In the end, despite lobbying by the Polish government and others, the EU constitution signed by 25 member states on 29 October did not contain references to Europe’s “Judaeo-Christian roots” in its preamble. But the question whether the EU should in some senses be a club only for Christians rumbles on, including, strongly, in France.
To come into effect, the constitution has to be ratified by the 25 states. Nine are committed to holding referenda on the constitution, allowing their populations as a whole to decide whether they accept the constitution. That will not be easy to achieve.
In France, as in other countries, scepticism about the way EU is developing runs deep. When the Maastricht treaty was put to a referendum in France in 1992, it was approved by a margin of just 2%.
French president Jacques Chirac has found one new way to get people to be less suspicious about the EU: pander to anti-Muslim feeling. In September he promised the French that, in the future, they would be able to have a referendum on whether they accept Turkey joining the EU.
An opinion poll conducted in September showed 36% of French people in favour of Turkey joining, 56% against, and 8% undecided. The main reason given “for” was to consolidate democracy in Turkey; the main reason “against” was the risk of large Turkish immigration.
Thirty per cent said Turkey should never join for cultural reasons. A recent poll in Germany gave a similar result.
Another poll showed that the majority of French people think Turkey will eventually join.
Chirac, doubtless, knows that his referendum promise increases his appeal to the supporters of the right and far right, and lends respectability to anti-Muslim hostility.
Although he has said he favours Turkey joining the EU, by this means he can appeal to all constituencies! He is a wily old fox.
Witness his support for the ban on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf by school pupils. Done in the name of secularism, to appeal to many in the centre and on the left, it was also able to, and was principally intended to, appeal to the racist right.
But the Turkey veto was not in the first place Chirac’s idea. It was being pushed by others in Chirac’s party, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), who oppose Turkey’s entry into the EU.
The Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is likely to be a presidential candidate in 2007, has called for a referendum, although he says that his worries are economic – Turkey is a relatively poor country, with a large population – rather than to do with any cultural issue.
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, however, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Europe in September, said: “We are not doubting the good faith of [Turkey’s prime minister] Mr Erdogan, but to what extent can today’s and tomorrow’s governments make Turkish society embrace Europe’s human rights values?
“Do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?”
This language, with its implications that Turkey will somehow pollute the rest of the EU, and that Turks are not interested in human rights, is clearly chauvinist in tone.
As it is, Turkey is not likely to join the EU, if at all, until 2014. It is likely to be given permission at the end of the year to begin formal negotiations leading to its eventual accession. Bulgaria and Romania are due to join the EU in 2007, Croatia is also likely to join thereafter.
Chirac’s actual proposal is for an amendment to the French constitution to allow such a referendum.
Most of the French far-left proposes to oppose the EU constitution as such. The response of the most important far-left group, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), to Chirac’s veto proposal is to say that it would boycott such a referendum. While the LCR is opposed to the EU, it says there is no reason why Turkey should not join the EU if a majority of its population wants to. It criticises Turkey’s human rights record, at the same time pointing out the hypocrisy of the governments of countries such as France, and the UK — currently occupying Iraq! — when they criticise Turkey’s government.
• Read the LCR’s full response at http://www.lcr-rouge.org/article.php3?id_article=392