Home / Europe 2020 / December 17th 2004: the day the European Council lost the EU people’s confidence?

December 17th 2004: the day the European Council lost the EU people’s confidence?

by Franck Biancheri


All around the EU, and in particular in countries where referenda on the EU Constitution will take place, the question of possible Turkey’s accession to the EU has become, by far, the prominent topic of people’s discussions when it comes to EU’s future. And, if one agrees to ignore the surveys and polls paid either directly by Turkish money, or by pro-Turkish lobbyists, the simple fact is that a very large majority of European citizens (from 60% to 90% depending on the country) are opposed to it. Leaders could estimate that it does not matter and that the fact of being a leader requires sometimes to go beyond, or against people’s will. That is sometimes true but always a tricky issue in democracy. Good leaders rather tend to be able to explain their decisions and to convince in the end their people that they made the right choice. When we look at the Turkish question, it essentially looks like the contrary process: the more people are aware of what our leaders want to do (give a greenlight on December 17th to accession’s negotiations with Turkey), the more they are against. We can indeed draw a direct connection between the level of information on this question and the level of worries or refusal of Turkish membership in the future.

The case of Turkey’s accession seems to fasten the process of disconnection between European citizens and their leaders. Such a trend could be treated as a not very threatening issue if three big dangers were not directly tied to it:

1. Turkey is becoming the major factor which will play against the ratification of the EU constitution in all countries (but UK) where referenda will be hold. Emphasis has been put a lot recently on the opposition coming from people critical of a lack of social content of the Constitution project and has therefore put in the shadow the truly growing threat that the “Turkish case” does represent. Indeed the question of Turkey is affecting voters from the entire political spectrum in each country (and not only the “left” as for social questions); and worst than that it is directly echoing the very growing political trend of the past 2 decades, the increasing scores of xenophobic, racist, rightist extremist or populist movements. The combination of these two factors can be devastating. And it leads me to the second danger.

2. By the end of this decade, one of the biggest political risks faced by the EU is not a “collapse” or a “deconstruction”, but a democratic risk : that being increasingly dominated by political forces sharing anti-democratic and very little democratic agendas, organized on a trans-European basis. Europe 2020 developed this scenario, known as “2009: when the grand-sons of Hitler, Petain, Mussolini and Franco will take over the EU” in 1998; and the past years have made nothing but convince a growing number of analysts that the possibility is definitely there now of such an outcome. Opening the door to an accession of Turkey to the EU will speed up the process leading to this very dangerous future as it will strengthen the trends which may define a ‘national-europeism’ that those forces will be using to make electoral scores, an ideology opposing the ‘Europeans’ to the others whether they have other religions, colors of skin, .. . ‘Hell is full of good intentions’: surprisingly enough to those who advocate the fact that taking Turkey in will demonstrate the ability of the EU to be a ‘trans-civilization bridge’, such a move will indeed push the EU within the arms of its most xenophobic political forces, looking at the ‘outside’ as a place full of ‘enemies’ and ‘dangers’ (such a trend is already affecting the USA) which connects directly to the third danger.

3. By generating ‘hopes’ that will not be fulfilled, the European Council on December 17th will create the basis for bitter and long lasting tensions between the people of EU and Turkey. By not daring to act as leaders whose role is to create the future so that it is a sustainable way, they will leave our people, on both sides of the EU/Turkey border, in charge of solving it and it will be done brutally, with no diplomatic skills, no attention paid for the other side. Today, our leaders have the possibility to clearly send a double signal to Turkey “Yes you are a great country” and Yes we want to build a very special partnership with you”, but “No your request of joining the EU has not a single chance to become real at least for the next two decades. Therefore let’s build something new together”. If the message is not this one, then what will happen is very simple: before the end of this decade, there will not be one single ‘pro-Turkey membership’ elected leader left in the EU. Voters tend to be smart. If they cannot act directly (which is the case on EU affairs), then they will do it indirectly. Turkey will become (in fact has already started to become) an internal national electoral issue. Voters will start integrating the fact that a candidate is in favor or against Turkey’s membership to cast their national vote. And in each national party, there will be enough ‘anti-Turkey’s accession’ leaders to provide a sufficient choice.

Summarizing bluntly the situation, to give people of the European Union and of Turkey a signal that Turkey may be member of the EU in the coming two decades would a dramatic political mistake for the EU as well as for Turkey. First because it will be a lie (whatever political scenario is adopted there is no way a majority of EU citizens will accept such a membership in the next 20 years; all trends are going in the opposite direction); second because it would prevent the EU to push EU-Turkey relations into the only available constructive option for decades to come: to integrate Turkey within the new EU Neighbourhood policy.

So, our leaders’ main preoccupation on December 17th should be to keep open this option for the short term future (in 4/5 years it will obviously become THE only possible way to move forward for EU/turkey relations) [1] because they have to deal with a huge backlog of lies from our side (essentially the last 40 years of EU leaders and institutions declarations); and because at this stage, Turkish leadership and elites have still not yet understood what the EU really is.

For having done many conferences in Turkey in the past twelve years, I have noticed that essentially the Turkish positions have not changed a bit, while in the meantime the EU has drastically changed. For instance, they keep on believing that there will be genuine ‘negotiations’ between them and the EU for the accession; while everybody in the EU knows that there will be nothing close to that: Turkey will have to adopt the ‘acquis communautaire’ and will be obliged to comply ‘in practice’ (not just in theory) with all EU legal, political, social constraints. Full stop. So rather than playing the negative process [2] such as ‘let’s the Turks discover the ‘hard way’ that they do not want to get in the EU because they are not ready to change up to the extent the EU will require’, our leaders should really make clear from the conditions before negotiations even start that the path will be extremely tough. For instance, in no ways should it be allowed for Turkey to even think starting negotiations without having beforehand recognized Cyprus (one of the current 25 EU members); neither without having ‘cleaned’ his own past and recognized the Armenian genocide. Beyond Turkey, our leaders must also know that the lack of such pre-conditions will just increase EU voters’ feeling that they should oppose our leaders’ vision of Europe’s future. Such a feeling will drastically increase the abstention and No votes in the referenda on the EU constitution.

Speaking of referenda, our leaders will also be wise to acknowledge the fact that most probably a large number of EU Member states would in the end generate referenda on any possible Turkish membership [3]; most probably under public opinion pressure, and with support of the political forces opposed to the accession of Turkey (both will largely dominate the EU political scene of the coming years).

To conclude, if the Council is not able to decide in a way that answers Turkish leaders’ call for recognition as being a full partner (and the possibility to be a partner is part of that request; much more than the candid will to become a true member of the EU) while clearly indicating the minimum pre-negotiations necessary steps (Cyprus, Armenian genocide) and indicating the way for the alternative of relation anchored within EU neighbourhood policy, then the Council will lose its credibility as embodying the EU’s general interest.

The Commission already lost it on October 6th; the Parliament never had it. For the sake of EU’s future Constitution, let’s hope that our national leaders will be aware that their collective ability to resist Ankara’s pressure will definitely determine EU’s political future.

Not because Turkey will join or not. It will not. But because the xenophobic, populist and extremist political forces will find new strengths if our leaders are not up to the challenge; and in the process will help defeat the Constitution project.


[1] The fact that the European Parliament’s Commission on Foreign affairs just recommended the contrary is another proof that this is the only correct choice. The Parliament is run by a coalition of parties (PSE and EPP) which together did not even represent 30% of European voters (as from EU elections of June 2004) and where decisions are not made following voters expectations but through lobbying and internal compromises. At least it cannot loose public credibility, because it never got it.

[2] I suspect that a large number of our current political leaders and Eurocrats are betting that Turkey will be obliged to stop on its way to accession because of the impossible challenge it will represent to its structure and culture.

[3] France is far from being the only country which will go this way. As soon as France will officially go for it, it is certain that many other countries will find entitled to do so.

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