Referendum Surprise for Turkey

10.01.2004 Friday

After the approval of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) in the parliament
put Turkey-European Union (EU) relations back on track, the French
referendum demand inflamed the discussions about Turkey in Europe.

First Nicolas Sarkozy, who is expected to lead the ruling Union for a
Popular Movement (UMP) party come November, and now French President
Jacques Chirac, who strongly supported Turkey so far, entertains the
idea of holding a referendum on Turkey.

Political parties other than Radical Left and the Greens, both of
which have no impact on political life in France, view Turkey's
membership either negatively or as conditional.

Gathering the rightist parties under one umbrella, UMP defended from
the beginning that Turkey has no place in Europe. Meanwhile, the main
opposition Social Democrat Party wanted Turkey to recognize the
So-Called Armenian Genocide as a prerequisite to starting
discussions. Despite his party's negative attitude, Chirac, who sends
warm messages to Turkey, announced that he would make his decision
according to the results of the Progress report. In addition, polls in
France indicate that more than half of the French do not want Turkey
in the EU.

Political parties did not hold back from using Turkey as a political
tool in recent local and European elections. After it became
increasingly obvious that the progress report will most likely be
positive, the referendum issue was thrown into the mix. It has reached
a point that the rightist parties seem likely to turn the EU
Constitution referendum, which is planned for 2005, into a "yes" or
"no" referendum on Turkey.

French Parliament EU Delegation Vice President Christian Philip
comments that the end of this process amounts to the "EU running into
a brick wall." Phillip, in order to emphasize the importance of
France's attitude, reminded that Charles de Gaulle vetoed Great
Britain. The EU parliamentarian suggests that other countries are
likely to take the issue to referendum as well.

Meanwhile, this is not the first time that a referendum has been
required for a candidate country's EU membership. In 1972, then
President Georges Pompidou had sent the British membership, which De
Gaulle had vetoed twice, to referendum. Only 68 percent of the public
said "yes".

The referendum demand in France could be interpreted as the first
concrete confrontation between a Europe that has so far regarded
Turkey's accession to EU as "distant" and a Turkey that sees Europe as
a reality.