Thursday, 20 May 2010
The European Union has a long and close relationship with Turkey. Accession negotiations were opened in 2005 and Ireland makes a constructive input to those negotiations.
As a beneficiary of a past enlargement, and on the experience of more recent accessions, Ireland is generally supportive of enlargement. The prospect of enlargement bolsters economic and political reform processes and helps to promote stability, security and prosperity in Europe. The process includes rigorous conditionality and takes into account the capacity of the EU to integrate new members. Enlargement has to be negotiated and, as in any negotiation, the eventual outcome and timeframe cannot be predicted.
These factors shape Ireland's supportive approach to Turkey's candidacy. There are, in addition, potential gains to the Single Market and to trade through the accession of a country of Turkey's size. The Union's reach and influence in the Middle East and Central Asia could be enhanced through Turkish accession.
Turkey still has substantial work ahead in meeting the established criteria and conditions for membership. Progress in the negotiations was reviewed by EU Ministers in the Council last December. At a meeting with the Turkish Minister for EU Affairs last week in Brussels, the Spanish Presidency and the Commission highlighted a number of areas where measures were still required.
At bilateral level, I met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Dublin on 10 March 2010. In the course of that meeting, Minister Davutoglu outlined the progress Turkey has made on reforms in a number of areas as it has sought to bring Turkey more in line with the EU acquis. He explained how the accession negotiations provide a strong incentive for Turkey to pursue reforms, strengthen democracy and human rights and further modernise the country. While much has been achieved in Turkey in these areas, the challenge is now for Turkey to maintain and accelerate the progress on reforms.
I reiterated to Minister Davutoglu Ireland's support for the Turkish candidacy. At the same time, I noted the Council's deep regret at Turkey's continued non-compliance with its obligations under the Ankara Protocol and I highlighted the need for Turkey to make progress towards normalisation of its relations with the Republic of Cyprus.
A number of resolutions were issued by the European Parliament, one as recently as March 2009, that noted the concern of "the continuous slow down of the reform process and called on Turkey to prove its political will to continue the reform process". It particularly stressed the need to reach a solution regarding Cyprus.
There is a legitimate concern about the fact that Turkey as an accession country does not technically recognise the Republic of Cyprus, which is a member state of the European Union. Repeatedly, the European Council, the European Commission and in particular the European Parliament have expressed serious concern about this. There appears to be a deadlock and a significant lack of progress on this issue. Will the Minister provide the House with a more comprehensive view of the Government's position on Cyprus?
We have continually articulated the need to resolve the issue with regard to the Republic of Cyprus. The background is that at the Helsinki European council in 1999, Turkey became a candidate and negotiations opened in 2005. I am aware that in a motion at its Ard-Fheis in 2004, Fine Gael endorsed and supported the candidacy of Turkey for the European Union and I understand that remains the position of the main political parties in this House, in government and opposition.
There are many challenges in the negotiating process, some of the key ones being the Cyprus question and non-compliance with the Ankara protocols. There have been reforms in matters pertaining to the judiciary, human rights and other issues and generally speaking it is fair to state there has been progress on those issues. However, there has not been progress on the obligations Turkey has under the Ankara process; it continues to refuse to open its ports and airports to vessels and aircraft from the Republic of Cyprus. In 2006, the European Council decided that eight chapters of the accession framework could not be opened and that there would be no further chapters until Turkey fulfils it commitment in this regard, and those measures remain in place. There is a deadlock.
The position of the French and German Governments have in some ways changed and it is fair to state that the political and economical climates have dramatically altered in the past two years. The French Minister of State for European affairs recently stated that alternatives should be considered with regard to Turkish accession, and the CSU, which is part of the governing coalition in Germany, stated it would rather see a privileged partnership than full membership of the European Union. What is the Minister's view on this? Does it alter the playing pitch in any significant way? The French Minister of State also made the point that if Turkey meets the criteria, the question of absorption into the European Union of its 72 million population would be a consideration, which is a new standard for accession.
From time to time since the Helsinki Council, various politicians throughout Europe have articulated different positions on this. It has been a lengthy process. We have to be careful and sensitive in how we approach this challenging issue. As a small open economy, we depend very much on liberalisation of world trade. We need to export our goods and services to create jobs here. The European Union began with six member states and now has 27 member states with a population of 500 million people. We export to many of those countries and our exports grow. Our combined trade on goods with Turkey is at €800 million and in services it is at €466 million. The Turkish economy is growing at approximately 10% per annum, notwithstanding the current global crisis, and it has a population of 72 million. I accept its GDP is way below that of Europe-----
-----but not necessarily as low as that of Bulgaria or Rumania, relative to Ireland.
We need to be flexible in how we approach these issues. The issue of absorption is one that must be resolved and a study must be undertaken by the European Union on its capacity to absorb. This must be done prior to any accession. Politically, it is acceptable for people to make the odd statement to grab headlines but we cannot be seen as a country that is closing doors all over the place.
We have to be realistic and look at things. There have been derogations. We chose not to accept derogations from the ten candidate countries in 2004 but we put derogations in place with regard to Bulgaria and Romania. We need to consider issues such as these in terms of new accessions.