The negative votes cast during the constitutional referenda in France and in the Netherlands constitute a major setback for the European integration process, but it is not an unmanageable crisis. The EU survived several setbacks in the past; it will also survive the present one. The European Council of 16-17 June postponed the deadline for the ratification of the EU Constitution that was scheduled initially for the end of 2006, thus allowing more time to the member countries to assess full implications of these developments.
After a reflection period whose duration is difficult to forecast at the present stage, the EU will continue to evolve, but this time in closer consultation with the voters. While the EU member countries will be busy to sort and iron out their problems, Turkey may utilize this period to put more order to its house.
There are several reasons behind the rejection of the Constitution in France and in the Netherlands, but the most important one seems to be the lack of knowledge of the public opinion on what they were invited to vote. Therefore it is only natural that the EU countries utilize the reflection period to ponder on how the public opinion of the member countries could be better informed on the merits of the Constitution.
Better information on the Constitution may not always be sufficient to dissipate all doubts entertained by the public opinion of the member countries. On the contrary, in certain cases, better knowledge of the subject may lead the citizens to adopt a more rejectionist attitude. In certain other cases, however, if the public opinion is better informed, this may contribute to the elimination of the reticence. Turkey’s accession falls in this latter category, because I believe that, the more the peoples of the EU countries get to know Turkey, the more their opposition to Turkey’s accession may soften. This does not mean that the public opinion of the 25 member States of the EU could easily be convinced to the contributions that Turkey’s accession may bring to the EU. Far from it.
Turkey’s accession has always been a gigantic task. The latest developments made this task all the more difficult. The reticence of the peoples in the EU countries regarding Turkey’s accession is not based on the lack of knowledge alone. It also stems from centuries old negative prejudices about Turkey.
It will not be an easy task to eliminate entirely such misperceptions in a short period of time, neither is it an impossible task. It looks as if the accession negotiations of Turkey will be a protracted process. Parallel to the accession negotiations, Turkey will have to put into action a comprehensive communication strategy. However we are not asking the EU to make a favour for Turkey. We expect the EU to assume its share of responsibility for better understanding the contribution that Turkey could make by joining the EU.
In the aftermath of the referenda and the EU Council decision, the most likely scenario seems to be that the EU will preserve the part of the acquis that is not controversial. Furthermore it will try to fill the gap created by the rejection of the Constitution with other types of legislative and administrative instruments that will be able to gather the consensus of the member countries. This means a less tightly organised EU and Turkey may secure more easily a place for itself in it.