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ENLARGEMENT : TURKEY VENTS ANGER AT FRENCH PLAN FOR REFERENDUM.

Ankara has reacted with anger to the French lower house's approval of a constitutional amendment, which could block Turkey's eventual accession to the EU.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said, on 3 June, that it was "irked by efforts to enshrine such a discriminatory approach towards Turkey in the French constitution despite the fact that accession negotiations [between Turkey and the EU] have started with France's consent".

The statement came following the French National Assembly's adoption, on 31 May, of an amendment tabled by Jean-Luc Warsmann - a deputy from the right-wing UMP party - which requires France to hold a referendum to approve the EU accession of any country whose population surpasses 5% of the EU's population - currently about 500 million people.

Turkey, an EU hopeful with a population of 70 million, is expected to be affected by the new referendum clause. Ankara hopes the amendment will be rejected at the later stages of the legislation procedure. After the approval by the lower house, the bill will be brought in front of the French Senate and then the French Congress (body created when both houses of the present-day French Parliament - the National Assembly and the Senate - meet at the Chateau of Versailles to vote on revisions to the Constitution). The French Congress is expected to vote on the amendment in July.

In order to reach the three-fifths majority of the two merged bodies of the French legislature required for the amendment to be approved, the UMP needs to secure the backing of the Socialists, who oppose the proposal. The French Socialist Party (PS) believes that if adopted the new law would unnecessarily "stigmatise" Turkey. The PS's position is also shared by some UMP lawmakers, who along with the Socialists voted against the amendment (the proposal was adopted with 48 votes for and 21 against).

Currently, after the government scrapped in April this year the obligatory referendum on future EU enlargement, a parliamentary vote is sufficient in France to approve the accession of new countries.

A QUESTION MARK

The French efforts to stop Turkey's accession bid come just a few weeks ahead of the start of the French Presidency of the EU. As of 1 July, Paris will be in charge of steering Turkey towards accession. Against the backdrop of strong opposition from the French public opinion and lawmakers to Ankara's EU membership, Paris will have a difficult task to accomplish.

Since the start of accession talks with Turkey, on 3 October 2005, only six chapters have been opened for negotiation. One of them was provisionally closed in 2006. Since then, the EU and Turkey have not managed to finalise talks in any other chapter. Paris promises to continue negotiations, but only in those areas which are not directly related to Turkey's full membership of the EU. Two or three chapters can be opened for talks with Ankara in the second half of the year, according to French officials.

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Publication:European Report
Date:Jun 6, 2008
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