by Nicholas Karides, Director, ampersand communications ltd


Everybody knew that Turkey’s candidacy would divide the European Union. But nobody had thought

it would destabilize the Union’s integration process well before it actually joined the group. It is

happening already, as early as six months before Turkey begins accession negotiations.


France, a founding member and the soul of European integration in the last 55 years, appears ready

to shoot down the EU Constitutional Treaty as its voters perceive a Yes vote as the herald of

Turkey's eventual membership of the Union.


Polls indicate that French voters appear inclined to say No on May 29 because they believe that in

December last year Jacques Chirac and his 24 European Council partners, made a fatal mistake by

opening the door to Turkey’s membership.  They are not alone in considering Turkey’s entry as

undermining the EU’s future.


The truth is that Turkey’s membership process and the coming into force of the Constitutional

Treaty are not connected. But in the more complicated context of a Europe gripped by growing

anti-Islamic sentiment and locked in the midst of a difficult economic downturn, the two have

become inexorably linked. Add to that a thorny Directive on the liberalization of Services seized

upon by the usually pro-European political parties and France’s No looks alarmingly probable.


It is questionable whether the French will be able to rebuild the construction if they decide to

rock its foundations but, rather than allow an Islamic country and potentially the biggest Member

State dilute the Union, they are willing to take the risk. And let us be clear: These are not

anti-Europeans. Paralysis they may bring, but this is not a country that had at any stage

suffered from symptoms of euro-sclerosis.


The debate in France is the signal of a much deeper dilemma, wrapped in melancholy, as the

country seeks to reinvent itself in a Union of 25-plus and increasingly English-speaking Member



There was a time when EU officials spoke the mantra of ''deepening and widening'' going

hand-in-hand in Europe: the concept that with every prospective enlargement the Community

had to integrate further, by streamlining its decision making mechanisms and voting in more policy

harmonization. It appears a limit has been arrived at. Europe cannot sustain going deeper and

wider at the same time, certainly not at its previous pace. It has to choose between the two.

France is signaling that it wants the former, especially if the latter includes Turkey.


The French message for EU leaders is that they need to slow down the enlargement process.

They’ve got the internal market, they’ve got the euro and they’ve fulfilled their historical obligation

of embracing the countries of the recent enlargement. Turkey in fact was never part of that grand

project. They should now consolidate what they have achieved and focus on their flagging Lisbon

Strategy to make the Union the most competitive knowledge-based economy.


In doing so, they should also consider that things aren’t as bad as their self-perpetuating goals force

them to believe. The Union has achieved a great deal. Whether it has institutionalized a comprehensive

common foreign and security policy or whether there is a single telephone number for its foreign minister

are not crucial at this stage.


Europe has and is making a difference. If its stays compact and cohesive, it will continue to do so.

The US may continue to launch wars but it’s the EU that will always be required to establish the peace.

In the end, every nation in the periphery of Europe looks to the Union for solidarity and support (including

Turkey, not to mention the Ukraine).


The Constitution was meant to determine where the Union wanted to go. The difficulties of the

ratification process are proving necessary because they are helping define the path it needs to follow

to get there. And the French are saying that this path need not run through Turkey.


To reverse the trend, the French government could make its public opinion realize that their No vote

would result in an indigestible side-effect. It would in fact get Tony Blair off the hook and deny the

UK its own eagerly anticipated chance to say No which may force it to reconsider its own membership.


A French No would delay the EU train but it would not derail it. In contrast, a British No would not only

fail to hold the train back but it could unhook the British carriage.


In the end, Mr Chirac may still convince his electorate to say Yes to the Constitution, however

marginally. In an act of solidarity, the German Bundestag has deliberately set May 14 for its own

ratification of the Constitution to generate positive momentum for France.


Whatever the result, public sentiment can no longer be ignored. Of course the European Union will

march on because it has to, and because both Germany and France need it to. It is, however, obvious

that France, much earlier than other Member States, has begun to realize that its role in the Union and

the type of Union it envisages are best served with less Member States, not more.


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