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EU: Will 'No' Votes Undermine Accession Hopes In Would-Be Member States?

  • Charles Recknagel --> EU headquarters in Brussels The resounding Dutch 'no' to the EU constitution (1 June), close on the heels of French rejection (29 May), poses a challenge to not only the European Union. It also presents the governments of some would-be member states with problems. Can countries like Croatia, Turkey, and Ukraine still convince their publics and opposition groups to back EU reforms in hopes of eventually joining the bloc? Or will new doubts about Brussels' ability to realize its goals begin to undermine the transition process of potential future member states?

Prague, 2 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The governments of most would-be future EU members are putting on a brave face following this week's votes in France and the Netherlands.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic reassured his countrymen after the 29 May French vote this way: "Our goal must remain the same -- full membership in the EU. The work continues. Croatia is on its way to Europe, and Croatia is moving forward. A united Europe has no alternative. Just as there is no alternative to our place in a united Europe."
"Slowing down the EU's integration process could have some positive consequences for Ukraine."

But if governments in the Balkans and elsewhere -- including Turkey and Ukraine -- are saying their accession prospects are not affected by the plebiscites in the EU, the media in those countries are less sanguine.

Patrick Moore, RFE/RL regional analyst for the Balkans, said that commentators there are nervous: "The overwhelming reaction in the press is nervous, [because] in virtually all places -- with the exception of the far right in Croatia, which is marginal, and the far right in Serbia, which is perhaps less marginal but not the majority -- there is a
universal consensus that EU membership is the only way to go."

The nervousness comes in part from uncertainty over what motivated French and Dutch voters to reject the EU

Moore says that there is a danger that the 'no' votes will now weaken the credibility of EU representatives pressing would-be member states to rapidly adopt reforms paving the way to possibly joining the bloc.

In the Balkans, those demands include arresting indicted war
criminals who may be seen at home as nationalist heroes -- such
as General Ante Gotovina of Croatia, a country that would like
to join the EU sometime between 2007 and 2009.

"These [EU representatives] won't be seen as quite so credible
anymore, and so I suspect that calls for arresting war
criminals are going to met with a little bit more of just lip
service than before," Moore said. "This is
obviously going to be a vicious circle. If the Croats take the
calls to arrest Gotovina less seriously, then there is less
chance he is going to be arrested and then Croatia has to wait
all the longer in line."

In Turkey, the French and Dutch 'no' votes have also seen the
government minimizing the importance of the results.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told Turkish media after the
French 'no' vote that "the start of negotiations is in our
hands...what would prevent Turkey from starting the
negotiations is doing things contrary to EU standards, or not
fulfilling the things it has promised to do."

But the votes have created considerable controversy in the
Turkish media.

Seyfi Tashan, director of the Foreign Policy Institute at
Bilkent University in Ankara, says secularists blame Turkey's
Islamic-led government for doing too little to convince EU
citizens that Turkey belongs in the bloc:

"[In] the secular movement, there is a tendency to [put the]
blame on the Islamic appearance of the government. On the other
hand, the government sector is not so worried and their media
say that this vote is not so important at the moment -- that
the decisions have already been taken to start negotiations
with Turkey and God knows what will happen in another decade or
so, what sort of Europe there will be, and European public
opinion may change."

Turkey is due to start entry talks on 3 October but is not
expected to join the European Union before 2015 at the

Tashan says that any hesitation in the EU over expansion could
embolden opponents in Turkey to try to stall EU-demanded
reforms. But he says the Turkish public is broadly supportive
of eventual EU membership and that it favors the reform

In Ukraine -- which hopes to become a future candidate for
accession talks -- government officials have expressed regret
over the results of the French and Dutch votes.

But some analysts say they see some positive signs in the

Volodymyr Horbach of the Kyiv-based Institute of Euro-Atlantic
Cooperation, says the "no" votes might even help Ukraine's
eventual candidacy: "Slowing down the EU's integration process could have some
positive consequences for Ukraine. Ukraine might fulfill more
quickly the standards and requirements demanded of new members
in the current situation in the European Union, rather than
when it becomes a more integrated body."

Horbach also says he has no doubts the Ukrainian opposition
will use the negative French and Dutch votes to criticize the
government of pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko.

But he says many business leaders in the opposition themselves
favor closer ties with the EU, for economic reasons.

(NCA correspondent Valentinas Mite contributed to this report.)