During a three-day parliamentary group meeting in Istanbul, Europe's Greens have come out in support for Turkey's EU bid and criticized proposed national referendums on its membership.
The Greens' meeting in Istanbul unsurprisingly focuses on Turkey
Europe's Greens, once Turkey's most vocal critics and now the staunchest supporters of its EU membership, began a three-day parliamentary group meeting in Istanbul on Tuesday by airing strong criticism against any plans to hold national referendums on whether Ankara should join the bloc.
"We are against holding referendums in one country about another country," Greens group president Daniel Cohn-Bendit said. "There are seven million Turks living in Europe, so the real question in the referendum will be, 'Do you like Turks -- do you like Muslims?'"
He singled out President Jacques Chirac, criticizing his proposal to amend the French constitution to allow referendums on future EU members as "foolish" and "ridiculous."
"How can a democratic president, even Chirac, say what will happen in 10 years' time?" Cohn-Bendit asked at a press conference at the opening of the meeting. "Are they going to have referendums on the memberships of Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia? The French will go crazy," he said. "This is ridiculous. Don't waste our time with what will happen in 10 years."
Cohn-Bendit was flanked at the press conference by co-chair Monica Frassoni of Italy, Dutchman Joost Logendijk and Germany's Cem Özdemir, both of the EU-Turkey joint parliamentary committee.
Special negotiations must be accepted
Cohn-Bendit urged Turkey to accept the fact that it is different from other candidate countries and that a special negotiating process is needed to allow it into the EU. A generally favorable European Commission report on Oct. 6 advises EU leaders to agree at a Dec. 17 summit in Brussels to launch membership talks with Turkey.
"When you say, 'We want equal treatment,' you do not mean it," Cohn-Bendit said. "Turkey is not Malta, it is not Romania, it is not Bulgaria. It is a big country, it is a proud country, and its entry into the EU will be an important event."
He said the Greens had arrived in Turkey as "critical friends" in hopes that many issues that remain to be ironed out -- the situation of the Kurds and other minorities, women's rights, the Armenian massacres -- could be "openly discussed among friends."
"We must have uncomfortable discussions on, for example, Cyprus and the role of the army," Frassoni said, adding: "The process of building a European democracy is not finished."
The Greens support Turkey's EU membership, the Italian MEP said, but so does Italy's conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- "his reasons are not the same as ours," she added.
"What is the Greens' message to Turkey," asked Özdemir, who is of Turkish origin. "The message is that we are here and not somewhere else. If Turkey is today at another point than where it was several years ago, it is also because of civil society, not only because of politicians," he said.
Issues on contention
The Turkish and the European Union flag
Another message from the Greens to Turkey's politicians is "don't panic," Logendijk said. He added the Commission report contained elements Turkey and the Greens both disagree with, such as the open-ended nature of the talks and mention of permanent derogations concerning this country, such as barring its citizens from free circulation in Europe.
"But," he said, "don't lose your focus; don't lose sight of the main point: (membership) negotiations should begin next year." The meeting of the joint Greens/European Free Alliance group next goes into a series of panel conferences covering aspects of Turkey-EU ties. Panelists include German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gül, Kurdish activist Leyla Zana and Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk.