Turkey's President Erdogan mulls referendum on EU accession

By bne IntelliNews June 23, 2016

In a further sign of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s growing disappointment with the European Union, the country’s most powerful man said on June 22 that the 78mn nation may go to a referendum to decide whether to continue accession talks with the block.

Ankara and Brussels have been at loggerheads over the implementation of a key migrant deal with the Turkey’s anti-terror laws being the sticking point. The block is asking Ankara to change its laws to grant Turks visa-free travel to the Schengen area, part of the migrant agreement, but Erdogan and his government have so far refused to do so, citing security threats the country faces from the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) and Islamic State.

Erdogan, who has repeatedly threatened to abandon the migrant accord, this time said negotiations with EU could be put to a referendum. “Turks are not eager for visa travel, but it is you (referring to the EU) who is after Turkey, because you fear about what would happen if Syrian refugees arrive at your borders”, he said. Turkey hosts nearly 3mn refugees from Syria. Reportedly, at a summit with EU leaders last November Erdogan threatened to flood Europe with refugees if Turkey’s demands were not met.

“You are not keeping your promises. You don’t want to admit Turkey to the EU because the majority of our population is Muslim”, Erdogan said.

Apparently, Erdogan’s remarks were a response to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who reportedly said in an interview with a German daily on June 22, that if Turkey’s president seriously tries to break the agreement, then it will be his job to tell the Turks why they cannot not enjoy visa-free travel to Europe. “We can easily explain all this to our people if they continue to press hard on the issues such as the anti-terror law”, Erdogan responded.

However, recent polls have shown that public support for Turkey’s EU membership increased this year even though the majority of the population do not think the block will accept Turkey’s accession. A survey, carried out by the Economic Development Foundation (IKV) in April found that support for EU membership increased to 75.5% from 61.8% last year. According to another survey by Istanbul-based Kadir Has University, support for the membership jumped to 61.8% this year from 42.4% in 2015. But both surveys also found that most of Turks do not believe Turkey would ever be admitted to the EU. As many as 73% of the surveyed by IKV said the block will never accept Turkey, while according to Kadir Has University's poll, 66.7% think Turkey will never become a member, up from 47.6% last year.

On a final note, EU diplomatic sources told AFP that EU member states will meet June 30 to agree to open a new negotiating chapter with Turkey on finance and budget affairs. The decision is procedural and followed up a pledge made by European Union leaders in March to open another accession chapter with Turkey, one source said.

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