My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, on securing this debate and for her excellent speech.
I have always been fascinated by Turkish history and culture. I recently spoke and presented an award at an event to celebrate the achievements of the Turkish community in Britain. Last year, I visited Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where I met government Ministers and leaders in commerce. I know the Turkish ambassador to the United Kingdom and I found him to be an intelligent and articulate person. I also feel that the Turkish diaspora in the United Kingdom and the Turks in Turkey and Northern Cyprus are warm and friendly people.
The Turkish economy is the fastest growing in Europe and provides a wealth of opportunities for increased trade. As a businessman, I appreciate this. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that the UK will, by 2050, be overtaken by emerging economies in the international economic league table. The report goes on to estimate that the emerging group of seven countries, which includes the BRIC countries plus Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey, will by 2017 have a combined economy larger than that of the G7 nations.
The research also reveals that Turkey’s growth will surpass that of Russia by 2050. Turkey’s progress is not limited to its newly found economic prowess. The Turkish Government have embarked on a major internal reform programme, including measures in respect of freedom of expression and journalistic freedom. However, more needs to be done in this regard. I welcome the Turkish Government’s decision to create a parliamentary committee for women’s rights. I have spoken about this important issue on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House, and I therefore commend this development.
The Turkish Government has also gone to great lengths to improve and strengthen relationships with a number of countries, including Syria, Armenia, the Republic of Macedonia and Russia. Turkey’s cordial relations with Iran should not be underestimated in efforts to persuade Tehran to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme.
Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and Turkish soldiers are serving in Afghanistan. It is inevitable that the Turkish state should take its position as one of the world’s leaders. Geographically, it connects the Middle East, the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Balkans. Ceyhan, in southern Turkey, is a vital network for transporting oil and gas to Europe and the Middle East. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline is one of the largest investment projects in central Asia. The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline that links Turkey with Iraq is also a key source of oil transit. We in the United Kingdom and Europe need to have security of energy supply, and these arrangements are indeed vital.
I am pleased that for a considerable period the Government’s policy has been supportive of and sympathetic to Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union. I, too, am supportive of these goals. We should not forget that talks on this issue began as early as 1987, and more than 23 years later progress remains frustratingly slow. Turkish accession to the European Union would deliver real economic, cultural and security benefits to both Turkey and the wider European Union. I would welcome any comments from the Minister on plans to convey this message to our leading partners in the European Union. We should be aware of the internal dynamics. In 2004, nearly three-quarters of Turkey’s 73 million people were supporters of the bid to join the European Union. Today, that figure has fallen to around less than half. Turkey cannot be expected to be rebuffed constantly or to wrestle continuously with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
It is important not to avoid the issue of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots feel isolated and Turkey has a role to play in encouraging a settlement there. As I mentioned earlier, I have visited the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and feel that the problems need to be resolved. It was a missed opportunity that this was not done before Cyprus was admitted to the European Union. However, I understand that the discussions between the leaders involved in this long and unhappy conflict are making reasonable progress.
Turkey has been a good friend to the United Kingdom, and has been supportive of our multilateral efforts. She has stood by us and offered unequivocal support in our international engagements. Turkey is uniquely placed, and stands as the fulcrum between East and West, and between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle East. She is a democratic nation, willing and able to stand by her allies. I acknowledge that the Government have adopted a positive, credible and coherent approach in their dealings, statements and actions. Plainly, though, we need to say more about this to our colleagues and partners in Europe, including Germany and France.