Does the Irish ‘No’ affect the accession process?

Center for European Studies / Middle East Technical University

The Irish ‘No’ for the Lisbon Treaty has not created a widespread debate across the Turkish government, opposition, political parties, civil society organisations, press/media and public opinion in light of the weight of the domestic political agenda of the country, which remains almost exclusively focused on the closure of the case against the governing AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – Justice and Development Party), and the “Ergenekon” investigation on plots to overthrow the current AKP government.
 
The major point within the limited discussions on the referendum results concerns an emphasis on the indifference of the Turkish public to the Irish ‘No’ vote, which is found to be puzzling by the media, as the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty at the EU level is to have clear repercussions for the EU accession process of Turkey. It is no surprise that the results of the referendum are discussed mainly in relation to EU enlargement and Turkish accession process, as the main axis of the debate on the EU in Turkey is shaped around the relations between the EU and Turkey, rather than the EU’s internal structure, institutions and dynamics. In this respect, there are two distinguishable points of view on the implications of the result of the referendum in Ireland across the Turkish media.
 
Negative perspective
 
The ‘negative’ view emphasises that the Irish rejection of the treaty has a significant potential to adversely affect the direction of enlargement negotiations. The statement made by the Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Jo Leinen, right after the announcement of the ‘No’ result, that ‘No’ to Lisbon means no to enlargement” attracted significant attention across the Turkish media and public. This implies that the rejection will certainly slow down the enlargement process as the EU has to solve its internal problems and structural reform process in order to concentrate on adding new members. Another figure whose statements were largely reflected in the media was the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, who emphasised that no further enlargement, with the exception of Croatia, would take place if the Lisbon Treaty does not come into force. Significant media coverage of the internal discussions amongst the European heads of state and German Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) following the ‘No’ result accordingly, confirmed the suspicions of this ‘negative’ camp. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s suggestion to stop the enlargement process in the light of the ‘No’ vote to reforms, which was carried a step further by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik who underlined the exceptional position of Croatia, as well as the call of the CDU/CSU to stop the negotiation process with Turkey, were extensively reported across the Turkish media. The current result, therefore, is widely conceived by the Turkish public as for the benefit of eurosceptics in both the EU and Turkey, especially when coupled with the French EU-Presidency starting from 1 July onwards.
 
Positive perspective
 
A more positive outlook emphasises that the Irish ‘No’ vote creates a fruitful ground for Turkey, as it will lead to a stalemate at the EU level, which would result in a looser integration. This is considered to be to Turkey’s advantage. In this respect, a common point highlighted by the Turkish public is that the Irish rejection of the treaty will drag the EU into a new political crisis, which might increase the number of blocs and divisions in the EU, such as those between the supporters of widening versus deepening, the Union for the Mediterranean versus the Eastern Union, and centralists versus decentralists. Accordingly, these divisions point to the EU’s increasing distance from being a political union; but when the opportunities for Turkey created by these divisions are more carefully considered, the picture that emerges is rather positive. In this heterogeneous structure, if Turkey acts together with the right partners across different fields, it can determine its own negotiation process with the right economic and political partnerships.[1]
 
On the other hand, a rather more informed section of the society, including academic and business circles, conceives the Lisbon Treaty as a way to strengthen the EU. An EU, which solved its institutional problems, is believed to continue successfully the enlargement process and would focus its attention on Turkey. Additionally, it is believed that the Lisbon Treaty would facilitate the decision-making processes in  the EU, which faces significant problems in this respect with its 27 individual member states, and would thus pave the way for the integration of new countries. Another point highlighted in this regard is the double majority system to be established with the Lisbon treaty, which would endow Turkey with significant power, with its large population exceeding 70 million, if the country successfully completes its accession process.[2] According to this group, therefore, the Irish rejection of the Treaty is disappointing and the EU should find a way to proceed with its reform process.




[1] See for example the website www.globalstrateji.org (last access: 26 June 2008).

[2] See the website www.abhaber.com (last access: 13 June 2008).