Despite the recent revival of optimism about the forthcoming Turkey negotiations following the apparent resolution of the ‘adultery ban’ issue, it is clear to everyone that significant hurdles still remain to be overcome. Among these may now need to be added a referendum on Turkish membership in France.
Turkey will not join the European Union for at least 15 years and could only do so once France had held a referendum on the issue, French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said on Sunday.
?The membership of Turkey, in the best of cases, will not happen for 15 years,? he told LCI television. ?A decision as important as the membership of Turkey in Europe could only be taken after there had been a referendum in France.?…….
He was sceptical about the idea ?not because it is a Muslim country but because Turkey alone represents the membership of the 10 countries (mainly) from eastern Europe?, he said, referring to the countries that joined the bloc this year.
Sarkozy made his comments after French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin voiced misgivings on Thursday about Turkey joining the bloc, asking if Europe really wanted ?the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?.
Raffarin said Turkey had made progress in adjusting its laws and institutions to EU standards under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, but queried the overwhelmingly Muslim but secular state?s ability to stay the course.
Source: Financial Times
Clearly everyone involved in the debate is aware of the problem of Turkey staying ‘on course’. Clearly also it is difficult for any democrat to object to the principle of ‘citizen consultation’ about important issues, still it is important to note the growing recourse to the referendum as the means of making such consultation (this process will probably reach a climax with next year’s votes on the proposed EU constitution). This would seem to be an additional hurdle for Turkey, given that such a procedure was not followed in the case of the recent round of accession.
The timing of any Turkish entry will, of course, be important, but 15 years does seem to be an incredibly long time in the context of a rapidly changing world. IMHO if we are really concerned about keeping Turkey ‘on course’, then we need to be able to maintain a carrot which is sufficiently attractive while at the same time waving a stick which implies a sufficiently high standard for change. Those who would justify resort to referendum also really need to be able to field arguments which go rather beyond the “river of Islam” approach.
Two further points. It is curious how the appeal to the magnitude of Turkey’s population seems to be playing an increasing role in the argument. Turkey’s relatively favourable demography (and especially when compared with the rather preoccupying demographic dynamics of many of the recent additions) would, I think, be one of the plus factors. Also, I think the potential of events in Iraq to knock Turkey ‘off course’ should be something which we all take very seriously indeed. Juan Cole had this link to a report from the Iraqui Turkmen Human Rights Research Foundation on informed comment over the weekend.