Thursday, 23 February 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
9. Mr. Hilliard asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the agreement in principle that has been reached between the EU and Turkey on a Customs Union; and the effect, if any, this will have on Ireland. [4090/95]
Mr. Spring: Work on the preparation of the Customs Union with Turkey has been continuing since the decision taken  by Ministers at the EEC-Turkey Association Council in Brussels in November 1993 to achieve effective completion of the Customs Union in accordance with the timetable and procedures laid down in the EU-Turkey Association Agreement and the Additional Protocol.
The negotiations on the Customs Union are not yet completed. It is hoped however, that all the remaining political and technical issues can be resolved in time to allow for agreement on the Customs Union at the next meeting of the Association Council at ministerial level which is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 6 March. If agreement can be reached in March, it is expected that the Customs Union with Turkey will come into effect on 31 December 1995 following ratification by all the parties.
Ireland supports the negotiations on a Customs Union with Turkey and we are hopeful that these can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion in the near future. Total trade between Ireland and Turkey is small. However, our trade with Turkey has been growing steadily in recent years and the balance is now in our favour. The abolition of customs duties and other trade restrictions in the context of Customs Union should have a positive impact on the further development of Irish exports to Turkey.
Mr. R. Burke: I welcome the latter point. I believe the Customs Union will have a beneficial effect in terms of our trade with Turkey. The President of the Commission made a statement on the importance of human rights issues in dealing with countries outside the Union. Will the Customs Union be affected by the principle of countries having a proper human rights record?
Mr. Spring: Ireland, with most of its European Union partners, has been conscious of the desirability of encouraging greater involvement by Turkey in European affairs to strengthen the position of those elements in that country which are striving for the application of  European standards in regard to human rights and democracy. A closer relationship with Turkey, which the Customs Union would bring, will strengthen the European Union's capacity to exercise a positive influence on that country in regard to human rights issues. The Presidency statement at the Association Council, which will conclude the Customs Union negotiations, will stress the need for Turkey to make concrete progress in this area. Human rights issues will remain an important element in European Union-Turkey relations.
Mr. R. Burke: I am glad the Presidency statement will stress the need for Turkey to make progress in this area. Is it intended to provide for some form of monitoring of the improvements in Turkey's record on human rights issues?
Mr. Spring: I am not aware of any proposals on monitoring. As the Deputy is aware, frequent meetings take place, and further meetings will take place after the Customs Union agreement has been accepted. As I said in reply to Deputy O'Malley, Turkey is a very important country in terms of European relations.
Mr. Spring: We are all familiar with its problems, which obviously we hope it can overcome. Our stronger relations with Turkey will help its Government and people to deal with their internal difficulties.
Mr. E. Byrne: Does Greece still have power to veto the Customs Union agreement? Will the Minister elaborate on whether support for the Union is influenced in any way by the fear in the West of the growth of the Islamic movement to the east of Turkey?
Mr. Spring: All member states, including Greece, have subscribed to  the development of relations with Turkey, as set out in the Conclusions of successive European Councils, including the most recent one at Essen which called for the completion of the negotiations with Turkey on the Customs Union. Greece has particular sensitivities about the Turkish attitude to the Cyprus issue, Greek-Turkish relations and human rights in Turkey. Recent attempts to find a solution to these problems demonstrate the willingness of other member states to take account of these concerns. There is no question of the sensitivities of one partner being cast aside in this exercise, and the decision on the Customs Union with Turkey will be on the basis of consensus.I hope progress can be made at the meeting on 6 March.
In recent years much has been written about the broader question of the relationship between Islam and the western world, about which we have to be concerned. If we want global peace then we have to ensure reconciliation between Islam and the western world; otherwise the conflict will grow. There are threats in various locations, and the European Union has serious concerns about the Mediterranean region and some countries in the Middle East. As I said, this is an issue about which we have to be concerned.
Mr. J. Mitchell: While I agree with his assessment of the strategic importance of Turkey and the complexity of the problems facing the Turkish Government, is the Minister aware that the Socialist Group in the Council of Europe has proposed the suspension of Turkey from the Council because of its breaches of human rights, which includes a breach of the rights not only of the Kurdish people but also of certain members of Parliament? What steps will the European Union take to ensure that the Turkish Government will deal with these issues in a more acceptable manner?
Mr. Spring: I am aware of the move within the European Council to which  the Deputy referred. As a very experienced politician, the Deputy will appreciate that we are talking about a very complex problem within the Turkish region. These breaches of human rights are raised at meetings between the European Union representatives and the Turkish Government. I have had discussions with visiting Turkish Ministers who are well aware of the European Union view on human rights in their country. Our stronger relations with Turkey will assist the Turkish Government in dealing with the very difficult problems facing it, including those of human rights. It is in everybody's interest to strengthen those relations and I am hopeful progress can be made on the Customs Union in the very near future.
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