ANKARA, Turkey, AP-Turks joke bitterly that the only reason the European Union agreed to open decade-long accession talks with the overwhelmingly Muslim nation was that the EU might not exist in 10 years. Now, with voters in France and the Netherlands rejecting the EU constitution, the joke is looking more like reality.
The votes show an unwillingness to accept the bloc”s expansion to include new members — in particular, a poor and culturally different country like Turkey.
"Without a doubt, the result of these referendums is going to affect" further expanding the 25-member EU to include countries such as Turkey, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Thursday.
At issue is whether the Europe Union, which just last year accepted 10 new members, mostly Eastern European countries, is now willing to expand its border further east and allow in tens of millions of Muslims.
Doubts also center on whether the EU should become a sort of United States of Europe, or whether that ambitious dream is beginning to fall apart as Europeans question whether they want to cede the power of their states to a central authority.
"We witnessed Europeans rejecting something that we are struggling to achieve," Cetin Kargin, a jeweler in Ankara, said when asked about this week”s votes in France and the Netherlands.
Allowing in Turkey, with a population that is now 70 million, would expand the EU”s borders to Iran and Syria and eventually make Turkey the largest country in the bloc as it overtakes slower-growing Germany”s current popuation of more than 80 million.
That and the idea that Turks could eventually live anywhere they like within the EU appeared to be hard for many Europeans to swallow.
Polls in France and the Netherlands showed that opposition to Turkey was one of the key reasons voters gave for opposing the EU constitution.
A French poll said 35 percent of those who voted "no" did so to oppose Turkey”s entry into the EU.
The Dutch "are repulsed by the idea of a federal bureaucratic European superstate with continually more countries," legislator Geert Wilders said during parliamentary debate.
A "no" vote, he said last week in pushing for rejection of the constitution, would be a "vote against a Turkey with too much influence."
Opposition to immigration — tens of millions of Muslim immigrants now live in European cities and many are poorly integrated — helps build on this feeling.
"There was this anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, xenophobic sentiment in both countries and the possible inclusion of a country of 70 million representing the Islamic world … fed into this," said Bulent Aliriza, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"The integration of Turkey is one of the most important decisions that is going to be made and a significant chunk of the European voters felt that this was something that they could not stomach," he said.
At the same time, nationalism in Turkey is increasing as Turks themselves wonder whether it is best for them to give up part of their sovereignty. That is leading to fears that Turkey”s EU bid could become caught in a downward spiral with frustration building on both sides.
"While Turkey fears that it will lose its sovereignty, EU countries are panicking that Turkey with its population will fill up the EU seats and take away their sovereignty," Can Dundar wrote in the Milliyet newspaper.
Turkish officials have tried to put on a brave face, saying repeatedly the votes would have no impact on the European decision to begin accession talks with Turkey in October.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan, in a written statement, said that despite the votes, "Turkey will continue to work in the direction of the preference of most of its people."
"Our hopes are still alive that the unification of Europe will be continued," Tan added.
However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan leaves on Monday for Washington, on a mission to boost relations with the United States, which many Turks say is becoming more critical as Turkey”s ties with Europe grow strained.
Erdogan, in a closed-door meeting with senior officials from his party, said that the "no" votes could split up the EU, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
"Let”s see if until then there will still be a EU," the paper quoted him as saying, referring to the 10 or 15 years which Turkey”s membership negotiations are expected to take.