16 October 2004
Interview with Tony Blair in Bild-Zeitung, 14 October 2004
Is Turkey's place in the European Union?
Absolutely. A stable, democratic Turkey, in the EU, is crucial for regional stability and security, and would be a huge benefit for Europe. We are partners in a shared agenda tackling drugs, organised crime and terrorism. There is no contradiction between Islam, democracy and prosperity. We should remember that we recognised Turkey as a potential EU member in 1963 and subsequently committed to starting negotiations once certain reforms were in place. The European Commission has now judged that Turkey has met the required standard and negotiations should open.
After the EU summit in December will Great Britain vote for the start of negotiations that would mean that Turkey joins the EU in future?
Could those negotiations still fail or is Turkey's fate as a future EU member already sealed?
No negotiation has a fixed outcome. Every candidate has to meet the same tough standards to join the EU. But I am confident that Turkey will press ahead with its impressive reform agenda in order to meet those standards.
The party leader of CDU, Angela Merkel, is strictly against a full membership of Turkey. What would you tell the German Conservatives?
That I agree with Chancellor Schroeder when he argues that Turkish accession is in Germany's interests. As the Chancellor has said: 'As Europe's biggest economy and Turkey's largest trading partner, Germany stands to profit from Turkish accession.'
When, do you suppose, will Turkey be ready (acceptable) to join?
That depends on Turkey. But realistically it will take at least 10 years for Turkey to reach the standards necessary to join.
France is considering a referendum over Turkey's EU membership. Could you comment on this, please?
It's up to France to decide. Referenda are a matter for individual member states.
Should Turkey join so long as there is still torture and other infringements of human rights?
Turkey can only join the EU if it meets all the necessary standards. That includes the protection of human rights. Turkey is not seeking, and will not be offered, any special treatment. Sweeping changes have been made by this Turkish government: entrenching democracy, encouraging respect for human rights and creating stability to deliver prosperity. With regard to torture specifically, the Turkish Government has a policy of zero tolerance.
Of course, Turkey will need to continue to progress but preparations for EU membership will maintain the momentum for reform. No one understands this better than human rights campaigners in Turkey. That's why they support EU membership so strongly.
Do you believe that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is serious about reforms or is he too strong an Islamic leader?
I have talked to Prime Minister Erdogan about his reform programme and his vision for Turkey. I have no doubt he is serious about reform. He has shown enormous political courage in stepping up the pace of change in Turkey. I am certain that EU leaders recognise Turkey's efforts and will support the opening of negotiations. And, as I said earlier, I see no contradiction between Islam, democracy and prosperity.
Can the EU cope with a new member Turkey?
Yes. Every time the EU has accepted new members, sceptics have predicted disaster. But they have been proved wrong. Remember Spain? We were told before Spanish accession that Europe would be swamped by Spanish migrant workers. What happened? Exactly the opposite: Spanish workers in other EU member states went home as EU membership spread prosperity and jobs in Spain.
How do you think Turkey as a new member will shape Europe?
The Turkey that joins the EU will not be the Turkey of today (nor will the EU be the same). For its part, Turkey will be more prosperous. A European Union with Turkey will be bigger, more diverse and more vibrant. It will be better placed to compete in the world and tackle the challenge of terrorism. And Germany, with its close commercial and cultural ties to Turkey, stands to benefit as much as any other EU State.