Austria will hold a national referendum on Turkey's accession to the European Union whatever the outcome of talks between Brussels and Ankara, Austria's Chancellor Werber Faymann said on Tuesday (3 May).
The news came on the occasion of a state visit by Turkish President Abdullah Gül to Austria.
"Even in the case of a positive decision after the negotiations between the EU and Turkey, we will organise a referendum in Austria on this topic," Faymann was quoted as saying by Turkish daily Hürriyet.
The Austrian chancellor added that for Turkey to join the 27-member European bloc, "fundamental values like freedom of opinion, human rights, democratic participation and freedom of the press must prevail unconditionally".
According to successive Eurobarometer polls, Austria is the EU's most Turkey-sceptic member. Many Austrians believe that the alpine country's 200,000 Turkish immigrants have not integrated well. Austria also takes pride in having stopped the westward advance of the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna in 1683 – a feat that was in fact achieved by a Polish king, Jan III Sobieski.
Commenting on Faymann's statement, Gül said Turkey would hold a referendum on its EU accession as well. After successfully adopting EU legislation, the Turkish public would decide whether the country would join the Union or not, he said.
"We do not know, but maybe the Turkish public would want to hold a referendum then, and say 'no' to the EU just like Norway," Gül said.
Norway completed its accession negotiations in the early 1990s together with Austria, Sweden and Finland, but its citizens rejected EU accession by a narrow margin in 1994.
The idea of holding parallel referenda on Turkey's EU accession in the candidate country and in EU countries that wish to do so is not new.
Egemen Bağış, Turkey's chief EU negotiator, implied last September that by the time such a scenario had materialise, the interest of the West in Turkey's accession could be bigger than Ankara's appetite for EU membership.
"The day we complete our negotiations, we will not be today's Turkey, just as today's Turkey is not the country from 51 years ago when we first applied. And I don't know what the Turkish nation will decide. And I don't know what the populations of some of the member states will decide," Bağış said.
However, the president of Economic Development Foundation, Professor Haluk Kabaalioğlu, expressed concern over Faymann's statements.
Turkey still wants to be a member of the Union, but the Union itself also needs to express its support for Turkey, he argued.