Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, not only on the Motion but on the terms in which he has spoken. We face serious and major challenges, as the noble Lord pointed out. I unhesitatingly support the view that Turkey should be approached about membership of the European Union. The matter is particularly salient this week. Turkey is a multi-religious and multi-cultural country and, in many respects, it is quite
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1339
different from the European Union. However, those are not reasons for terminating the discussions or for pointing in the wrong direction.

Substantial reforms have already been initiated in Turkey. I emphasise that there must be no going back for Turkey. There has to be a clear acceptance of the essential principles laid down at Copenhagen: a working market economy; a willingness to observe the rules of the single market; and an acceptance of the acquis communautaire. A good start has already been made, but much more remains to be done, particularly with regard to the Kurdish community.

As has been pointed out, Turkey is, or will be by the time we contemplate her membership, the most populous of all the countries in or seeking admission to the European Union. Turkey has 20 million Kurds and, unlike any other member state, has a clear majority of Muslims. Unlike other Arab states, she enjoys good relations with Israel, with the United States and with most Arab countries. That fact alone represents a potent reason for welcoming Turkey into the European Union. The bridge that she has patiently erected needs to be utilised, especially with regard to Israel and Palestine where, in my view, a permanent solution—a two-state solution—is desperately required.

Turkey has exhibited an increasingly benign attitude towards Greece and Cyprus. She can also play an important role in relation to Iran and be a significant player as regards Syria. As a member of NATO and the Council of Europe, she can do much more than most to explain to the Syrians that there is no future for them in seeking weapons of mass destruction and that they should exercise a much more emollient role in the region's affairs.

I do not for one moment argue that everything regarding Turkey and the European Union will be easy—far from it. That is why negotiations have to be so protracted. Turkey has so much more to do, especially on human rights. The enormous Muslim population, with its traditions, must equate much more with the better examples of tolerance to be found in the European Union.

I emphasise that a good start has been made. The possibilities of membership of the European Union have already had a beneficial effect, and Turkish freedoms have advanced. Minority groups have benefited; political prisoners have been released; the political role of the military has declined; and the death penalty has disappeared. I believe that that augurs well for membership of the European Union. I wish the negotiations that are to take place this week good speed.

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, having negotiated the Customs Union with Turkey on behalf of the European Union nearly a decade ago, it is natural for me to give a warm welcome to the admirable speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, who has initiated this timely debate. For my part, I am strongly in favour of a clear decision being taken to open accession
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1340
negotiations with Turkey on a specified and early date, with the firm intention of bringing those negotiations to a positive conclusion.

No doubt, if that happens, the admission of Turkey will be an accession to the European Union different in kind from all previous accessions. The combination of its different history, vast size, the huge disparities between the east and west of the country, geographical position and state of development make it clear that that is the case.

Anxieties about the continuous enlargement of the European Union are not unreasonable. Admitting a country is not just an act of friendship; the commitments on both sides are far different from those involved in membership of any other international organisation. The European Union is not a federation, but it has a high degree of economic integration and, beyond that, common policies on subjects such as the environment and equal opportunities, with a high degree of supranational decision-making.

For those reasons, we cannot just admit Turkey for strategic reasons—something not always understood by our American friends—although it would be a huge strategic bonus. Nor should we just admit Turkey to show readiness to accept an Islamic country, although that also would be a bonus if it proved possible. For a long time, the European Union has wrestled with the question: what should our limits be—the Copenhagen conditions, the economic, political and institutional conditions to which reference has been made? Many countries could meet those conditions. The name and history of the European Union implies a further overriding condition, which essentially is geographical: that countries must be part of Europe. We cannot just be a never-ending group of like-minded countries, willing to accept a certain degree of economic and other integration.

The geographical criterion still leaves questions over a number of individual countries. Those will have to be answered on an ad hoc basis. It is clear that as Turkey has only a toe-hold in Europe it might have been reasonable a generation ago to say no to Turkey for that reason. But that is not what we did. In signing an association agreement 40 years ago, we gave a clear nod to Turkey. Again and again, further indications were given of Turkey being eligible, and finally it was formally agreed that Turkey was eligible, provided that certain conditions were met.

Turkey has now taken us at our word. If you like, it has called our bluff. Herculean efforts have been made economically, in the area of human rights and so far as concerns the role of the military. We cannot now honourably say no.

But the difference of the Turkish accession from others makes it reasonable to handle it in a way that differs in some respects from previous accessions. The fact that there is negotiation implies that we cannot guarantee success; and mention has already been made of the French referendum. The particular nature of Turkish accession makes it fairer for both sides to make it clear that success is not guaranteed.
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1341

We need to devise a formula that makes that clear, without detracting from the sincerity of our statement that our intention is that negotiations should lead to full membership. It is necessary to put in the qualifications because Turkey has some way to go on human rights. It is reasonable to be vigilant and to make clear that further progress is essential for ultimate success.

With regard to implementation, in the case of such a vast country, so varied internally in its character, it is reasonable to insist that there should be a commitment not only to legislation but to its implementation. Moreover, a lengthy transition provision is probably needed on both sides. Turkey, for its part, may well find the acquis in areas such as health and safety and the environment more difficult than is currently appreciated.

However, on one aspect of the current draft conclusions of the European Commission I entirely agree with Turkish objections; that is, the suggestion that there should be a permanent safety clause designed to deal with the fears of mass movement of people. There should be transition provisions, but the free movement of people is an absolutely fundamental feature of the European Union. To say that it might not apply to one member state on a permanent basis is completely inconsistent with the fundamental nature of the European Union. Therefore, it should not be included in the negotiating mandate.

We also have to take seriously the Turkish statement that it is not interested in a half-way house and that, if we say no, it will look in other directions. The idea of a privileged partnership is, frankly, an artificial concoction. Let us not forget that the Customs Union itself is by far the most far-reaching relationship that we have with any other country.

The fact that Turkey may turn elsewhere is not a reason for saying yes if the conditions cannot be met, but it should prevent those who are hesitant thinking that there is an easy alternative by which they can salve their consciences and avoid serious political and strategic damage.

Let us enter into the negotiations in good faith, being honest with each other and with Turkey, but in the fervent hope that the remaining obstacles can be overcome and that, in due course, we can welcome Turkey as a respected and worthy member of our unique grouping of countries, highly integrated for important specific purposes but open and welcoming to the wider world.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that speeches should be limited to five minutes.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for giving the House the opportunity to consider these matters at the beginning of a long process. I understand the tentativeness of his conclusions. Indeed, for one who has long favoured the deepening of European integration to strengthen the effectiveness of member
15 Dec 2004 : Column 1342
countries of the European Union, it is, to some extent, a conversion to welcome the prospect that the negotiations with Turkey will be successful.

It is important to recognise the massive transformations that have taken place in that country, which have inevitably altered the perceptions of its candidacy. In democracy and human rights, Turkey has a record of alteration that is without parallel. I shall exemplify: there is the civilianisation of the National Security Council; the fact that a former chief of the naval staff is subject to criminal investigation for corruption; the fact that it is no longer taboo, although it was for a long time, to discuss Turkish issues in the national newspapers; and the fact that Kurdish education is now positively encouraged. Those are extraordinary changes, coupled with the authoritative reports from the Council of Europe's committee on the prevention of torture, which show the practical as well as the legislative changes that have taken place in the structure and organisation of the prison service, the legal services and the policing services. Of course there is more to do, but the pace of change encourages hope that by the time Turkey has come to terms with the difficult absorption of the acquis communautaire, its social life will have been quite transformed.

I comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, said about the geographical nature of Europe. It has indeed changed, even by the acceptance of the candidacy of Bulgaria, which for many centuries was part of the Ottoman Empire. Geography cannot be a delimiting criterion for membership of the European Union.

The arguments for adhesion to strengthen the foreign and security policy of the European Union seem to me to be overwhelming. We need assistance in combating drug trafficking, terrorism and trafficking in people. In all those matters, Turkey could provide immense practical help and act as a most important energy transport hub, further securing our supplies when they are too dependent on northern routes.

It is also important to recognise the demographic changes that have made Turkey a more attractive member than it would have been even five years ago. There have been suggestions of a substantial population increase, but that does not fully register the downturn in fertility rates in Turkey and the flattening-off of the population growth, which is now quite discernable.

We should approach this difficult negotiation with fairness and objectivity, seeking to determine whether Turkey's identity and its compatibility with European norms of democracy and economic modernisation have been properly met. If the changes that have begun are continued in the same manner and with the determination of the Turkish people to continue them, we can embark upon this course with great optimism.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page