4 million or 5 million people coming in. That is why we need to give people confidence that the criteria will be adhered to, and that there is the possibility of making transitional arrangements. However, subject to that, the time scale will constitute a prediction. Once accession negotiations begin, the question of how quickly they can be concluded will be in the hands of the Turks themselves.
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about not only Turkey but Croatia. Does he agree that this development holds out the real hope that the rest of the former Yugoslavia might be able to join the European Union, but that there must be two provisos in that regard? First, there must be a final solution concerning Serbia and Montenegro. Secondly, those involved in the most heinous war crimes during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia must be arrested and charged, to ensure that they end up in The Hague, which is where they belong.
The Prime Minister:
It is obviously important that there is co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. However, it is still a remarkable thought that the countries of the Balkans, which was a byword for instability and war for decade upon decade, are now plausible members of the European Union. That shows how much things have changed in that region, and if we continue with that change we will achieve even further steps towards re-integrating the Balkans with the rest of Europe. I agree
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entirely with my hon. Friend: it is important that Croatia abide by its co-operation with the tribunal, because other countries have to do the same.
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