Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (79, 80)

Willie Penrose

Question:

205 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the state of negotiations with Turkey regarding its application for EU membership; if his attention has been drawn to recent comments from the French Foreign Minister that a referendum may be required in France to facilitate Turkey’s entry into the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25324/04]

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Billy Timmins

Question:

210 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts being made by Turkey to meet the Copenhagen criteria for accession to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25210/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 210 together.

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 same criteria applied to other candidate states. 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 commitment was reaffirmed by the most recent European Council, under the Irish Presidency, on 18 June. The political criteria require a candidate country to have achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

The June European Council welcomed the significant progress made to date by Turkey in the reform process, including the important and wide ranging constitutional amendments adopted in May. It also welcomed the continued and sustained efforts of the Turkish government to meet the Copenhagen political criteria and emphasised the importance of concluding the remaining legislative work and accelerating efforts to ensure decisive progress in the full and timely implementation of reforms at all levels of administration and throughout the country. There have been important legislative developments since June, including the adoption by the Turkish Parliament on 26 September of a comprehensive new penal code.

On 6 October, the European Commission presented its 2004 regular report on Turkey's progress towards accession together with its recommendation, for consideration by the December European Council. The Commission also presented an initial study on issues arising from Turkey's membership perspective. The Government has welcomed the very comprehensive report and recommendation from the Commission, which deserve close study by all member states as we prepare for the important decision to be taken by the December European Council.

The Commission notes that Turkey has made substantial progress in its political reform process, particularly in the past two years. It draws attention to a number of reforms which have been legislated for, but which have not yet entered into force. The Commission concludes that in view of the overall progress of reforms, and provided that Turkey brings into force certain key outstanding legislation, it considers that Turkey sufficiently fulfils the political criteria and recommends that accession negotiations be opened. The issue of the timing of the opening of negotiations would be a matter for decision by the European Council.

In its recommendation, the Commission notes that the irreversibility of the reform process in Turkey and, in particular, its implementation with regard to fundamental freedoms, will need to be confirmed over a longer period of time. It suggests a detailed strategy for the pursuit of negotiations, which would reinforce and support the reform process. The Commission makes it clear that accession negotiations with Turkey would, by their very nature, be part of an open ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand.

The Government has welcomed the remarkable progress which Turkey has made in recent years in the adoption of wide ranging constitutional and administrative reforms. The Turkish Government has welcomed the Commission's report and recommendation. I expect that it will maintain its efforts over the coming weeks in order to ensure that the conditions are in place for a positive decision by the European Council in December, leading to the opening of accession negotiations.

The question of Turkey's accession has been the subject of political debate in all member states, including France. I have noted the statement by Foreign Minister Barnier on 27 September that, in his personal opinion, a decision should be taken by referendum in France. President Chirac stated on 1 October that a referendum would only be held when accession negotiations had been completed, which he expected to take up to 15 years. As with previous enlargements, if Turkey were to conclude accession negotiations, the terms and conditions under which it would join the Union would be set out in an accession treaty, which would require ratification by Turkey and by each of the member states, in accordance with their national procedures.