Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Other Questions

EU Accession Negotiations.

4:00 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Question 6: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of the EU accession negotiations with Turkey; the most pressing issue needing to be addressed before accession; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3942/07]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 204: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which positives steps have been taken to resolve the Cyprus issue in the context of EU enlargement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4561/07]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 204 together.

Negotiations regarding Turkish accession to the European Union commenced on 3 October 2005. An extensive screening process is ongoing which closely scrutinises the compatibility of Turkish legislation with that of the EU. In all, there are 35 negotiating chapters in the accession process. After a chapter has been screened, the EU can decide, on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, whether the negotiations in that sector should proceed. In June 2006, the European Council welcomed the provisional closure of the science and research chapter with Turkey. To date, this is the only chapter to have been provisionally concluded.

The European Commission published its annual enlargement package on 8 November 2006. In its assessment of Turkey's progress, the Commission stated that reforms have continued but have slowed during the past year. Improvements are needed on freedom of expression, the rights of non-Muslim religious communities, women's rights, trade union rights and civil control of the military. Further progress in aligning its legislation with that of the Union is also required in a range of areas, including agriculture, taxation, state aid and the free movement of goods, workers and capital.

It is difficult to prioritise particular issues as all the points identified in the Commission report require Turkey's active attention. However, it is clear that Turkey's continuing failure to implement the Ankara Protocol fully by opening its ports and airports to vessels registered in the Republic of Cyprus is complicating the accession negotiations. As a result, the Council of Ministers on 11 December 2006, acting on a recommendation by the Commission, decided, first, that negotiations on eight negotiating chapters be suspended and, second, that no other chapter be provisionally closed until the Commission has verified that Turkey has implemented the protocol. The Commission will report further on Turkish progress towards meeting its obligations, including implementation of the Ankara Protocol, in its annual reports to the Council, in particular in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

At its meeting in January, the Council of Ministers noted progress to date in implementing its approach on the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community. It called for work to continue on agreeing a Council regulation on special conditions for trade with the areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister indicate whether adequate emphasis is being placed by the European Union on the need for Turkey to accelerate its programme to bring its institutions into line with EU norms? Will he indicate whether there is reluctance on the part of the Turkish authorities to accelerate this programme or whether they are taking their cue from the diverse opinions sometimes expressed within the European Union? For example, the Presidency of the European Union could always be deemed to have a leading, influential expression in this regard. To what extent has that manifested itself at this time? Is there likely to be progress on the sharing of the ports and on the acceptance of vessels from Cyprus into Turkish ports?

Finally, does the Minister think it is a good idea to allow the negotiations to drag on for 12 to 14 years? Is it the intention to stabilise the European Union and bring conditions related to human rights, including women's rights, in Turkey into line with the Union? Would it be better to proceed as intended or would it be better to have a clearly defined pattern whereby recognition could be available for all groups within a reasonable time, which would motivate them in their attitude?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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When it was originally agreed to open discussions and negotiations with Turkey, it was accepted agreement would take a considerable time and this was accepted by the Turks. Negotiations have been tortuous, not least because of the Ankara Protocol, which concerns the issue of the opening of ports and airports. This is a divisive issue for both the Turks and people from the Republic of Cyprus. I experienced this divide when I tried to travel from Ankara to Nicosia during my time as envoy. I was unable to travel directly and had to stop off in Beirut or somewhere else before going to Cyprus. Direct travel from either country to the other was impossible because of the embargo on airports and ports. As a member of the European Union, I found it difficult to understand why I could not fly from a country hoping to become a member of the European Union to one that was a member and mentioned that to the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr. Gul, many times.

There has been some slowing by the Turks on what had previously been a rapid move towards fulfilling the requirements for EU membership under the various chapters. This may well be due to the fact elections are due to take place in Turkey. Being a politician, Deputy Durkan will understand there are issues the Turks must deal with within their country. To be fair, the Turkish Government has been proactive in its efforts, but there has been a slowdown to some extent.

This country supports the accession of Turkey, on the basis that it is necessary in the greater scheme of stability for the region, but at the same time it must come up to the mark on all the issues, human rights including women's rights, trade union rights, civilian involvement in the military etc. The country has made progress, but much more must be made. It is a little like our slogan in the last general election, "A lot done, more to do".

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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One would favour the admission of Turkey if the Cyprus issue and human rights issues could be resolved. I put it to the Minister there is another issue, namely, the acknowledgment of genocide in the past history, which would be compatible with squaring up to the truth.

That said, is it not true that some countries in the European Union are using these issues and the delaying of the process to mask the fact they are totally opposed to Turkey's entry to the European Union?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It is fair to say some countries are not particularly enamoured with the position. Some countries have indicated they would require a referendum at the end of the process. This causes some difficulty and clearly demonstrates they are saying to the rest of the European Union that no matter what the Union agrees, they plan to have a popular vote on the issue.

Much of the concern relates to general uneasiness in the European Union about further enlargement. It is felt the Union has enlarged too rapidly over a short period and that given we cannot reform the structures, as per the draft constitution, any further enlargement must wait until we have those structures in place. We have a commitment with regard to Turkey and Croatia and further commitments with regard to the Balkans in general.

We are conscious there is within the Union a feeling that we should pause and reflect on the issues. This feeling comes via the political systems in member states which hear the message from their people, as exemplified by the votes in the referenda in France and Holland with regard to the constitution. There is no doubt, however, that some countries are using the Turkish issue to slow the process.