Turkey cannot join EU 'at any cost'

Turkey still has a great deal of work to do before it will be eligible to join the European Union, MPs were told yesterday.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate, Chris Bryant said the government was strongly in favour of Turkey eventually joining the EU.

"It would be good to have a secular, Muslim country in the European Union and we do not believe that Europe should be a Christian club," he said.

But he warned Britain did not want Turkey to join the European Union "at any cost".

"There is a great deal of work it still has to do on human rights and a range of elements of its legal system to ensure that the Turkey that joins the European Union can be a proper member of it," he said.

Quoting a line from the musical Guys and Dolls, the Europe minister said it was not a case of "Marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow”.

He said: "That cannot be done with a country that is applying to join the European Union. We must be sure that the changes have been introduced before it joins."

The debate had focused on the rights of the Kurdish people in and around Turkey, and Bryant said their fair treatment was one of the "key issues" that had to resolved.

He expressed concerns that the Turkish constitutional court recently closed the DTP, the Kurdish nationalist party.

"We support the tackling of the terrorist threat posed by the PKK." He said.

"However, it must be possible to distinguish between nationalism that depends on the use of violence and terrorism and believes in violent overthrow and the legitimate political aspirations of individuals who want to see a different political outlook".

Andrew Pelling (Ind, Croydon Central) said Turkey should be encouraged to take a "very positive" view of tolerance towards Kurish rights.

"The EU should say that a condition of EU membership for Turkey must be the proper economic development of south-east Anatolia, so that the inequalities that exist there are dealt with," he said.

And the independent MP, who introduced the debate, said that Kurish rights had to be protected in other Middle Eastern countries.

He warned of arbitrary arrest and judicial killing in Iran, and arbitrary detention and torture in Syria.

Meg Munn (Lab, Sheffield Heeley) said that Britain was overlooking the Kurdish region of Iraq, "the most secure and successful region" of the country.

Munn, who has just returned from a trip to the region, warned that this was undermining the whole country's renewal and hindering British commercial and political objectives.

"Politicians and businesspeople whom I met were mystified and disappointed by the British government's behaviour since liberation," she told MPs.

"The British government's failure to update their understanding of the security situation in the region has damaged British interests."

The former Foreign Office minister said that the Kurds appreciated the "quality and expertise" of British companies and institutions and wished to be a political and security ally.

Bryant said he did not want to see business opportunities in Kurdistan "hoovered up" by the Germans or French.

And said there was a "clear UK interest" in the region because the government wanted peace and stability in Iraq.

"The contribution many young men and women in our armed forces made in Iraq was important to this country's stability and security,” he said.

"We want to ensure that we do not have to go back to Iraq. Ensuring that there is stability and long-term economic prosperity in the Kurdish region of Iraq is therefore vital."

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