Bulgarian Parliament Balks at Turkey EU Accession ReferendumBulgaria in EU | October 20, 2010, Wednesday // 12:36| views
Volen Siderov (front), leader of the nationalist party Ataka, is pictured here with other Ataka MPs wearing shirts saying "Ataka Says No to Turkey in the EU", on the day after Erdogan's visit in Sofia. Photo by BGNES
The Bulgarian Parliament has cited legislation inadequacies as a reason not to delay the scheduling of a referendum on Turkey's EU accession.
After heated debates on the referendum petition tabled by the nationalist party VMRO, which is backed by 330 000 signatures, the Parliament decided that the administrative population census directorate "GRAO" must establish the legitimacy of at least 200 000 of the submitted signatures.
The motion was approved with 119 votes in favor, which came from the ruling center-right party GERB and the opposition ethnic Turkish party DPS, and 25 abstained from the Socialist Party. GERB's staunchest ally, the nationalists from "Ataka" left the plenary hall in protest, which has been one more indication that the issue of Turkey's EU membership could cause a rift in Bulgaria's informal ruling coalition.
After a visit of Turkish PM Erdogan to Sofia in early October, at which Bulgarian PM Borisov declared principled support fro Turkey's EU accession, the nationalists from Ataka – who are actually at odds with VMRO, a more marginal nationalist formation – showed up in Parliament with special T-shirts saying "No to Turkey in the EU", and warned that the issue could cause problems between them and GERB.
"I am sorry but this law cannot work in its present form," declared Parliament Chair Tsetska Tsacheva as a justification of the decision to have the state administration check 200 000 of the 330 000 signatures backing the referendum petition.
Under the Bulgarian Referendum Act, if a petition gets 500 000 people to sign in its support, a referendum has to be scheduled. If the signatures are between 200 000 and 500 000, the Parliament must hold a debate and vote on whether to schedule a referendum. The vote must be held within three months from the submission of the petition. The VMRO party submitted its petition in mid July.
"I am not surprised that Turkey's "fifth column" in the face of MP Chetin Kazak proposed that the vote on whether to schedule a referendum should be removed from the agenda. I am surprised that GERB supported this proposal," declared the enraged leader of the nationalists from Ataka, Volen Siderov, with respect to the motion put forth by Kazak, a MP from the ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms).
"I am truly sorry that we are treating such an important issue without the necessary attention and respect for the Bulgarian national interests, and are turning this debate into a brawl," said the Co-Chair of the rightist Blue Coalition Ivan Kostov.
The Blue Coalition MPs decided not to take part in the vote on because it was "not justified", and called for a serious public debate in Bulgaria with respect to Turkey's EU membership.
Kostov said in 2005 the EU made a huge compromise by inviting Turkey to start accession negotiations, thus creating tensions in the Balkans. He said Turkey had not met the Copenhagen Criteria for membership.
"Turkey uses the Turkish communities abroad as a weapon to intervene in the domestic politics of other countries, including Bulgaria. Back in 2005 the Bulgarian politicians did not react. Now we need a well-intentioned debate on the issue," said the rightist leader, who was Bulgaria's PM in 2001-2005. The Blue Coalition and the nationalists from Ataka are typically at odds with one another.
“If other political forces stick to Volen Siderov’s “Fifth Column” thesis, this will be really bad,” retorted Lyutvi Mestan, Deputy Chair of the ethnic Turkish party DPS.
“We got a country which is our neighbor, a republic, that wants to join the EU. Bulgaria’s strategic interest is to see all of its neighbors cover the EU standards for democracy. We need to border European countries with EU norms and standards, and EU membership status,” declared Mestan.
He pointed out that this is the first time ever the Bulgarian Parliament discussed an referendum demand, and that the law did not provide any procedure for checking the authenticity of the signatures.
Sergey Stanishev, former PM in 2005-2009, and leader of the Socialists, who abstained, said the 300 000 signatures but that this was not the right time to hold a referendum. He is convinced that Bulgarians must have a vote once Turkey completes its EU accession negotiations.