Turkey takes stock of EU 'no' vote

Turkey is optimistic about EU ascension despite recent 'no' votes on the constitution by members. But not everyone in the West wants the Muslim nation in…

Many of the EU’s prominent politicians were rocked by uncertainty, as the people of France and the Netherlands dealt a crushing blow against the constitution by voting no to the treaty.
The effects of the shock spread out towards Turkey, whose projected membership was high on the list of issues, which many say was the reason for rejection of the constitution.

Gebro Kilic, a businessman based in Istanbul, says the Turkish people are not reading the referendum results as a direct hit to Turkey.

“I think the vote reflects the call for reforms within the EU, and the need for the European politicians to take a serious look at the structure of things,” he said.

“I do not think Turkey is necessarily foremost on people’s minds in the West,” he added.

The Turkish government was quick to react to the news from Europe.

Foreign minister Abdullah Gul swiftly reassured the public the events in France would in no way affect Turkey’s negotiation talks, which are due to begin in October.

Ali Babacan, minister for the economy and Turkey’s newly appointed EU negotiator, reaffirmed Gul’s statement and said the referendum results were “to be expected.”

However, such optimism is not shared by all.

There are some who believe this is another episode in a long series of misfortunes that will eventually lead to the rejection of Turkey’s application.

This gloomy outlook arises from the opinion that Turkey still has a lot of ground to cover in order to fall in line with EU regulations, and that even at best, will not be able to become a member state for at least another 10 years.

“The prospect of joining the EU is just a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t occupy ordinary people too much here,” says Kilic.

“They are far more preoccupied with their day to day survival in the present moment.”

The news of the French and Dutch ‘no’ votes have bred insecurity among the Turks, but there appears to be more confusion and apprehension than anger.

“We are asking questions as to what happens next. People don’t have too strong an opinion,” added Kilic.

For Turkey, a lot will depend on the upcoming reshuffle of power in Europe.

The two countries that were decidedly for Turkey’s entry into the Union, Germany and France, are now facing crises of undermined authority.

One more positive point is Jaques Chirac’s appointment of Dominique de Villepin to replace the resigned Jean-Pierre Raffarin as prime minister; de Villepin is also known to be supportive of Turkey’s entry into the EU.

The vote has exposed a gaping weakness at the heart of the European Union, and could prove to be a most destabilising result.

This can only be a frustration to the Turkish government who has spent the last few months implementing reforms to various laws to fall in with EU standards.

Many of these changes will reap deep alterations within the country’s Kurdish communities, who stand to gain a great deal in terms of levelling human rights and restructuring the economy of the Kurdish areas.

Consequently, the Kurds also have a lot to loose if the process of negotiation begins to crumble.

Tahir Elci, a lawyer in Diyarbakir, and Vice President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, expressed some concern about the referendum results.

He said he was concerned that France and the Netherlands decision may have an adverse effect on Turkey, and subsequently for Kurdish issues.

What the actual upshots may be are still hard to discern, as there is much that remains to be resolved now at the level of Europe’s government.

However, Elci does believe that the Turkish administration is acting in good faith and genuinely wants to deliver a truly democratic system to the country.

“There have been many developments recently in key areas such as human rights, issues of impunity, and the use of the Kurdish language,” he said.

Some more extreme Turkish Euro-sceptics believe that the EU is simply using the Kurdish issue in order to manipulate Turkey into submission; a false fear, according to Elci.

“I think the European politicians are honest with us,” he says.

“A country that won’t allow a large part of its population to speak, study and broadcast in its own language cannot be allowed to be called part of Europe.”

“It could take 15 to 20 years for Turkey to join the EU,” he added.

“I believe this period will see profound changes in the government and State and also the community.”

One of the tasks ahead would be to alleviate the ‘false fears’ of Turkey’s EU opponents who believe that increased autonomy of the Kurdish region would invariably open a road to separatism.

“I have spoken with many European diplomats, none of whom have ideas for dividing our country,” said Elci.

At core, however, Elci is optimistic.

“Although we have a long way to go, we are more suited for EU membership than our neighbours in the Middle East, in that Turkey is already to some degree infused with European thinking,” he said.

France and Holland’s referenda have caused a stir, but soon enough the wave passes.

“People here are used to crises – they are initially shocked, but the very next day they go back to normal life,” remarked Kilic.