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The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to have this afternoon's debate. At present, the idea of Turkey's accession is unpopular. Indeed, some polls suggest that only one third of the EU member states'
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populations are in favour. That unpopularity is focused chiefly on questions of culture and religion. The people of Turkey are overwhelmingly Muslim, and there is some evidence that minority religious groups in Turkey are systematically disadvantaged, if not openly mistreatedto which matter I want to return in a few moments. Yet Europe is already multi-cultural and multi-religious, with many millions of Muslims, as the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, pointed out, resident as citizens, so there should be no hasty or unreasoned opposition on religious or cultural grounds.
The fact that those issues have come to the fore is evidence that there is uncertainty about the European identity; the extent to which it is based on shared values; and whether those values should be subject to artificial control. That raises an important question for the British Government and other member states about the basis of our desire to be part of the EU in the first place.
There are certainly serious concerns about the effect of introducing a geographically and numerically vast, poor and largely agricultural partner to the Union, but the almost apocalyptic utterances that we sometimes hear fail to recognise that all the European nations and Turkey are likely to undergo massive changes in the minimum of 15 years before Turkey might become a member state. Any attempt to prejudge the results from this distance can hardly be reliable.
There is indeed some objection to Turkey's entry on the ground of democratic deficiencies. I am naturally concerned about the position of the historic Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox Christian minorities, as well as the more recently established chaplainciesfor example, the Anglican chaplaincies in Ankara, Izmir and Istanbulespecially when I hear that, despite promises from Turkey's responsible authorities, those Christian communities still face many problems of legal recognition, property rights and the development of educational curricula. However, it is also important to notice the great strides that Turkey has made and is making to address such problems. No doubt there is still a long way to go, but there is still a long time to travel. Experience shows that Turkey has made successive and concerted efforts to bring its domestic life into line with European standards. The formal opening of accession talks would be an effective piece of European foreign policy with which to encourage Turkey in its internal reforms.
The alternative is potentially disastrous for the stability of Europe's eastern borders. It is hard to imagine that, if Turkey lost all hope of European integration, the current impetus to change could be maintained, and there is a serious danger that some of Turkey's more reactionary groups might look elsewhere for guidance. We should not underestimate the precariousness of the present Turkish Government's programme for reform, and we would be unwise to jeopardise it.
At a more strategic level, there is great potential value in nurturing Turkey as an example of a Muslim democracy. The accession of Turkey would help to
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forge closer co-operation between Christians and Muslims in the Unionsomething that may turn out to be of immeasurable significance. The popular tendency to fear alternative religions and cultures or to regard them cynically as useful tools to get Christianity off the scene needs to give way to a determination to work together for the common good of the Earth.
All the evidence suggests that religion, in particular, is an increasingly potent global force and we should therefore all be very careful about closing the door on Europe's great Muslim neighbour. Indeed, by showing a willingness to welcome Turkey's Muslim population, we would set an example of the kind of hospitality that should characterise relations between the great Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. For, in the words of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor in a recent lecture, it is the vital and vibrant reality of hospitality that those faiths, at their best, have in common.
Baroness Uddin: My Lords, amen to that. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for this timely opportunity to consider the matter. Noble Lords on all sides will know that I have not taken part in many European debates and certainly none about Turkey. I hope that your Lordships will be lenient with me when I confess that I decided only at the very last moment to participate, being spurred on by an article that I read on Turkey in the Guardian about violence against women, mentioning honour killings in particular.
I love Turkey. The first time that I visited Turkey was five years ago. I love the place, the people, the fact that it is a secular countrythat Church and state, religion and state, have been separated for a long timeand that it has a fantastic record of educating women. The Turkish people's love for children is so apparent when you visit.
I have a particular objection to the fact that the fate of a nation of 70 million people may depend on an article in a reputable paper referring to honour killing and gender violence as reasons why accession should not be allowed or should be thought about twice. This is why I stand here to add my penn'orth.
At the outset, I should apologise to the House. I must ask the House to excuse me, but I may not be able to listen to the Minister's winding-up speech, and I will understand if she does not reply to me.
I welcome Britain's position supporting Turkey's earliest entry to the Union, and I welcome the Commission's latest report, which has given positive signals that Turkey has met the Copenhagen political criteria. To those of us who are familiar with Turkey five years ago and more recently, there is a staggering difference. The political changes and commitment towards changes have been enormous. We must welcome that fact. What is interesting is from where the opposition is coming. Much has been said, more eloquently than I can say it, about the fact that the world has changed fundamentally since 9/11. There is a sense of anger and anguish about how Muslim populations worldwide are treated by the Western nations.
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For all those very good reasons, it is important to reflect, as have the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, and the right reverend Prelate, and as others no doubt will. Britain has taken an honourable and admirable position. The Home Secretary recently said that Turkey had delivered and that it was time that the EU delivered its side of the bargain. I could not agree with that more. That will effectively counter some member countries' Islamophobic ideas about why accession cannot take place or negotiations cannot continue.
I have perhaps said more than I should venture, but this is the right time for us to ensure that we extend the arms of friendship, as well as engaging in negotiation, discussion and dialogue. It is critical that we capitalise on the potential of 70 million people and the economic success of Turkey in the Union. On that basis, I very much hope that Turkey will be embraced by the Union, because that will send a clear strategic message well beyond Turkey. I say no more. Given Turkey's record of solidarity with the West for so long, it is time that we let Turkey's citizens know that we are with them, not against them.
Lord Biffen: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on his good fortune in the ballot and on his wisdom in choosing this topic for our debate. Time is short. I want to make three points.
The first point is that the accession of Turkey will not end the eastward push of the European Union. It will not be a question of, like Pitt, saying, "Roll up that map", after Austerlitz. We will find that the waiting room of those who want to join the European Union is quite crowded. We know that Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia are already on the threshold of negotiations. Doubtless they will be followed in due course by the remnants of the former Republic of Yugoslavia plus Albania. A third wave will be the southern Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and of course, topically, the Ukraine.
The consequence of that will be to add about 20 nations and 200 million people. Of course, no one can anticipate precisely what will be the form of that association, but I can assert that the Turkish quest for full membership will have a considerable impact on those countries and their expectations.
My second point is that such expansion would bring the European Union, with its current structures and military and foreign affairs ambitions, however embryonic, right alongside Russia, from Estonia down to Ukraine. It is a situation with which we in western Europe are reasonably unfamiliar. The cordon sanitaire protected us during the years between the wars; since the war, Finland and Yugoslavia, in their contrasting ways, have provided a sort of buffer. We are certainly light years away from when Jean Monnet could refer to the,
None the less, the relationships which we now will have to strike will have to be treated with caution, and certainly with an understanding of the anxieties that
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Russia is bound to harbour when it sees NATO expanded in the way that it is likely to be in the context that I have just described.
Thirdly, I want to talk about the impact that the negotiations will have on the existing European Union. Mention has been made of the 1993 Copenhagen Council, which set the rubric for accession countries and how they would be treated. It is not often mentioned that the Copenhagen Council also contained the assertion that it would have to lead to,
I ask noble Lords to reflect on the present state of Europe: its problems with agriculture, with the euro and the difficulty of ensuring that the stabilisation programmes work effectively; the problem of corruption, an indelicate point that none the less lies at the heart of so much public disenchantment with the European Union; and bureaucracy.
The noble Lord, Lord Brittan, made generous mention of the acquis communitaire, which the Turks and all applicant countries will be required to accept. The Foreign Office says that the document is 80,000 pages. That is bureaucracy on stilts. It is unrealistic to think of the accession of Turkey against those problems without having a clearer idea of how we wish to reconstitute the existing European Union to enable it to accommodate the profound changes and transformations implicit in the negotiations.
We are today holding up the mirror against Turkey. We should also hold the mirror up against the existing European Union and its practices and, in my view, the great need for it to become more like a Gaullist Europe des patries. Ultimately, it will not be resolved in these short debates. It will be taken to the British public through a referendum, and upon their good sense and instinctive judgments I rest.
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