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Title: The Turkish Referendum - (2010-09-14)

Turkey won pats on the back from Europe and the United States for passing key constitutional reforms, but its bid to join the European Union failed to convince doubters among EU states on Monday.

Supporters and even opponents of Turkish efforts to join the EU club praised Sunday’s referendum aimed at overhauling the judiciary and curbing the military’s influence.

But analysts stressed that opposition in Germany and France, and the feud over the division of Cyprus between a Turkish-occupied north and the EU-recognized Greek Cypriot south, remain major stumbling blocks to Turkey’s hopes.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country backs Ankara’s EU accession bid, said the referendum sent a “clear signal of Turkey’s European vocation.”

“And although some countries still have doubts and reluctance, I believe that in the end logic will prevail,” Mr. Moratinos told reporters ahead of a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Another cheerleader, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, said: “This opens the European door, even though it will take time to take that step.”

With the referendum, which was approved by 58% of voters, Turkey “paves the way for a more open and democratic evolution of the country.”

Turkey also earned applause from the United States, a powerful ally which has accused EU states of pushing Ankara away from the West by blocking the majority Muslim nation from entry into the 27-nation club.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the referendum’s high turnout showed the “vibrancy of Turkey’s democracy.”

European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele welcomed the referendum as a “step in the right direction” but said it needs to be followed by “other much-needed reforms” regarding freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

But Turkey must still convince Germany and France, founding members of the European Union, that it deserves a seat in Brussels five years after it applied for EU membership.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the “reform of the constitution is another important step by Turkey on the road towards Europe.”

But Westerwelle is known to be more open to the idea of Turkish accession to the EU than his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who like France prefers to grant Ankara a “privileged partnership.”

Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the referendum would not be a game changer.

“The positions have hardened in key member states like France, Germany, and very little of what Turkey does could change the situation,” he said.

“There is nowadays in Europe a coalition of right-wing, anti-Islam parties, who fear Turkey for that reason, and of pro-European parties who fear a dilution of the European project with Turkey joining,” Mr. Torreblanca said.

“That’s a very negative spiral for Turkey.”

The EU, France and Cyprus have blocked 18 of the 35 chapters that Turkey must negotiate for membership, mainly due to the Cyprus issue.

“As long as Turkey does not accept that Cyprus is a member of the EU, there will not be any progress on this protocol for Ankara,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger.

Turkey loudly voiced its frustration over the slow pace of negotiations and dismissed alternative offers following a meeting on Saturday between Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU counterparts.

“I expressed our dissatisfaction with the speed of the negotiations, I expressed it clearly,” Mr. Davutoglu said after the meeting. “Turkey will never accept any replacement or any alternative to the accession process.”

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