Business and Enterprise Committee

27 June 2008 (PN 47)

Turkey should have real prospect of EU membership, MPs say

A report today from the Business and Enterprise Committee, Keeping the door wide open: Turkey and EU accession (HC 367-1) calls for EU accession talks with Turkey to continue in good faith. It warns that support in Turkey for the economic and political reforms necessary to meet the criteria for accession is being damaged by Turkish perceptions that some EU Member States are fundamentally opposed to Turkish membership.

The report notes the recovery of the Turkish economy since 2001 and its strong growth since. The Committee considers that Turkish accession to the EU offers economic and strategic benefits for both sides, and that EU accession would solve many of the current problems businesses are experiencing with the EU's Customs Union with Turkey.

The Committee acknowledges the difficulties and obstacles to accession, particularly in the light of the severe political and constitutional difficulties in the country so far this year. It also notes that Turkey's accession process has moved far slower than Croatia's, which opened at the same time. This is in part due to the need to reach agreement over Cyprus. Migration from Turkey will need to be carefully managed, at least initially, after accession. Nevertheless, the report points out that:

"the earliest accession can take place is 2014. Given time these problems can and should be dealt with, but both sides must demonstrate that the will is there."

The report says:

"Turkey began the EU accession negotiations in good faith. It is not prepared to, and should not be asked to, accept some form of 'privileged partnership'. Existing Member States should continue the talks on the same basis as they began. To do otherwise is unacceptable."

Chairman of the Committee, Peter Luff MP said:

"Given some EU leaders' rhetoric about Turkey we are not surprised that public enthusiasm for EU membership in Turkey has rapidly declined. President Sarkozy, in particular, has been seen an opponent of Turkish Membership of the EU. France is taking up the Presidency of the European Council; I hope its Presidency sees progress. This alone would go some way to allay Turkish concerns.

The Committee is concerned that the negative signals recently sent out by some EU member states will reduce the political will to negotiate. The report says:

"This would be a political disaster. Whatever its domestic challenges, Turkey has been pursuing reform. The current crisis, in which its Constitutional Court is considering the legitimacy of the ruling party, is at least taking place within the framework of law, although we recognise it may have extremely serious consequences. However, suspending or frustrating the accession negotiations will signal to a moderate, democratic, secular state that it can never be part of Europe. Whatever the reasons given for any suspension, the belief in Turkey would be likely to be that the country could not join purely because the majority of its population is Muslim. That is not a signal we believe should be given. The EU can afford neither the political nor the economic consequences of a decision by Turkey, however reluctant, to turn its back on Europe."

Peter Luff MP, said:

"This report is not about whether EU accession for Turkey is possible tomorrow, but about whether accession is possible in future. We believe it should be. Turkish accession offers mutual economic and strategic benefits. Turkey's economy is developing rapidly, and internal reforms are taking place. Of course there are problems. Only the most optimistic would believe that Turkey will not be affected by the current economic turmoil. The Constitutional Court is currently considering whether the ruling party should be closed down. Migration will obviously be an accession issue. Nonetheless, when we visited Turkey we were convinced of the country's commitment to accession, and to the reforms necessary to achieve it. The greatest danger we see is that Turkey may come to believe that the negotiations are not being conducted in good faith, and that accession will never be possible. We believe this would be a great loss to both sides. It must be made clear that, as long as Turkey meets the requirements of the acquis communautaire, the door to EU membership remains wide open."

Further Information:

Turkey joined the Council of Europe in 1949 and has been a member of NATO since 1952. It was a founding member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) in 1960. The political relationship between the EU and Turkey dates back at least as far as September 1963, when Turkey became the first country to sign an association agreement - the 'Ankara Agreement' - with the then European Economic Community (EEC). After its initial application for EU membership in 1987, negotiations were made conditional on Turkey meeting the economic 'Copenhagen criteria' that were laid down in 1993 and Turkey was not designated an official 'candidate country' until 1999. Formal talks did not begin until 3 October 2005, some 18 years after the original membership application.

Turkey's GDP was $663 billion in 2007, making it the 17th largest in the world and the 7th largest in Europe. Turkey's economy is well over half the size of all those that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 combined, and two-thirds bigger again than Poland's the largest economy in that group (which ranks 22nd globally). However, on a per capita basis Turkey's GDP ranks only 53rd , above only Mexico in the 30-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and slightly below Poland.

Committee membership is as follows:

Chairman: Peter Luff MP (Con) (Mid Worcestershire)
Mr Adrian Bailey (Lab) (West Bromwich West)
Roger Berry (Lab) (Kingswood)
Mr Brian Binley (Con) (Northampton South)
Mr Michael Clapham (Lab) (Barnsley West and Pen.)
Mr Lindsay Hoyle (Lab) (Chorley)
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Con) (Bromsgrove)
Anne Moffat (Lab) (East Lothian)
Mark Oaten (Lib Dem) (Winchester)
Mr Mike Weir (SNP) (Angus)
Mr Anthony Wright (Lab) (Great Yarmouth)

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