Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (70, 71)

Bernard Allen

Question:

46 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the bilateral meetings already held or to be held between the government and the Government of Turkey in 2004; the position regarding the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4244/04]

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John Bruton

Question:

79 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the likely effect on the EU labour market, the EU budget and the functioning and weighting of votes in EU institutions of Turkish membership of the European Union; and when Turkey is likely, on present trends, to be ready for full EU membership. [4376/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 46 and 79 together.

The Taoiseach has met twice recently with Prime Minister Erdogan in Brussels on 12 December and in Berlin on 9 January 2004. I will visit Ankara next month for the EU ministerial Troika meeting with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Officials met earlier this week to prepare for this meeting. In our role as EU Presidency, the Government will maintain close contact with the government of Turkey and will encourage progress in the reform process in preparation for the decision on accession negotiations to be taken by the December European Council.

The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate country destined to join the European Union on the basis of the political criteria, which apply to all candidate countries. The Copenhagen European Council in December 2002 made the clear commitment that if the European Council meeting in December 2004 decides that Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU will open accession negotiations without delay. This decision will be taken on the basis of a report and recommendation by the Commission.

Last December's European Council welcomed the determined efforts by the Turkish Government to accelerate the pace of reforms. The Council encouraged Turkey to build on the substantial progress achieved so far in its preparations for launching accession negotiations. It underlined the commitment of the EU to working towards full implementation of the pre-accession strategy with Turkey, including the revised accession partnership. The European Council also noted that a settlement of the Cyprus problem would greatly facilitate Turkey's membership aspirations.

I have welcomed the progress made by Turkey in legislating for wide ranging human rights reforms over the past two years. A central element in the assessment to be made by the European Council in December will be the effective implementation of these legislative reforms at all levels of the administration.

In the event of a positive decision on fulfillment by Turkey of the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU is committed to opening accession negotiations without delay. Questions relating to the labour market and the budget would be important issues in any such negotiations. The question of voting in the Council is currently under discussion in the IGC. As Deputies will be aware, some partners are supporting a change to dual majority. Others prefer to maintain the current system of weighted votes. Until this question is resolved, it is not possible to say what the impact of Turkish accession would be in this matter, assuming that there were no further change in arrangements.