On April 16, millions of Turks will go to the polls and vote on a series of proposed constitutional changes including the introduction of an executive presidency. Ahead of the historic contest, Turkish daily, Sabah and Daily Sabah columnists have been traveling around the country to meet with local communities in key districts. The first such event was hosted last week in the cosmopolitan city of Mersin by the Sabah Columnists Club. In this southern city, where the AK Party, along with all three opposition parties, enjoys considerable popularity, we got together with Sabah readers to talk about the referendum.
The Mersin meeting related to the European Union in two ways: First, Daily Sabah Editor-in-Chief Serdar Karagöz recalled that Italy imposed a ban on coalition governments and adopted ‘Italicum.' He noted that the country was trying to further strengthen the executive branch, a plan that EU officials publicly endorsed. His point was important because the European Union has been reluctant to support a similar plan in Turkey.
As a matter of fact, several EU officials have recently come out against the proposed constitutional amendments. Here is the most reasonable way of looking at Europe's double standards: Brussels wants Italy to restabilize since Rome's failure comes with a heavy price tag for all EU members. But the Europeans do not want Turkey to enjoy greater power and stability as it could be impossible to keep Ankara on a tight leash if the Turks got too powerful.
Former Member of Parliament Ozan Ceyhun, who also attended the meeting, agreed.
"The Europeans do not want a strong leader and a resilient political system in Turkey," he noted. "An audacious Turkey would mean a big problem for Europe."
His words were followed by an ovation by the audience.
Another important conclusion about the European Union was reached as a result of Sabah readers' questions to the speakers. It was clear that attempts by several EU countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, to prevent Turkish ministers and politicians from meeting voters within their borders, in other words, to support the ‘no' campaign, had struck a chord with the community.
(At least four out of 10 questions asked by the audience were directly related to Europe's conduct.) Our readers expressed frustration with European meddling in the referendum campaign, urged the European Union to mind their own business and voiced their concerns about the future of the Turkish community in Europe.
"How are we supposed to repair our relations with foreign governments that implement such hostile policies toward us," a member of the audience asked. "How can they expect to sit down and negotiate with Turkey again?"
Ozan Ceyhun, one of this paper's columnists previously active in German politics, responded to this question by noting that, "EU countries are, at the end of the day, realists. If the referendum passes, they will start looking for ways to work with Turkey."
Obviously, the million-dollar question is what Turkey wants to do. Will the Turks sit down and talk to EU countries that declared Turkish ministers ‘undesirable aliens,' broke their laws to ban campaign events and betrayed their own values?
Judging by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's most recent statements, repairing the relationship will not be easy. As a matter of fact, he announced that Turkey could hold a referendum to decide whether to abandon the EU membership process after April 16. Let us make one thing clear: If the Turks hold a vote on EU membership, the vast majority will vote for ending the talks right now. Under the circumstances, there is only one thing left for Brussels and Ankara to do: They need to develop a roadmap to end the membership talks and redefine the nature of their relationship.