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Will the European Union (EU) Membership be settled down by a referendum?

Ankara is debating the meaning of President Erdoğan’s statement of conducting a referendum for the EU membership. There are proponents as well as opponents of Erdoğan’s statement in the debates.

Hilal Köylü

President Erdoğan has surprised everybody by giving the sign of holding a referendum on the EU membership, while Ankara is putting back the relationships with the EU on right track. Now Ankara, proceeding with the aim of enlarging the convergence policy that has begun with the Netherlands and Germany to other European countries, bears the question that “How would the referendum be?” in her mind. Alright then, why has Erdoğan given that sign, what is the meaning of referendum, how will Turkey proceeds on her way to the EU?


First minister of foreign relationships from the Justice and Development Party, Yaşar Yakış thinks that Erdoğan’s statements have a ‘logic error’. Specifying that Erdoğan is giving the message that “After the EU decides about Turkey’s membership, we will be able to ask our people”, Yakış says that the EU will not have an attitude such as “we are admitting your membership or not”.

Well, what had Erdoğan said? Erdoğan commented on the Turkey-EU relations at the TV show TRT World Forum just after his Germany visit. Remarking that he thinks EU ‘comes close to an end’, Erdoğan complained about the EU’s equivocation tactic towards Turkey. He rebuked the EU with the words: “It is 2018 and they still waste our time. Such a cruelty is impossible. If the EU insists in this way of reasoning, our part will be asking the opinion of 81 millions.”

Yaşar Yakış interpreted these statements of Erdoğan as “he is uttering his feelings”. According to Yaşar Yakış, Erdoğan’s statements are practically meaningless and he is only appealing to the feelings of the voters. Yakış says that: “Erdoğan’s starting point is wrong. The EU cannot declare to Turkey that she admits Turkey’s membership. She will not, and she cannot do that under the present circumstances” and emphasizes that in case of an EU non-admittance declaration, a referendum on the EU membership will be insignificant. Yakış predicts that behind the Erdoğan’s statements are the EU’s criticism on fundamental rights and liberties against Turkey and makes the assessment that “Turkey should settle down and think about to improve the fundamental rights and liberties. We all know that such challenges are inutile.”


There are also people who acknowledge that Erdoğan is right. Prof. Hüseyin Bağcı, from METU Department of International Relationships, acknowledges that Erdoğan is right, but he also asks: “Will he hold a referendum, will he dare that?” Bağcı draws attention to the ever-deepening visa problem in Ankara-Europe line to explain why he acknowledges that Erdoğan is right. Bağcı makes the objection that “If the EU wants to cooperate with Turkey, she should resolutely give visa to businessmen, students, academicians, artists, sporters, should not push about them. What is scaring the EU so much that she cannot provide Turkey with right of visa free travel?

According to Bağcı, who expresses that Erdoğan uses the referendum as “a trump at hand”, Erdoğan will continue to give strong messages unless the EU clarify her attitude towards Turkey. Bağcı utters that “The human rights thesis of Europe is no longer valid. If they want to cooperate with Turkey, some arrangements should be made. Turkish people have quite important concerns about the EU membership for a while.”

Bağcı completes his strong criticisms against the EU about the visa problem with the following statements: “Turkey is treated like North Korea. Our professors, businessmen and students are not able to go to Europe. Let Erdoğan hold a referendum and we will see the result. The EU is about to lose Turkey.”


According to Prof. Nail Alkan, from Gazi University, the Department of International Relationships, President Erdoğan, who has succeeded in ameliorating the relationships with the Netherlands and Germany, wants to revise the relationships with the EU. Expressing that the EU never gives Turkey the green light for membership and that the opposition to the EU is sharply increasing, Alkan states that “Turkish people are angry with the EU and Erdoğan makes use of this anger.” Thinking that the EU should clarify her Turkey policy, Alkan suggests that “If clarity is observed, first of all Turkish people will approach the EU more sympathetically. But the EU is ambiguous about Turkey. If an improvement in relationships is desired, the parties have to be clear.”

Alkan states that the referendum option for the EU membership will not be fruitful. Specifying that both sides know that whatever the result of a prospective referendum the EU-Turkey relations would improve, Alkan emphasizes that Erdoğan’s words are mostly concerning the interior politics. Alkan asserts that the EU should take those words serious and give warmer messages to Turkish people.


Turkey, which began to negotiate on full membership with the EU on October 3, 2005, now, at a time in which this process almost ceased, tries to improve her relations with the EU members. The European countries, which see the first periods of 16 year JDP reign as ‘reformist’ and motivate Turkey for membership on all possible occasions, complain about Turkey’s getting far away from the European values in recent years. Freedom of press and expression, rule of law, separation of powers and transparency are the leading issues for the EU’s criticisms about Turkey. Intensifying their criticisms to Turkey during the State of Emergency that was put into practice after the July 15th Coup Attempt, the EU countries shares with their counterparts in Ankara their questions and concerns about the issues such as how the Assembly function under the Presidential Government System, and whether the fundamental rights and liberties would be protected. The EU and Turkish diplomats, who remind that Turkey’s membership to the EU has a history of 60 years, says that “We should be hopeful about the resumption of the negotiation process, but we expect joint efforts from the politicians of both sides.”

Translation : Aydın Ördek

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