In the aftermath of the no votes on the European Union constitution from France and the Netherlands last week, there is concern that the 25 member EU will curtail or postpone its expansion into eastern Europe and Turkey.
Norbert Walter, the chief economist at Germany's largest bank, has no doubt that voters in both France and Holland are saying no to Turkey's planned admission to the European Union. After considerable debate, the EU decided some months ago to launch membership negotiations with Turkey on October 3. While that date still holds, Mr. Walter believes it will be many years or even decades before Turkey joins the EU.
"The guys in Paris and Amsterdam, clearly, wanted the Muslims out. Turkey," Mr. Walter says. "It's very obvious that business is unaware how many opportunities will be lost as a result of our inability to help stabilize a very interesting and productive government in Ankara."
Speaking in Washington, Mr. Walter blames the European, and in particular, the German business community for failing to mobilize voters in support of Turkey's application. Mr. Walter is convinced that EU expansion beyond the already approved membership for Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 or 2008 is on hold. Eight former communist countries in eastern Europe joined the EU one year ago.
Mr. Walter says rejection of Turkey and Ukraine would undermine their reformist governments.
"So we (in Germany) don't care about these issues at our peril," Mr. Walter says. "We will only find out in hindsight, after crises have developed in those places, that business will find out that it slept through an important issue and should have been more vocal before."
British Balkans specialist Misha Glenny is also pessimistic about the chances for EU expansion further east.
"The idea of Turkish membership after those two votes is now much more distant than it was," Mr. Walter says. "The idea of western Balkan membership, despite the fact that they were given an iron clad commitment in Salonika (in 2003), at the EU summit there under George Papandreou's presidency, that commitment is looking shaky now as well."
Public opinion surveys suggest that fear of losing jobs to cheaper labor in low-cost east European countries was a principal factor behind the no votes in France and the Netherlands.