June 2, 2008
The French Parliament has voted down a constitutional amendment that would have abolished a national referendum on the EU accession of third countries whose population exceeds five percent of total EU population. Both Turkey and Ukraine will therefore have to pass the litmus test of a popular vote in France before being able to join the EU. Considering the present mood in France this is equivalent to a “No” vote, as far as Turkey is concerned.
This vote will be seen as another blow to Turkish aspirations for accession. Negotiations are advancing at snail’s pace, with not much fervour, let alone enthusiasm on either side.
In retaliation against the Turkish refusal to open its airports and ports to Cypriot shipping, the EU has suspended the negotiations on all chapters related to customs union two years ago. More recently, EU negotiators have complained about the slowing pace of reforms in Turkey, and the Turkish foreign minister has warned his EU counterparts of growing popular disenchantment with EU accession in Turkey.
The French government will, of course, pursue negotiations under its EU presidency after July 1st. Both sides are aware that a collapse of negotiations would not be in either side’s interest. Whatever the final outcome, Turkey has not much choice but to align on most of the EU regulatory standards. No EU neighbour with the exception of Norway is more closely interwoven with the EU. Links will further intensify with the construction of additional gas/oil pipelines across Turkey to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. The EU has a vital interest in a stable, democratic and buoyant Turkey.
Nobody expects Turkey’s membership before 2020. Much will happen until then. Turkey is most likely to assimilate even more closely with European society; and for the emerging EU security policy Turkey will become an important strategic partner.
Negotiators should quietly ignore the French vote and go on doing business as usual. Neither Turkey nor the EU need an additional “crisis”.Author : Eberhard Rhein