Photo: RWijnants cc by-nc-sa 2.0
Democracy might one day come to the European Union (EU). In the beginning of April, the Dutch voted ‘no’ in a referendum about the European association agreement with Ukraine. The agreement would allow Ukraine to join the EU in the future. Turkey has been waiting for 50 years, but seems further away than ever.
By Laurens Bammens*
The ‘no’ vote is not exclusively against Ukraine. Although in July 2014, flight MH17 was shot down by pro-Russian rebels above Ukraine which certainly has something to do with the case. The incident cost the lives of 200 Dutch citizens. The vote is mostly against the undemocratic policies of the European Union (EU).
Most union organs are intergovernmental meaning that when these organisations make a decision, it has to be ratified by every member-state government.
Accession to the European Union is first negotiated by the European Commission through an association agreement. This agreement is meant to help the country meet the minimum requirements for EU membership. The European Commission is, contrary to the European Parliament and European Council, a supranational organisation. Meaning its decision does not have to be ratified by each member-state, but instead applies to each and every country automatically.
After the association agreement, the candidate member can formally apply for EU-membership. Then the European Commission will form an opinion whether or not this is a good idea. It will present its opinion to the European Council. The Council will either reject or accept.
It is then that the Commission will decide what chapters of the agreement will be agreed upon first. Only when both parties are satisfied, the negotiations will move on to the next chapter.
Once the negotiations are finished, a treaty of accession will be signed. This treaty then has to be ratified unanimously by all member states of the EU, as well as all the institutions of the Union and of course the candidate country.
It has not gotten that far yet with Ukraine, but an association agreement has been made with the EU in 2014. These agreements also have to be ratified by all the member states. The Netherlands is so far the only one in disagreement.
The Dutch ratification was put to a halt when news blog GeenStijl (‘no class’, or ‘no style’) started a campaign to launch a referendum about the Ukraine association agreement. They collected over 450 000 signatures, giving them more than enough to call for a referendum. 300 000 were needed.
Even though the majority of politicians were pro the Ukraine agreement, the result of the referendum was 61.1% for the ‘no’ camp. 38% was in favour. The result is not binding, but does mean it has to be considered by the government. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that ratification of the agreement would not be in order when the population has an unfavourable opinion.
Turkey signed its association agreement with the EU in 1963
The ‘no’ vote is not necessarily against Ukraine becoming a member. It is more about the average citizen having a say in what the European Union is up to. The EU is often criticised for negotiating without a real democratic background. Only the European Council and the European Parliament are the organs that are democratically chosen. The European Council is made up of the heads of states which get chosen differently in every country. The MP’s in the Parliament are proportional to each country. Basically, the bigger the country, the more MP’s representing it. Germany has the most MP’s (96 out of 751), while Malta, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Estonia have the least (6).
Turkey signed its association agreement with the EU in 1963. Since then, Turkey does not seem to have gotten much closer to the actual membership. Turkey and the European Commission have to agree on 33 out of 35 chapters before Turkey can formally request membership. So far the only chapter agreed to is ‘science and research’ on June 12, 2006.
The official Turkish opinion is very persistent to join the European Union since so many Turks have immigrated to Europe. President Erdoğan said in 2012 to CNN that Turkey is a natural member because of the many immigrants. Also saying that Turkey has been waiting at Europe’s doorstep for 50 years, unlike any other country.
Turkey seems to be going backwards in EU accession, certainly because deteriorating freedom of expression. Turkey was put on a mortifying 151st place out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index 2016 by Reporters Without Borders. A German comedian is being prosecuted because he allegedly insulted Erdogan without even being in Turkey.
The European Union and Turkey share their very limited democracy, but at least Europe defends human rights and basic morals. Each member-state is still in charge of their own decisions. Unlike could-be dictator President Erdoğan whom decides for the public.
**Laurens Bammens, PXL Journalism student and he is Dağ Medya Intern during the 15 February – 3 June 2016