European citizens' petition opposes Turkey in EU

  • 2005-07-06
  • By Jeremy Bransten, RFE/RL
"People power" seems to have come to the European Union. After voters in France and the Netherlands recently rejected the EU constitution, EU leaders now face a grassroots petition drive against another one of their policy initiatives: membership talks with Turkey.

EU leaders say they do not expect Turkey to join the union for at least another 10 to 15 years, but they have pledged to begin membership talks with Ankara on Oct. 3. Turkey has had an association agreement with the bloc since 1964 and has waited decades for this moment. In the meantime, Ankara has undertaken a series of reforms aimed at preparing the country for EU accession.

But the "Voice for Europe" campaign says it is unconvinced by Turkey's efforts, and hopes the EU will put an end to Ankara's aspirations. David Gresak, who is organizing the petition against Turkey's EU drive in the Czech Republic, said that the idea first arose in Germany and Poland.

It was at this point, he said, that he and a few friends in Prague read about the effort on the Internet and decided to join in. Like-minded Internet users from Hungary, Slovakia, Denmark and France soon got in touch and the "Voice for Europe" campaign was born.

A Web page was created and beginning in June, volunteers staffing booths on the streets of Prague, Warsaw, Budapest and other cities appeared, encouraging people to sign their petition.

Gresak said the campaign against Turkey's EU membership is based on economic as well as political, geographic and cultural grounds. He claims Turkey is too big and poor to be absorbed by the EU. If it joined, it would be the bloc's largest member. He also notes that only 3 percent of Turkey's territory lies in Europe and argues that Turkish society and its politicians do not share the continent's values or its stability.

And he says campaign organizers are wary of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a conservative with Islamic roots who now espouses close ties with the West.

"The cost [of Turkey's membership] does play a role, but the important reason is political: to what extent is democracy stabilized? In recent years there has been a re-Islamization occurring in Turkey, and there are a lot of other reasons that we mention in our brochures, such as the insufficient protection of basic human rights, equality between men and women, freedom of conscience, etc," Gresak said. He said he and his colleagues do not want to discriminate against Ankara and favor close EU ties with Turkey 's ties that, however, stop short of full membership.

"What is important is that we do not want to cut ourselves off from Turkey. We don't want to go against the democratization processes [in Turkey]. We are very active on this issue. From the beginning, we have openly backed the creation of a privileged partnership [with Turkey] that is in no way inferior to the regime that exists with Norway or Switzerland," Gresak said.

Although the campaign appears well organized, and its Web site is well designed and multi-lingual, Gresak said the entire effort is self-financed.

"We're doing it on a volunteer basis. It looks very professional 's we're learning as we go 's we want to do a good job. But it all comes out of our own finances, which means help among friends for copying materials. For the posters, we paid 30,000 crowns ($1,200) out of our own pockets, and I think the petition stand cost 500 crowns ($20), which we also got ourselves," Gresak said.

On the streets of Prague, enthusiasm for the petition appears muted 's although there are few open supporters of Turkey's position.

Martin has set up his stand with some flyers next to a tram stop on one of the city's central squares. He says about 50 people a day are signing the petition. David is one of them and he gives his reason.

"I was in Cyprus recently, and of course I saw how the island is divided, and I got some information about the [1974] invasion of Cyprus, and since then I really don't think that a country that does such things should be in the same union as us," Martin said.

Most people walk past the stand and ignore it.

Organizers of the "Voice for Europe" petition drive say they aim to collect 1 million signatures by Oct. 3, when Turkey is due to begin membership talks. They will present their petition at that time to the European Parliament as well as national governments of all 25 EU member states. So far they have collected just over 20,000 signatures.