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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2005, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
French cloud Turkey's EU dreams
The BBC's Jonny Dymond
By Jonny Dymond
BBC correspondent in Istanbul

Barely minutes after the French vote came in senior politicians in Turkey were thundering their way to the microphones to say how nothing had changed.

"This referendum has no direct link with Turkey," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters. "There is no obstacle for us to start the [EU] talks."

Mr Gul's message was echoed by Ali Babacan, the economy minister who last week was appointed Turkey's chief EU negotiator.

The referendum, he said, was "an outcome that was to be expected".

And Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has devoted so much time to Turkey's European cause, appeared unruffled when he addressed his party in parliament 36 hours after the French vote result.

"This result has nothing to do with Turkey's candidacy," he said. "We are determined, we will start negotiations, there's no doubt about that."

'No link' to French 'Non'

In one sense, of course, all three men are right. The French vote was on the new EU constitution, not Turkey's EU membership, which even the most Turkey-friendly commentators acknowledge is a good decade away.

Turkey's PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso
Despite the handshakes many in the EU worry about Turkey joining
Indeed, there was a specific effort by the French government to separate out the two issues of the constitution and Turkish membership; before Turkey joins the EU the French people will have a separate referendum specifically to ratify further enlargement.

So just as Turkish politicians formed an orderly queue so that they might denounce the very idea of linking the French vote and Turkish membership, so did EU officials and some EU governments.

But whatever the official line might be in Turkey, the reaction of analysts and commentators is decidedly more downbeat and, some might say, realistic.

Pessimism

Yalci Dogan in the bestselling Hurriyet newspaper wrote that Turkish officials were "deceiving themselves" with their statements that Turkey was unaffected.

Slowly parties that say 'No' to Turkey will take over governments in Europe
Emin Colasan
Hurriyet commentator

Derya Sazak in Milliyet wrote that the "No" vote was an expression of resistance to further enlargement.

More troubling than the direct impact of the vote for Turkey was the way it pointed to the future orientation of European politics.

President Jacques Chirac at times seemed like the only senior politician in France who openly backed Ankara's membership hopes.

Now his authority is dented and leaders hostile to Turkey's bid appear to be in the ascendant.

The French vote came hard on the heels of the German Social Democrats' loss of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the subsequent announcement of early general elections in Germany. So two of the biggest European players now appear to be heading out of the pro-Turkey camp.

That has not gone unnoticed in Turkey.

New Franco-German alliance?

"Slowly parties that say 'No' to Turkey will take over governments in Europe," writes Emin Colasan in Hurriyet.

"The elections in Germany and the referendum in France are the first signs. Europeans do not want us and they are making it more clear with their choice now."

Two names recur through Turkish commentary and analysis - those of Nicholas Sarkozy, a favourite for the 2007 French presidential elections, and Angela Merkel, leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU), tipped to win the next German elections.

Both have made very clear their opposition to Turkish membership.

A Merkel-Sarkozy axis could, it is thought, cause real problems for Turkey.

A postponement of the October start date for EU negotiations is thought highly unlikely; but a much more difficult and protracted set of negotiations suddenly looks likely.

The EU constitution was without doubt the main victim of the French vote.

But Turkey looks like it has been badly hurt.


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